With only 115 people working as part of the central IT and technology support teams, the University of Memphis requires careful management to provide the highest level of support to its substantial customer base.
Sue Hull-Toye leads the public-facing operations of the division. Until recently, her teams relied upon several disconnected systems to perform ticket tracking, case review, user support, and data collection. The result was a clunky process that provided little benefit to students or employees.
The situation required change.
Taking on the multitude of disparate technologies
Before changing solutions, the university employed multiple disparate, and somewhat ineffective, technologies cobbled together to power the service desk.
By attempting to integrate multiple, unrelated tools, IT actually outsmarted itself and created barriers of complexity. “We invested heavily in technology and further modified what we had,” says Hull-Toye. “We built a Swiss watch when a sundial would have been adequate,” said Robert Johnson, associate CIO, “and doing so created as much of an internal burden as it was supposed to solve.”
Moreover, the university’s service desk team worked much harder than necessary, especially on tasks that should have been simple – all because of the solutions employed to manage them. “We spent too much money and time ‘solving’ some problems while inadvertently creating more problems than we solved,” explains Hull-Toye.
Johnson said that the most demanding challenges received the least attention because of the work required to manage these tasks, tickets, and assets across multiple systems.
Data reporting suffered tremendously.
When the university’s CIO asked IT directors to review current information about ticket management, service requests, and response rates, they discovered correlated, traceable data was hard to come by.
Vishal Raina, CEO and founder of California-based YoungWonks, shares his thoughts on tips for delivering the best virtual learning experience during COVID-19:
1. Arrange for a good internet connection: Given that the class is now taking place online, it is imperative to make sure that your internet connection is not patchy. It would be a good idea to perhaps even have a backup of sorts (through an Internet hotspot dongle) in case your home WiFi isn’t doing a good enough job.
2. Ensure total online privacy and safety: Every online teacher needs to recognise the utmost need to ensure this, especially given recent instances of Zoombombing (Zoombombing refers to unwanted intrusions into video conference calls which in turn cause disruption).
a) For starters, the instructor should not allow students / attendees to use fake names while logging in, particularly in online classrooms where students prefer not to switch on their video. This, along with keeping tabs on the final list of attendees expected to join the class, will help weed out any walk-ins/ unregistered participants.
b) Many video conferencing platforms have an online waiting room; so it may be a good idea to have students wait in such an online room, before their attendance is vetted and they are allowed to join the actual online class.
c) Several online meeting platforms allow meetings or classes to be conducted without the need for a password. This should be avoided and instead, instructors should create passwords for signing into the admin account which allows them to start the online class. They should take care to use a strong, unique password, preferably one not used anywhere else; especially since these meetings are attended by kids and student privacy is a sensitive matter that deserves serious attention.
3. Pick a plain background for the online class: Like in a physical classroom, it would do well to have minimal distractions so that students can focus on the subject at hand. In a virtual classroom, the instructor can do so by picking a plain / white background to sit or stand against and teach. In fact, several meeting platforms offer in-built virtual backgrounds.
4. Enable drawing on screen on a case-by-case basis: A good way of enforcing discipline in an online class is to not enable the drawing feature for all students in your class. Before the class begins, it would be good to disable this and allow students to draw on screen after they seek permission from you to do so. This will ensure that kids get to draw only when needed. Allowing all students to draw, instead of letting them do so on a case-by-case basis – can lead to unwarranted nuisance and waste of crucial class time.
5. Hosting rights: The host of an online meeting (read: classroom in this case) typically has many overruling rights and hence it is important to make sure that these rights are not misused or passed on easily. To begin with, it is recommended to disable the “join before host” feature, which means no one will be able to join the online class in the absence of the teacher. This will ensure better student supervision. Similarly, it is also advised to avoid sharing host rights with students. Often the settings in video conference apps are such that the meeting host changes automatically in the event of the original host having a weak Internet connection. It would be wise to change such a default setting so that the hosting rights do not pass on to a student in the online class.
6. Clamping down on unnecessary chatting between students: Much like in a physical classroom, it is important to contain the distractions and one way of doing this is making sure that the chat settings are in order. This means that the chats in the online classroom should be sent to everyone and individual/ private chats between students is disabled. Muting all students by default is also a standard move in an online classroom. Of course, the teacher would have to keep telling students to unmute themselves before talking and mute themselves after talking.
