Just when I needed you most: Establishing on-demand learning support in a regional university





student support, academic skills, third party provider, student retention, case study


This article discusses the experiences and challenges of introducing a third-party learning support provider into the teaching and learning culture at Southern Cross University (SCU), a regional university with campus locations in New South Wales and Queensland. The provider was engaged to extend online study support after-hours to first year students to complement the on-campus and online academic skills consultations available during business hours. The case study covers a 2015 pilot, a wider roll-out in 2016, and finally, a 2017 university-wide access via the intranet as well as through nominated units. The project team collaborated, planned, and prepared for adding third-party student support with specific strategies used to implement institutional cultural change. The case study offers implications for practice and policy across the higher education sector through the lessons learned, including the need for a complementarity of services approach with existing student services, a team-based strategic approach with a provider representative, and the benefits from open and positive communication. The partnership between SCU and the third-party provider evolved to the mutual benefit of both organisations. Students received support and feedback when they needed it most, academic staff revitalised coursework, and the third-party provider fine-tuned a targeted service for the institution.

Implications for practice or policy:

  • Situate the academic skills support services provided in-house and the service provided by the third-party provider as complementary to each other.
  • Re-enforce this complementarity in all communication with students and academic staff.
  • Adopt a team-based approach to planning the introduction and implementation of a third-party provider’s services.
  • Utilise the provider’s strengths, such as data generation and reporting, that enable student usage information about the after-hours service to be disseminated across the university.


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Author Biographies

Gail Wilson, Emeritus Faculty

Associate Professor Gail Wilson BA(Hons)(Tor), BEd(Tor), MEd(Macquarie), PhD(Deakin)

Gail is an editor for the UK journal Research in Learning Technology (RLT). She serves on editorial boards for two journals - the Australasian Journal of Educational Technology (AJET), and Research in Learning Technology.  Gail is also a member of HERDSA and ASCILITE in Australia and held a position on the HERDSA Executive from 2005 - 2011. She continues to serve HERDSA as a member of the HERDSA Guides Committee.

Gail was one of three members of the Steering Committee of a large teaching and learning grant funded by the Australian Learning & Teaching Council (ALTC) Preparing Academics to Teach in Higher Education (2010). An extension to this grant funded by the Office of Learning and Teaching (OLT)  which focused on the development of online modules for staff who teach in higher education teacher preparation programs (TPPs) was completed in 2012. In 2013 she received another OLT Extension Grant on Peer Review of Teaching in Online and Blended Learning Environments, working with the University of Queensland.

Sally Ashton-Hay, Southern Cross University

Dr Sally Ashton-Hay lectures in the Academic Skills Development Unit at Southern Cross University and enjoys assisting students with learning strategies for more successful study. Her broad range of teaching experience covers English language arts, English as a Second Language, English as a Foreign Language, Indigenous learners, literacy skills, drama, poetry and literature as well as conducting teacher training internationally. Sally has worked as a Senior English Language Fellow sponsored by the U.S. Department of State and serves on the editorial review board of several journals. Her current research interests are extending second language learning in non-traditional ways and designing blended learning for online applications. Sally has published on peer collaboration, student voice and inclusive education.




How to Cite

Wilson, G. ., McAuley, A., Ashton-Hay, S., & Van Eyk, T. (2020). Just when I needed you most: Establishing on-demand learning support in a regional university. Australasian Journal of Educational Technology, 36(5), 46–57. https://doi.org/10.14742/ajet.6117



Special Issue 2020 - Partnerships for scaled online learning