Digital Strategy Consultation Update on Digital Moments

In the summer of 2021, the Digital Strategy Working Group began conducting consultations in order to understand the needs of our students, staff, instructors and researchers in using digital systems and services. Since then, we’ve facilitated 21 workshops with 246 participants collecting over 350 “digital moments” that describe the type of digital experiences that would make working, learning, teaching and research at Ryerson better. We also conducted four surveys during April and June of this year, using the UK-based JISC Digital Experience Insights survey questionnaires.

While we are in the midst of developing the outlines of a strategy, we want to dive into some of the initial findings and provide an overview of the feedback from our digital moments workshops. This blog post focuses on what we learned from the digital moments. We hope to provide the survey results later in another blog post.

Working, learning and teaching during the pandemic has been very challenging and we were not sure how much time people would have to attend our workshops. We were very encouraged that so many people took the time, came prepared to discuss issues and improvements in detail, and actively participated in the workshops. Thank you so much to everyone who participated.

While Ryerson has been able to continue to function without significant technical issues, working and learning remotely has meant we are more reliant than ever on digital systems to do our work. The pandemic has thrown into sharp relief the limitations of our systems as well as the opportunities for improvement of our systems and services. 

Throughout our discussions several themes emerged from the workshops and digital moments. The following is our first attempt to describe what we discovered within a small number of overall themes. 

Theme 1: Eliminate redundant data entry 

We frequently heard about the need to reduce the time required for administrative processes – especially where lengthy data entry is required of information that has already been entered into other systems. We heard from faculty researchers about their challenges with entering data for their CVs into multiple systems to track their research outputs. We heard from staff members who must enter and review budget information separately in both the HR and Finance systems. We heard from students who struggled to coordinate assignment due dates and course timetables across multiple conflicting calendar systems in RAMSS, D2L and Google Calendar. Mostly, we heard the common refrain “don’t ask me for the same data twice.”  Ultimately this means we need systems that are coordinated and ‘speak to each other’ in order to support the needs of our community and minimize the administrative overhead of data entry.

Theme 2: Support work processes not just transactions

Whether working in teams or individually, many of our systems do not fully support the work we are trying to accomplish. Instead of designing around one-off tasks or transactions, these systems must become better aligned with our collaborative processes involving multiple people and spanning several departments. For example, until very recently, when working on a document in Google Drive, there was no built-in way to lock documents and send them on for approvals. In early September Google Approvals became available. 

Today, we still do not have the ability to support sophisticated document workflows for many of our core tasks across departments. From our digital strategy consultations, we have heard that relying on email to get documents drafted, reviewed, edited and approved within departments and across the university is cumbersome at best. 

In addition to directly supporting workflows, many requests identified the need for more customizable interfaces, notifications, dashboards, as well as add-ons and integration between email, calendars, scheduling and other systems so that everyone can remain informed and up-to-date as work progresses. For example, hiring and onboarding a new employee involves a series of steps including approvals, mandatory training, applying for their OneCard ID, and new phone and computer assignments. Everyone involved in hiring processes should be able to quickly and easily see an overview of what a new employee needs. 

None of these observations were new. It was gratifying to hear system owners in HR, Finance, the Registrar’s office, and others acknowledge that the systems they manage could work better together. Where resources have been available, each of these systems has seen gradual improvements. For example, the Registrar’s Office added the “Gideon Taylor Forms” system to RAMSS in 2017. The system was used to create the eForms Centre in RAMSS. The forms provide the ability to take payments, take attachments, update tables in Campus Solutions(RAMSS) and include workflow. A number of processes have been automated using the service. Nevertheless, better workflow across these systems has been a challenge that these teams have not had the necessary longer term financial or human resources to address.