7. Encourage use of the raise hand feature: In digital classrooms, teachers must explain and encourage the use of raise hand features provided by the online meeting platforms. Often too many students have a query or a point to be made at the same time and the raise hand feature comes in handy in such situations. It basically keeps track of the order in which hands were raised and allows students to speak up accordingly.
8. Use breakout rooms whenever needed: In digital classrooms where you wish to break up your students into smaller groups, using a virtual breakout room is a good idea. This will allow students to split into smaller sets where they can work on their project / assignment even as the teacher gets to move between groups and keep track of each group’s progress. However, such virtual breakout rooms are ideal for older, self-driven kids that do not need constant monitoring.
9. Take time out to explain how an online class works: This may sound trivial, except it is far from it. Even in today’s day and age, many students may find it tough to log into an online class; this is particularly true for younger students. To avoid the ensuing confusion and waste of time, it is better for teachers to follow a standard protocol where they start out by devoting a few minutes to explaining how a digital classroom works, what are the different features being offered by the video conference platform, how the mute and unmute buttons work, and so on. At least in the initial sessions, it would be a good idea to do so.
10. Streamlining the publication of online handouts, assignments: With students no longer turning in their assignments on paper, schools need to figure out a convenient way in which students can submit their online handouts and assignments. Platforms such as Google Classroom, EdOptim are ideal as these are feature-packed school management softwares that facilitate the above in a smooth manner.
11. Sending out meeting links on time: Teachers should take care to email meeting links well before the class is scheduled to begin. Often parents and students just end up waiting for the meeting link and join the class a lot later so it certainly helps if one is organised about sending these links. Often, parents may request that teachers do not change the meeting link as it is convenient for everyone to just go to the same one each time. But it is important for teachers to evaluate the pros and cons of doing so. While retaining the same link is no doubt convenient and can be time-saving (it does away with the need to send out a new one for each session), doing so also increases the chances of non-participants joining the session. In case of meetings with unique links, it is important for teachers to send them across well in advance and not at the last minute.
12. Opt for meeting platforms where distance learning is integrated into the student portal itself: A meeting that can be logged into by accessing the link from a student portal is typically more secure than one where one awaits the link to be shared via a different channel. Also, accessing the link from a password-protected portal also means there is no need for a link to be generated by the teacher hosting each session. This in turn helps avoid outsiders and a scenario where parents and students end up waiting for the said meeting link.
I am learning many lessons along the way for delivering the best virtual learning experience during this pandemic. The most critical being communication; when information is flowing in many different directions and decisions are made very quickly, communication must be clear across all stakeholders. This way, staff can set expectations and create stronger teams within Compass Charter Schools, resulting in improved morale during achallenging time.
Many families have technology at home that allows their scholars to learn virtually, but there are a number that do not. It is apparent across the information technology industry that many families do not have all that they need, fortunately, we were able to provide to our scholars and families, but many schools are not. There still are shortages of many different devices for virtual learning.
Another lesson that we learned is the importance of being able to provide essential networking and trouble shooting for parents and scholars at home. Many schools and learning centers have high-end networks and devices that are programmed to work efficiently. In a residential environment, these networks vary and may require special support to operate in a virtual learning environment.
These unprecedented times force companies to evaluate the way they serve their customers and redesign what that experience looks like to meet the demands that flood the market. Internet service providers are on the front lines and face an influx of requests for services.
This evaluation and redesign create many challenges because of the need for more technicians than are available to enter the home for installation and basic setup. This was a learning experience for everyone as we were able to see how dependent we are on technology.
I also want to share some best practice tips for an excellent virtual learning experience. Create and follow a schedule that will help achieve more productivity throughout the day and create a separation between personal time and learning time.
Have a designated clutter-free workspace that will keep distractions to a minimum and help stay focused on learning. Most importantly, this is an unparalleled situation that we are all dealing with, be adaptable, and flexible along the way.
Shai Reshef, president of University of the People, an online, non-profit, tuition-free, American-accredited University, says: “Ready or not, COVID-19 has forced higher education online. Universities were ill-prepared to fully switch online and are all understandably frustrated at having to do so in just a few weeks, and even more so now that there is a possibility of remaining online until 2021.”
