Troubleshooting Higher Ed IT Concerns

Troubleshooting Higher Ed IT Concerns

Identifying best practices and insights to navigate post-COVID needs

Between September to early November 2020, the IT Forum convened IT leaders to meet on a bi-weekly basis to solicit guidance from EAB experts and peers and discuss emerging challenges and creative solutions as they navigated Fall term amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. This document summarizes each session, including the topics and key takeaways, which are compiled from both EAB’s prepared research and the insights and practices that surfaced during the facilitated discussion with IT leaders.

Key Takeaways from Event


Supporting Faculty and Optimizing Adoption of Instructional Technologies

Developing classroom technology infrastructure to support HyFlex learning is a short-term imperative with long-term benefits. 

Given the recent wave of pivots to remote instruction, faculty may not get a chance to test out newly installed classroom technology. However, IT leaders speculate there will be increased demand for multi-modal instruction post-COVID-19, meaning these new functionalities such as recording and streaming will not go to waste.

IT leaders continue to wrestle with how best to promote academic integrity and ensure effective assessments due to faculty concerns and technical compatibility with students’ devices.

Virginia Tech shared their assessment guidance as a way of improving faculty confidence in remote instruction through clear communication and training about testing tools and protocols, such as new minimum laptop requirements to support remote learning (e.g., webcams needed for testing protocols).

Student classroom facilitators and faculty peer mentors are playing a pivotal role to help faculty construct and deliver an optimal online and hybrid learning experience.

Student workers can help convert test or quiz questions into LMS-friendly formats, set up classroom technology, de-sanitize classrooms, and help moderate online class discussions during HyFlex courses.


Responding to Changes in Repopulating Campus Plans for the fall term

IT leaders are increasingly focused on managing the on-campus experience, but supporting teaching and learning remains top priority. 

Institutions are learning in real-time how to address the challenges of having students on campus, from increased Wi-Fi demands in residence halls due to online learning to conducting health checks and contact tracing.

IT departments play an integral role in institutions’ testing, tracking, and containment strategies, from rolling out health screening apps to providing tech resources to quarantined students. 

All participants reported their institution employs health screening apps or surveys, while 60% use COVID-19 campus data dashboards and 33% use contact tracing apps (n=15).

While the list of demands for IT support grows, budgets are projected to shrink, and IT leaders must continuously re-prioritize investments to maintain digital relevance and resilience. 

Breaking down capital planning into potential adjustments or decisions that can be made at different milestones gives IT leaders more flexibility to address looming fiscal constraints.


Supporting and Sustaining Remote Work

Maintaining team cohesion is IT leaders’ primary concern with sustaining remote work. 

Some institutions hold virtual water cooler sessions and game nights to foster informal catchups, and some prioritize regular executive communications through virtual town halls and newsletters. However, existing tools struggle to replicate authentic in-person interaction, and staff begin to suffer from Zoom fatigue. Furthermore, the current high productivity levels may be a product of strong relationships built in-person pre-COVID-19, so leaders must re-think staff onboarding in a virtual environment going forward. Check out our Remote Work Resource Center for more tactics on supporting remote staff.

As more faculty and staff express interest in remote work long-term, administrators face an impending decision on how to determine remote work options.

Many institutions had implemented the tools to enable productive remote work; however, the COVID-19 crisis forced adoption among previously unwilling administrators, faculty, and staff. While institutions know now how to operate full-remote or full on-campus, moving to a hybrid model presents a new challenge to make sure remote work policies address the use of campus space, equity across staff, and potentially union guidelines. If your institution updated its remote work policy, we’d love to review it. Please send it our research team.

IT leaders can capitalize on this moment of heightened attention to remote work and learning technology to obtain and incorporate end user input in vendor decisions. 

Faculty and staff quickly adopted new tools and are now more focused on and better positioned to identify the tech tools most suitable for their needs (and their students’) than ever before. One institution referenced how a faculty member transitioned their class from WebEx to Microsoft Teams to make their class more accessible for a deaf student because Teams offers real-time closed captioning.


Creating Online Assessment Tools and Strategies

While some institutions cover proctoring tool costs, others pass the cost to students through a fee they have opted for online courses; however, IT leaders worry about the rising direct and indirect financial burden students must shoulder during COVID-19. 

Students may not own webcams or devices compatible with proctoring tools or have the bandwidth needed to run proctoring tools, requiring them to obtain new devices or find workarounds. While IT leaders are providing students with laptops and mobile hotspots to operate remotely as needed, they wonder if they can sustain this support long term. Check out our tips for designing and administering laptop programs here.