Theme 3: Make information easier to find

Students, instructors, staff and researchers all described how managing and finding information in the many systems at use across the university is a common problem. Some of these issues can be addressed through developing more consistent practices and using common interface designs. Students in particular noted that the multiple approaches to D2L course shells was confusing and difficult to navigate, and many noted that standard templates providing a common look-and-feel would make it easier to access their materials across all of their courses. Other students found it difficult to navigate their courses when many of their instructors asked them to use different systems to accomplish the same tasks, for example different discussion and chat systems. Additionally, many staff members noted the need for more guidance on managing files, folders and permissions so they could work consistently and safely with others within Google Drive. 

Overall, our workshop participants desired easily accessible and well-promoted centralized listings and databases – such as searchable databases of vendors within the Finance system, or a listing of software currently in use by departments across the university, or a directory of CCS staff available to support different systems and services. Generally, it should be easier and quicker to find information. This theme also emerged in conversations about IT governance – or how decisions are made regarding IT in centres, departments and faculties across the university. Managers, department chairs, directors, deans and others may be compelled to make IT decisions in isolation and without a broader view to the systems and services in use across the university. Opportunities to reduce unnecessary duplication of efforts and to learn from others’ experiences are easily missed.  

Theme 4: Create opportunities for knowledge transfer and collaboration

One important effect of our digital moments workshops was that they provided a place for staff, researchers and instructors to share their experiences and learn new tools and workflows from each other. Many participants found this useful especially during the pandemic, when there were fewer in-person encounters or serendipitous meetings with colleagues. The discussions that arose during our workshops also speak to the utility of a broader kind of knowledge transfer about digital systems and practices as a way to communicate and collaborate between units, departments, faculties. Sharing information about workflows and practices is especially relevant as we’re shifting away from paper-based processes. 

An important consideration for the digital strategy is to create more opportunities to share skills and expertise. This approach can also promote greater outreach, education and training on software and services that we already have in place, but which may not be widely used. We came away with the impression that there is a great deal of expertise across the university but everyone is so busy that knowledge and experience aren’t widely shared. 

Theme 5: Working with data for timely decisions and on-demand analytics

The final theme that arose in our consultations was how to leverage data analysis across systems. Many staff participants described the need for smoother movement of data to support everyday decision-making, and to be able to plan and anticipate future needs. There is a strong desire to move from reactive to proactive use of data analytics. Ryerson does not have a data warehouse or data storage and analytics system that provides data across systems in ways that are usable by many different faculties and departments. Instead there is a patchwork of databases that serve specific needs. Little effort has been made to match data between our systems to improve the capacity to analyse data across the University. As we develop ways to use data for timely decisions with on-demand analytics, it’s also important to consider the concerns of data privacy and surveillance, and how we can responsibly collect and use data at scale.

Next Steps

During the digital moment workshops we often found people had come prepared with carefully thought through suggestions based on their working experience. It was inspiring to see the care and attention they brought to the workshops. We came away from the workshops with a stronger desire to provide everyone at the university with a less fragmented and more effective working environment. As we develop our long-term digital strategy, these themes and additional findings from the digital moments workshops and surveys will inform our priorities and work towards supporting our students, instructors, researchers and staff with the digital tools and services they need.  Our next step is to develop an outline of a digital strategy for discussion before moving on to a first draft.


– Carol Shepstone, Chief Librarian
– Steven Liss, Vice-President, Research and Innovation
– Brian Lesser, Chief Information Office

Restarting the Digital Strategy Consultation

On February 14 this year we announced that Ryerson was embarking on creating a digital strategy informed by a series of community consultations. In response to the COVID-19 pandemic and Ryerson’s move to an essential services model on campus, we suspended the consultations on April 6. It is now time to restart the consultation process while taking into account how the pandemic has made us even more reliant on digital services.  

During the pandemic, a great deal of work at the university was able to continue via online services. Working online also made gaps in our online services more obvious. Many people adapted as best they could. In some cases, new applications were used such as Docusign to sign some documents online. In the current context, it is important that we identify the challenges and opportunities of working remotely as well as the challenges and opportunities experienced prior to the pandemic. As a result we will restart the consultation process by first asking the Ryerson community to tell us how things should work. 

