How the CPM IT Department Built a Virtual Medical School in Wake of COVID-19
It is no secret that COVID-19 has quite literally separated the globe. Though we are apart, grade schools, colleges and universities around the world are united in facing the same challenge: converting their entire curriculum to a distance learning format. Medical schools like Kent State University College of Podiatric Medicine (CPM), are no exception to that requirement. On March 10, CPM Dean Dr. Allan Boike, announced that effective that same afternoon, in accordance with state health officials, students were no longer permitted on campus through at least mid-April. With that date pushing back as COVID-19 creeps to its peak in Ohio, the need for a seamless online learning environment that will stand an indefinite test of time, is even more dire. That’s where Mike Dukles, Joe Coates and Jona Burton, our team connection to the Kent Campus IT Division, have stepped in to build our new virtual podiatry school.
So how do you successfully relocate a four-year medical school to the comfort of home for an entire college? With anatomy labs, casting and injection workshops, face-to-face patient simulations and more, the team of three had to get creative – and fast. According to Mike Dukles, Lead IT User Support Analyst, the team’s first reaction was to set the ground rules and share expectations with faculty, staff and students to reintroduce the available tools and highlight the strengths and weaknesses of each. “It’s not our call to make as to which tools get used in an online format,” Dukles explains, “but rather to ensure that students could continue to have access to the content and the best possible experience.”
Now, about those hands-on classes like Surgical Skills and Anatomy Lab – courses that have historically relied on in-person education. Thanks to close work with the CPM Business Office, the IT team was able to get the necessary equipment to campus quickly in order to continue lab rotations. Clinical faculty then worked with Mike, Joe and Jona to set up lives sessions through Microsoft Teams to demonstrate proper techniques and are on call to answer questions as quickly as students can formulate them. CPM Assistant Professor Christina Pratt, DPM, says the team has proven to be a duo of stability for both faculty and students. “They have been ready at a moment’s notice to jump in and help, and often have been able to anticipate issues even prior to them arising.” Pratt tells us. “Each of them has taken the time to help teach new users and troubleshoot issues in real time,” she recalls, “Mike and Joe are incredibly professional and exhibit genuine interest to help everyone else succeed. We would all be lost without them”.
Like all new major projects, after the initial implementation comes the every-day troubleshooting, which is what Mike, Joe and Jona are facing until students can be welcomed back to campus. They’re accessible all day via phone and email, taking questions and consultation calls from the entire body of 75 employees, plus over 400 students. With final exams approaching quickly in early May, it is imperative that a smooth testing experience has been established in Proctorio, and that students understand how to utilize Microsoft Teams to keep in close contact with faculty. While the team admittedly faces new challenges, Dr. Pratt says they don’t flinch, “They have never exhibited any frustration or confusion at their quick spike in demand. Mike and Joe have remained ahead of the virtual learning shift and are knowledgeable on multiple platforms.”
While the CPM IT team has been consistently proactive and effective throughout, the journey to distance learning is certainly not without its challenges. The biggest thus far, Mike tells us, is ensuring that all the necessary steps for conducting the best online experience are put to continuous use to deliver high-quality lectures, every single time. In each of CPM’s three, 150-seat lecture halls for in-person teaching, IT has created a system to make the lecture experience as smooth as possible, which Mike says is with a big thanks in part to the work and efforts of their dedicated student employees.
Thinking creatively during trying times has shed new light on CPM’s long-established processes and has encouraged the IT department to explore new methods and programs outside of its comfort zone. Jona Burton, Team Leader for Federated Services in the Division of Information Technology, has been working with CPM since June 2019 to finalize the technology transition following CPM’s acquisition by the University in 2012. Continuing his work to this day, Jona’s relationship with CPM has been key to connecting College personnel to individuals at the Kent campus with special skills, abilities and functional specialties to optimize the College’s IT operation. CPM is now poised to move forward in a consistent and optimal manner supporting our students, alumni, faculty, patients and staff – even in this new, uncertain reality.
“Efficiency can be mundane, but it’s the name of the game right now with asking key questions,” Mike says of his position in today’s climate. “Is the way we’ve always delivered student support and outcomes as a College the best? Are there new ways we could be accomplishing our job as a department? How can we save money by cancelling legacy systems and shifting those resources to new initiatives that will keep us on the forefront of podiatric medical education?”. We have a feeling that with Mike, Joe and Jona at the helm of the IT department, CPM will come out on the other end of the COVID-19 era better than ever before.