Reshef says that a big problem many universities are facing right now is that they have been forced to go online before they are ready. But moving to online instruction is tricky and if not implemented properly, instead of succeeding, the online classes may backfire and create major disappointments.
“Quality higher education online is more than just a live zoom class. Developing content and technique that works online takes time, and creating a quick fix for campus closures is going to be difficult,” he said. “At University of the People, we didn’t need to suddenly adapt to an online environment – we’ve been doing this for the past decade and have the infrastructure in place, and the pedagogy and experience in remote learning. For example, our instructors are experienced in teaching online, and are trained on how to address the unique challenges students will face, such as motivation, self-discipline, and the ability to learn alone.”
According to a University of the People/Harris Poll, nearly a third (31%) of Americans have experienced frustration with online schooling systems since the stay-home orders went into effect.
I am Tanya Sheckley, founder of UP Academy, a progressive elementary lab school for the inclusion of students with physical disabilities in San Mateo, California. As a small school, one of my many hats is head of IT.
Our school is small, creative and flexible in our teaching and our methods, we employ the feedback of our educators, students and parents as well as new research and ideas in education all the time. This nimbleness allowed us to pivot quickly to online learning.
We began with a split schedule, we have young learners and didn’t want them online for hours a day. Our educational method is individualized and uses technology sparingly, we believe individualized education should come from individuals. We had 30 minutes of Zoom educator time, 30 minutes independent work and a break in several cycles a day. We wanted to break up screen time with independence and play.
Lessons learned: Too little screen time does not allow for connection. Too many sign on/offs was difficult for parents and students.
Iteration two included weekly emails for parent preparation, adding school wide morning meeting time and parent feedback meetings and weekly staff meetings to discuss issues.
Lessons learned: To be successful the program must work for families philosophies and new challenges of timing and working from home (ours wasn’t). While morning meeting added a time to connect with the school, it wasn’t enough for students to get to chat with each other. Students need to learn and have time to talk, just like in school. Google Classroom assignments was sending 20 to 50 emails per week to families, it was overwhelming.
Iteration three: We turned off Classroom notifications, we changed our schedule to learning blocks and flexible learning time, we added a longer lunch break and more educator interaction on project work. We added a 30 min 1:1 session with each student and educator to talk about whatever they wanted — it could be school work or math questions, or it could be sharing a favorite book or talking about coloring the millenium falcon — the goal is the students mental health and knowing they had another adult, besides a parent, to connect with and talk to.
Responses by Dr. Yair Shapira, CEO and founder, AmplioSpeech.
What did school-based speech-language therapy look like before COVID-19?
More than 10% of all students suffer from speech-language deficits, and require therapy at some point during their K-12 journey. Until recently, most K-12 schools relied on in-person speech language therapy sessions with Speech-Language Pathologists (SLPs) hired and trained within the school district. Students would meet either individually or in small groups for face-to-face instruction and SLPs would track and measure progress using their subjective judgement; however, this can often lead to an inconsistent picture of students’ progress and performance.
These school-based SLPs often do not have access to speech-language-specific technologies, but instead utilize the district’s existing resources and the same technologies adopted in traditional classrooms. School-based speech-language therapy has always lagged behind traditional education when it comes to technological adoption, and there hasn’t been a widespread push by school districts to introduce novel technologies and platforms for speech-language students.
How has the pandemic changed the way schools approach speech-language services?
With the recent shift toward online learning caused by COVID-19, K-12 districts are now turning to speech language technologies and platforms such as AmplioSpeech to fill technology and organizational gaps in their speech-language services.
AmplioSpeech is a leading digital speech-language therapy provider that equips SLPs and their students with an AI-based platform for online and onsite therapy, to accelerate students’ progress, reduce SLPs workload, boost IEP compliance and automate documentation. The platform includes a library of smart and engaging practice materials and tools for self-monitoring, measurement, assignment completion, and more. Additionally, AmplioSpeech empowers SLPs to become intervention leaders and clinical decision-makers.
Speech-language students require targeted solutions to continue their progress in the shift to online learning, and are often ill-served by general-purpose services such as Zoom or Microsoft Teams. In a current example, AmplioSpeech’s recent partnership with the Texas Education Agency has allowed SLPs across more than 100 Texas school systems to better service more than 10,000 speech-language students in the state while they stay home.