Share your digital moments

We are interested in hearing very short stories – often called digital moments – that illustrate how you would like to work or how you imagine others being able to work at Ryerson. Each story should be told from one person’s perspective and should describe an improved user experience. It could be a student, researcher, director, teaching assistant, instructor, staff member or others. 

Your short story should be specific and clear about the context your story is occuring in, who is the actor in the story, why they need to do something and how it is best accomplished. Don’t be afraid to tell us how to improve something simple, like completing a form, signing a document, completing a process or looking for a specific piece of information. We’re interested in all sorts of short stories including stories related to:

  • scholarly research and creative activities (SRC)
  • student experience
  • learning and teaching
  • enterprise services
    (includes Ryerson’s HR, Finance, RAMSS as well as Ryerson’s network and other widely used services)
  • cybersecurity

We hope the short stories you tell us will help guide our work in the coming months as well as in the next year or two. Each digital moment will be reviewed to understand how the events in the short story might trigger a series of actions and data exchanges between people, organizations and systems. In turn this will help us plan the evolution of systems and services at Ryerson.

Please give some thought to how things should work, and tell us a short story by completing this simple: 

Digital Moments Form 

– Carol Shepstone, Chief Librarian
– Steven Liss, Vice-President, Research and Innovation
– Brian Lesser, Chief Information Officer

Suspending consultations

In shaping Ryerson University for success and leadership in the 21st century our academic, SRC and international plans lay a path forward.  The importance of a Digital Strategy that complements and adds to Ryerson University’s abilities to continue to grow and to be a leader has never been more important then now. 

At a national level a New Digital Infrastructure Organization (NDRIO;; has emerged. NDRIO is a national not-for-profit organization that will play a critical role helping to advance the establishment of a researcher-focused, accountable, agile, strategic and sustainable Digital Research Infrastructure (DRI) ecosystem for Canadian researchers. Working across ecosystem partners and stakeholders across the country will ensure access to the digital tools, services and infrastructure they need to support leading-edge scientific excellence, research, innovation and advancement across all disciplines. NDRIO’s mandate is critical our universities, and their impact on society as a whole, and Canada’s ability to remain globally competitive. The university is part of the federated national strategy and collaborations extending to cybersecurity and data management. The voracity, veracity and velocity of data and security issues are beginning to dominate the infrastructure challenges to capture, store, access and manage the value that data holds.  Within the university the digital infrastructure requirements lie at the intersection of administrative needs, learning and teaching, and SRC. 

The Chief Librarian, Chief Information Officer and the Vice-President Research and Innovation, are committed to working together to advance, at this very important juncture in Ryerson’s path forward, a Digital Infrastructure strategy. Ryerson is already demonstrating leadership in our roles in the Canadian Association of Research Libraries (, Canadian Shared Security Operations Centre (, and Canada’s digital research infrastructure ecosystem (e.g.;;

Undertaking the development and implementation of a digital strategy is important and a priority for the university. We look forward to working with the Ryerson community and key stakeholders in advancing this strategy. We are encouraged by the engagement of key thought leaders across the university who bring important perspectives and experience to the discussions. 

We are, however, mindful of the university’s focus at this present time where COVID-19 presents challenging dynamic and continuously changing circumstances.  Much of the university’s focus has turned to academic matters related to instruction through the duration of the term and preparing for the requirements to manage the examination period. Continuity of core and essential services, and support for students, faculty and staff, is clearly focusing attention and efforts. Critical issues and pressing priorities have taken over and the community is focused on different priorities right now, and rightfully so. 

We will be suspending consultations and stakeholder engagement at this time and do look forward to resuming the strategy development at a time when our collective attention is able to return to this important initiative.

Thank you for your support and we do wish the community well during this challenging and difficult period.


– Carol Shepstone, Chief Librarian
– Steven Liss, Vice-President, Research and Innovation
– Brian Lesser, Chief Information Officer

Ryerson Digital Strategy Consultation (2020)

Ryerson is embarking on creating a digital strategy informed by a series of community consultations.

