How To Engage Schools and Students In The Time of COVID-19
Response from Rick Merrick, chief information officer, TCS Education System.
We have been in a race to respond to coronavirus and its impact on our colleges.
We were seeing the virus spread in other countries and watching their response, so we knew it was only a matter of time before the U.S. took social distancing measures and issue stay at home orders.
Given that reality, we focused our efforts on the following items:
- Ordering laptops and other equipment to support a remote workforce
- Reviewing/ordering necessary licenses to support a remote workforce
- Reviewing bandwidth requirements and networking devices to support increase VPN demands
- Developing and scheduling necessary technology training for all employees to prepare them for first day at home
- Reviewing security practices to respond to new attack vectors
- Meeting with academic leaders to develop a plan to transition all students to distance education using new tools
To assist with the transition, we trained the organization on Microsoft Teams. This is the primary tool we use to manage remote employees and departmental teams. We also use two additional video conferencing solutions to help with meetings and delivering synchronous distance education, they are GoToMeeting and Zoom. All students, faculty, and staff have a license for GTM.
Our e-leaning platform is Canvas. We have implemented new ways of using Canvas to support on-ground programs to assist with the transition to online. We are exploring other learning tools to help with the transition, like Respondus, depending on the department or programmatic requirements. We are still exploring new solutions; however, we have seen our colleges adjust curriculum rather than try and solve every problem with technology.
The community has been exceptionally patient throughout this process. They understand the tremendous challenge everyone is facing through this transition, including the strains on the IT department. Many of the challenges have been outside of our control, such as outages with Zoom, Teams, GTM, and home internet providers. These outages are a result of millions of new remote workers using these platforms for the first time, causing unprecedented traffic on the platforms. Most employees have been very understanding of this reality.
Our organization did not anticipate this pandemic, as our business continuity plans did not account for a remote workforce transition that would be nationwide. This provided unique challenges for everyone, including our technology team. However, we have been able to respond quickly to the crisis and keep the organization operating and able to serve our students and faculty.