To mitigate student privacy and tech accessibility concerns, some institutions allow students to self-proctor using existing video tools. 

When students at Bellarmine University take assessments, they launch recorded Microsoft Teams meetings that instructors may join at any time or review if they suspect cheating. While not foolproof, the possibility of faculty dropping into a meeting or reviewing a recording serve as effective deterrents. Students also expressed more comfort using well-known Microsoft tools and experienced fewer technical mishaps.

When faced with concerns about accessibility and privacy challenges, faculty prefer to modify pedagogy to improve academic integrity and minimize the need for proctoring tech. 

Furthermore, many faculty were forced to alter assessments to accommodate international students unable to access their LMS or proctoring tools in their countries, even with VPNs. To reduce reliance on proctoring tech, faculty can design exam-based assessments as asynchronous, open-book, open-note, and open-Internet, or they can employ experiential assessments like writing prompts or take-home projects to test critical understanding of material beyond rote memorization. Here are six ways instructors should revise student evaluation and assessment practices.


Managing Budgets and Containing Costs

IT units renegotiate and eliminate contracts where possible and try to avoid cost-cutting measures that permanently reduce staffing and service levels.

Strategies range from requesting price flexibility or additional services from vendors, simply not renewing non-essential, expiring contracts, to actively analyzing product usage and working with academic and business departments to eliminate unused or duplicative products. When departments are reluctant to relinquish products, IT units can call on them to fund products partially or completely themselves. Use the framework and indicators from EAB’s IT Project Prioritization Scorecard Template to help communicate what lower-ranked projects or products can be delayed or eliminated to recoup costs.

Despite budget cuts, IT units invest in technologies to support digital transformation and continued operations amidst COVID-19.

EDUCAUSE’s IT Budgets, 2020-21 October QuickPoll (n=153) found that 44% of institutions invested in technologies supporting digital transformation as a cost containment measure, while 15% intend to do so. Session participants stated that recent IT spend primarily addresses immediate COVID-19 challenges, from supporting accessibility in remote learning and streamlining processes and collaboration for remote work, to tracking, containing, and testing infrastructure for COVID-19. Complete EAB’s IT Value Assessment to identify and communicate how DX investments contribute to strategic priorities and generate buy-in.

To mitigate potential backlash, IT leaders should clearly communicate how budget cuts will impact service levels to university leadership as well as academic and business units.

IT leaders are cognizant of their elevated strategic role amidst the pandemic and are reluctant to make service level cuts that will diminish the goodwill they have built among academic and business units.


Envisioning the Future of Classrooms and Academic Technologies

Very few of us think about the future 10 years from now on a regular basis.

Fifty-four percent of our participants responded they think decade out only once a year or rarely, while 30% indicated they ponder this weekly. Future thinking as a practice requires effort and skill and starts with an ability to identify and interpret ‘signals,’ which are examples of the future that occur in the present.

When asked to consider several ‘signals,’ IT leaders were excited about the prospect of new technologies to enhance learning, but expressed concern about continued equity gaps, data privacy, and potential perverse incentives.

Participants were asked to review a series of emerging practices, such as eyeglasses that can detect and alert students when their attention wanes, and then consider how the tech would change the nature of education if widely adopted. While many could see new tech being naturally adopted and explored the added benefits such tools might present, such as feeding engagement data back to instructors, IT leaders also stated that tools must meet privacy standards and be accessible to all constituents.

Future thinking helps leaders create a vision for the type of organization they want to thrive and craft a plan for organizational resilience. 

Building a skillset and culture of futurist thinking can help IT leaders turn strategic goals into an actionable plan, especially when faced with high levels of uncertainty and change. If you would like EAB to facilitate a future thinking workshop for your leadership team, please contact Nalika Vasudevan

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Meet the Experts

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Nalika Vasudevan

Sr. Director, Strategic Research
Nalika Vasudevan leads research on behalf of higher education IT leaders. Nalika began her career in higher education as a Research Associate with EAB in 2011, and continued to serve universities and colleges as a consultant with Deloitte before rejoining EAB in 2020.
Ron Yanosky


As a director of research in the IT Forum, Ron Yanosky contributes to the forum’s research in areas including IT strategic planning, IT governance, and performance management.
Fischer-Michael-Studio Session 2-707

Michael Fischer

Associate Director, Research
Michael Fischer is a consultant for research development. As a researcher on EAB’s Facilities Forum, Michael focuses on surfacing best practices for facilities operations at colleges and universities.

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