Consultation and strategy development

As the 2020-2025 academic plan is finalized, it’s a good time for Ryerson to take a strategic view of how we want to work with and manage digital technologies so that they align more closely with our strategic goals. 

We’re now embarking on a community-wide consultation that has five main themes:

  • scholarly research and creative activities (SRC)
  • student experience
  • learning and teaching
  • enterprise services
  • cybersecurity

The consultation is sponsored by Ryerson’s Vice President Research and Innovation, Chief Librarian, and Chief Information Officer. We are interested in exploring what people need in order to do their academic and administrative work at Ryerson.

We want to better understand: 

  • the services available and service gaps across the university regardless of whether those services are provided by CCS, the faculties. or individual departments. 
  • how decisions are made regarding funding, creating, managing, and retiring systems and services 
  • what would help all of us make the best possible decisions regarding digital services in the future. 

The consultation will include looking within and beyond the university. We plan to gather information using surveys, town halls, email and the blog.

Why now?

Since the 1970s and the early days of Xerox Parc, there has been much discussion about how “ubiquitous computing” would become the norm in the future. Today, Ryerson’s students, faculty and staff now live and work in a world where computing services are pervasive and routinely mediate our work and social relations. Despite the many problems that come with the internet, and the establishment of very large-scale commercial services, including security and privacy failures, the drive to digitally mediate everything is only continuing.

Much has changed since the early predictions of ubiquitous computing. For instance, during the period 2009 to 2017, daily peak simultaneous wireless connections increased 1,200% while enrolment grew by 25%.

Line graph showing total students versus daily peak simultaneous wireless connections from 2007 to 2019.
Graph summary: Daily peak simultaneous wireless connections in 2009 was 2500, and increased to 37, 212 in 2019. Total students in 2007 was 34, 315 and increased to 46, 400 in 2019.

Most courses at Ryerson now use some form of technology to enhance learning and teaching. Today, over 90% of all course sections have a course site in our learning management system (LMS) compared to approximately 20 courses when Ryerson adopted its first LMS in the late ‘90s. The initial LMS server was a relatively small system hosted at Ryerson. Today, the vendor (D2L) hosts the LMS on Amazon’s cloud computing service. 

Blended and online learning are increasing as modes of delivery here and in all other universities. New tools and platforms are being adopted regularly, institutionally and by individual faculty members. Augmented Reality / Virtual Reality (AR/VR), test-taking software, Artificial Intelligence (AI) and machine-learning systems for learning use student data to provide personalized feedback or identify potential learning challenges. Publisher platforms, that run in parallel with Ryerson’s LMS, provide tests, examples, and simulations are now regularly bundled with textbooks. As the prevalence of these tools grows, a digital strategy can assist us with decisions that ensure that technology adoption aligns with Ryerson’s goals for teaching and learning.

The Library’s work is now primarily in the digital realm of information discovery, creation and access, with the academic and scholarly information and communications now created and purchased in digital formats and managed through online platforms. Students and faculty require increasingly robust technology infrastructures to improve pedagogy and SRC innovation.

Since 2018, Ryerson’s students, faculty and staff were storing or updating an average of 160,000 files per day in Google Drive or about 28 million files every six months. 

The growth in undergraduate enrollment and adoption of mobile devices and collaborative services has not been the only significant change at Ryerson. The new academic plan points to other changes since just 2014, such as:

  • graduate enrollment increasing by 23 per cent;
  • co-op programs doubled;
  • a new law school was established;
  • digital Media Zone (DMZ) was ranked as the world’s top university incubator;
  • applied research centres such as the Institute for Biomedical Engineering, Science and Technology (iBEST) and Centre for Urban Energy (CUE) were created;
  • Ryerson was named as the lead institution of the Future Skills consortium; and
  • Rogers Cybersecure Catalyst in Brampton was established. 

