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
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.
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 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.
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.
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).
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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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