In the autumn of 1973, a young Harvard student dreamed of placing "a computer on every desk and in every home."

Fast forward 40 years and Otago University is reaping the rewards of Bill Gates' vision and Microsoft's modern touch, through delivering a virtual desktop experience to its 21,000 students.

Taking a leaf out of the enterprise BYOD modus operandi, the initiative hopes to enable students to access key University applications on their own devices anytime, anywhere.

"When the current student desktop was commissioned in 1999, only 14 per cent of students owned their own laptop," says Emerson Pratt, Manager of Teaching and Learning Facilities, University of Otago.

"However in the intervening 15 years there have been significant changes in the way we interact with computers.

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"Now 98 per cent of our students own their own laptops, and the convenience of computer labs has been surpassed by the use of personal devices."

Pratt says students prefer to access course materials in their own time and space rather than having to use a Universityprovided computer in a prescribed location - which remains a commonplace within the modern-day campus life.

The product of a partnership with Microsoft New Zealand, the virtual Windows desktops are designed to complement the suite of cloud-based Office 365 productivity tools currently available to students.

As a result, students will be able to launch the new virtual desktop on across any device or make, via a web browser. It will give them access to popular learning applications such as computational program MATLAB, many of which were previously only available in the University's campus computer labs.

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Evan Blackman, Education Sector Director for Microsoft New Zealand, says the University of Otago is setting an example in enabling students to embrace a flexible learning approach.

"The University of Otago's virtual desktop initiative meets students' requirements for more flexibility and convenience, and will significantly enhance their overall learning experience," he says.

Believing that tertiary education is evolving from the traditional 'sage on the stage' paradigm, Blackburn says educators are now incorporating the role of "learning facilitators and coaches."

"The University of Otago's virtual Windows desktop deployment will support that evolution by putting productivity tools and essential learning applications into the hands of all students," he adds.