Noah Teitelbaum, executive director of Empowering Education spent years training teachers in how to deliver a best-in-class live online instruction and helping move in person courses online. He is currently the executive director or an education nonprofit that is pivoting to help K-12 teachers deliver social-emotional learning lessons.
Here are three tips for delivering a great virtual classroom experience (with a focus on live online delivery):
Stop looking at yourself. It can be tiring to look at yourself while teaching and it can diminish our ability to connect to students (imagine trying to connect with someone at a cocktail party while looking at yourself in the mirror the whole time).
After making sure you have no spinach in your teeth, shut off your view of yourself. Some platforms (e.g., Zoom) allow you to turn off the picture of yourself while still showing it to students. For those platforms that don’t allow this, pick up a PostIt note and put it over the square of yourself and get focused on your students. Encourage your students to do the same.
End the tyranny of the fastest. Remember when there was that one kid in class who always had the answer and would shout it out, leaving you uninterested in participating? That also happens online, especially if the teacher relies on the chat window for student participation. One way to avoid this is to have everyone type in their answer without hitting enter — then have everyone hit enter on the count of three. (Take the class culture up a notch by having participants read and comment on one another’s answers.)
Another option that is particularly useful if you’re going to call on one student to answer a question is before calling on a student, give everyone time to jot down their thoughts or answer on a piece of paper. Then ask everyone to listen to the person you then call on and to consider how that student’s answer is different from their answer.
Move around. Many teachers move around when they teach in-person and so it can be helpful to pull back the camera, set up a whiteboard or easel, and give yourself the ability to move your arms and write on an actual board. Similarly, students appreciate moving. Have students use hand gestures to react, or have them write answers in large print on paper and show it. With younger students, give them assignments to retrieve some sort of item from their house and then show it on camera.
One of my biggest challenges in transitioning to online learning is maintaining consistency for students. They signed up for an in-person class at the beginning of the semester not an online class, so I tried to keep it as close to the in-person format as possible. Many of my colleagues have been using voice-over with Powerpoint slides or writing on a tablet, but I find that a bit too impersonal.
I have also been using an educational tool from Osmo called a “Reflector”–it is basically a mirror for my webcam. Right when classes started going online, Osmo came out with a free Projector App for iPad that allows their Reflector to be used as a projector [of my desktop]. This way, I can take the Osmo Reflector off of my camera and speak to my students face-to-face, then I can put it back on and write notes, answer questions, or pose problems for them to do. [i.e. They won’t see the professor’s writing notes as “backward writing” on the wall, like when you do using Face Time.]
Furthermore, I use 3-D models in my chemistry course, and I wouldn’t be able to utilize these if I were only in a Powerpoint or tablet format. The Osmo Projector App makes online interactions feel more like a normal class, and many of my students have commented that it made the online transition much smoother than other courses.
In terms of adjustments I had to make in the transition to online teaching, I have had to omit certain assignments from my course because of the online format. Since I teach biochemistry lab, there are some experiments that the students simply cannot do from home.
Instead, I give them “fake data” and challenge them to write lab reports as if they had done the experiment themselves. Regardless of any changes, I still have high expectations for my students. The courses that I teach are preparing them for more challenging courses, and they will be expected to know this material in future semesters.
By Matt Guenin, chief commercial officer, ElectrifAi.
In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, higher education institutions are now facing increasing challenges to attract students and grow student enrollment. This challenge has been magnified by the financial crisis with a large number of students reluctant to begin or return to school this fall, especially as concerns with growing unemployment spike record numbers.
Colleges and universities face unprecedented challenges to ensure full classes of qualified and promising students, and traditional recruitment tactics are proving ineffective.
Institutions must find a better way to define their target student and optimize enrollment in a more competitive market. Fortunately, artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) is offering higher education an innovative way to do this more effectively.
Momentum building to drop test-based admissions scores
Up until recently, schools have used SAT/ACT/GMAT/GRE scores as a key measure of qualification for admission. But even before the pandemic hit, there was much debate over the efficacy of how these scores could predict academic success or even career potential. Now, with online classes and virtual testing adding another layer of uncertainty to this process, major university systems like California have dropped this requirement given concerns about fairness.