Information technology service at Ryerson

Much has also changed since the late ‘90s for the people who provide IT services throughout Ryerson. They have worked to meet regularly changing demands for more widely available services, worked with changing technologies and vendors; seen the explosion in cloud service offerings and social media; faced ongoing budget challenges and more. Within Ryerson, service providers like Computing and Communications Services (CCS) and faculty and department IT teams have worked together in a loosely-federated model. Often, CCS has provided utility-like services that are leveraged by other IT teams. 

Two committees have provided ongoing oversight and made recommendations related to providing IT services at Ryerson. The Advisory Committee on Academic Computing (ACAC) meets monthly and includes representatives from each faculty, the Library and other key areas. It primarily makes recommendations to the provost. The Enterprise Resource Planning Advisory Committee (ERP-AC) meets less frequently and is composed of the CIO, Registrar, AVP-HR and CFO. It makes recommendations to the macro budget committee which includes the provost and vice-president, administration and operations. 

Budget changes

The IT budget review process used to run in parallel to Ryerson’s budget process, and was managed by the CIO in partnership with the ACAC and ERP-AC. There were several goals of the process: 

  • Discover opportunities to collaborate in building or renewing IT resources across the university.
  • Ensure IT projects align with Ryerson’s Academic Plan.
  • Improve the accuracy and usability of data across the university.
  • Help ensure the protection of confidential information and privacy.
  • Ensure that IT security and accessibility are part of every IT project and operation.
  • Ensure the cost-effective provision and long-term maintenance of IT systems and services.

Changes to Ryerson’s budget process and recent revenue reductions brought the process to an end after the 2018-2019 academic year. Nevertheless, defining and developing a strategy for overarching common goals is important for the university to consider.

Recent changes related to research

The changing landscape regarding privacy and cybersecurity have also demanded more of our attention. The draft Tri-Agency Research Data Management Policy will require the creation of a university research data management strategy and research data management plans for funded research projects. The federal government’s changes to Canada’s Digital Research Infrastructure will also change the landscape for researchers at Ryerson.

Ryerson recently released its 2020 – 2025 Strategic Research Plan which provides important context for the digital strategy consultation.

Learning and teaching

Additionally, a new focus on blended learning was one of the factors in establishing the Centre for Excellence in Learning and Teaching.

Looking outside Ryerson

The working group will also perform a higher education environmental scan by reviewing published materials including the strategic plans of other Canadian Universities.

Preliminary schedule 

If all goes well, the bulk of the consultation process will occur in the winter term so that the preliminary results may be presented at Ryerson’s IT Conference in late May.

Initial planningJanuary and early February 2020
Surveys and focus groupFebruary through April 2020
Town hallsFebruary through April 2020
Preliminary findings presentation and discussionMay 2020
Draft reportJune through August 2020
Final reportSeptember 2020

Consultation committees

A steering committee and working group are being established to undertake the consultation. The current members are listed in the tables below. The working group is likely to expand in the near future.

Steering committee

Brian LesserChief Information
Stephen LissVice-President, Research and
Carol ShepstoneChief
Catherine MiddletonProfessor, Interim Director, Ted Rogers School of Information Technology 
Malora FernandesManager – IT Projects & Portfolio (CCS) 

Working group

Catherine MiddletonProfessor, Interim Director, Ted Rogers School of Information Technology 
Stephen OnyskaySenior Research Associate, University
Robyn ParrChange and Opportunity Lead, Office of the Vice-Provost,
Wendy FreemanDirector of eLearning and the Interim Director of the Learning and Teaching
Malora FernandesManager – IT Projects & Portfolio (CCS) 
Jennifer ParkinManager, IT Business Analysis (CCS)
Fangmin Wang Head, Library IT (TBC)
Laurie StewartDirector, Communications, Administration and
Branka HalilovicExecutive Director, Operations
The G. Raymond Chang School of Continuing Education

We look forward to hearing from the Ryerson community in the months to come.


– Carol Shepstone, Chief Librarian
– Steven Liss, Vice-President, Research and Innovation
– Brian Lesser, Chief Information Officer