Many more schools are considering dropping test scores entirely and several institutions, including the University of Chicago, the University of Rochester, and Marquette University, have already moved to a test-optional policy to help attract a broader range of college applicants.
The University of Rochester, which generally receives a high number of applicants, found that having a “test flexible” period made it evident that test scores added little value to the admissions decision process. Marquette chose to drop the requirements for test scores as part of a campaign to attract a more diverse student pool.
The impact of the COVID-19 on student enrollment
While numerous higher education institutions have worked for years to compete more effectively given declining enrollment trends, the COVID-19 pandemic has been a catalyst for change. Lower enrollment is forecasted this fall as a result of financial disruption, social distancing policies, and concerns with shift to online learning.
Many universities also must face loss of international students given latest restrictions. Essentially, pent up concerns that have been building for years regarding the admissions process for higher education are being exasperated by COVID-19, paired with travel and social distancing restrictions – we’ve created the perfect catalyst for a year of enrollment unlike any before.
Admissions departments will face increasing challenges and disruption given these structural and macro issues in higher education, resulting in a cascade effect across the system covering Tier 1, 2, 3, down through the community colleges.
We will have to learn new ways to make admissions decisions in the face of uncertainty and increased competition by other schools, of which will require largely different approaches for large state schools, regional universities, or small private colleges.
Responses by Nick Schiavi, vice president and global head, high education, Unit 4.
Because most schools have moved to virtual learning environments in response to COVID-19, what are the likely long-term outcomes of this?
The conversations we’ve had lately with our customers, from our people in the field who are leading projects, and those who are in touch with the macro-responses by the global industry, are pointing to a couple of things:
There will likely be more effort spent on planning for continuity of operations. Ensuring that education can still be delivered and institutions can continue to operate without being fully dependent on being in an office is likely to be a focal point.
There is likely to be a focus on faculty enablement and the operational support around them to help them be more comfortable delivering courses anywhere and anytime.
I doubt in-classroom education will go away for good. Will there begin to be a sea-change? Potentially yes, considering all the ways we learn today, during any phase of life, there is a combination of in-person instruction and training; experiential and immersive learning; and self-paced knowledge consumption.
From what I’ve been reading and hearing from educators and other vendors, this situation could create a time to re-focus on curriculum design and delivery methods to increase student engagement. Having family members who are educators, I know the rigors of transitioning instructional design and faculty enablement to effectively deliver online courses can be substantial but enduring them is important to be successful in that transition.
What might institutions need to do to attract and retain students in a climate where supply may begin to outpace demand?
This is an interesting question since enrollment and retention have been common challenges for a long time, even prior to this pandemic. Ultimately I believe that institutions will double-down on their interest in differentiating themselves from their peers. Competition for fewer enrollments may occur in the near term; however, this also offers opportunity for institutions to create more demand for education from a wider age-range of students.
Many institutions already look at “traditional vs. non-traditional enrollments” but this situation may be a catalyst for every institution to focus more on how they can engage new segments of the population as students. I suspect it will provide an opportunity for institutions to become more creative as marketers – potentially even thinking of themselves as product managers seeking to understand their target segments more deeply and re-packaging their offerings to attract new enrollments that are the best fit, which should also help with retaining those students.
How do you continue to support the health, safety, and well-being of students, faculty, and staff with everyone distributed remotely?
I look at this from the angle of prioritization of the urgent-important items first. Imagine if all of our customers lived, worked, and ate in our offices – day in and day out – and they also happened to be young adults not yet accustomed to being on their own. In that scenario during a pandemic crisis I’d first look at how we transition all of our customers back to a safe and protected place, how we monitor and account for their successful transition, how we handle the same monitoring and accounting for our own staff, and only then start looking at basic operations and service delivery needs which in many cases include providing equipment and communications tools to staff that they don’t currently have.
So on top of accounting for everyone, you need to ensure you have the supply chain moving to equip them all. That’s the type of scenario institutions are facing around the world right now – it’s a version of Maslow’s Hierarchy where everyone is reset to ensure the basic needs are met first. Only after that phase, which I suspect many US institutions are emerging from now, can they look at continuity of operations and academic delivery beyond the immediate term.
In the long run I suspect this increases the prioritization of digital transformation and organizational change management but those cycles can only happen after the first layers of the Hierarchy are addressed.