Collaboration Helped Kent State Keep on Working, Teaching and Learning
As the concern of the COVID-19 pandemic heightened throughout the month of March, Kent State made the decision to cancel face-to-face classes and move to completely online classes. But that meant some heavy lifting on the part of faculty, staff and students.
According to Valerie Kelly, associate vice president for the Office of Continuing and Distance Education (OCDE), over the course of six days, Kent State University’s Information Technology (IT) staff, OCDE staff, departmental educational technologists and instructional designers moved more than 8,000 traditional courses to digital learning platforms for remote instruction. This is more than 84% of the courses held at Kent State in total.
So, while both teams worked quickly in the background, faculty, staff and students had to transition to a new remote teaching, working and learning environment. For some, this change was easy, Kent State has been offering online classes for years. For others, this presented a challenge. In every scenario, this shift would not have been possible without the IT and OCDE staff at Kent State.
On Tuesday, March 10, President Todd Diacon sent an email to the Kent State community canceling classes and sharing next steps for the university. The email stated remote classes would resume the following Monday, March 16. In this short window of time, the university looked to both the IT team and OCDE team at Kent State to make that transition a reality. IT held training sessions, while OCDE staff created websites to help faculty make the move seamless.
“The biggest difficulty for faculty is simply time. They did not have time to design an online class. Faculty had to find the most practical solutions to help students finish the semester,” said Kelly.
Enter Jim Raber, executive director of Information Technology.
Kelly and Raber's teams created three websites: the OCDE team created kent.edu/KeepOnTeaching, kent.edu/KeepOnLearning and the IT team created kent.edu/KeepOnWorking. Each of these sites act as resources for the Kent State community including support materials and tips designed for each of the three major user groups.
The KeepOnTeaching website was accessed more than 3,000 times after one month of the move.
The teams hosted sessions specifically for faculty on the cultural shift of face-to-face interactions with students versus remote interactions. These sessions occurred until remote classes resumed. In total, 116 faculty members attended the live sessions, with over 130 watching the recorded sessions.
“Most universities took an extended spring break; two, and in some cases, even three weeks to get the move to remote learning accomplished. Kent State didn’t need to do that,” President Diacon said in a video interview regarding coronavirus updates for the university. “We took three days off to get ready for this, but that’s because our faculty were ready, our IT people were ready, and our Continuing and Distance Education people were ready.”
Not only did both teams work with faculty, staff and students to assist with the shift from face-to-face classes to remote, the IT team worked closely with BlackBoard to ensure Learn and Collaborate Ultra were prepared for the increase in traffic.
“We knew there were going to be a lot more sections offered online than in the past, and there would be a spike in service usage,” Raber said. “We wanted to scale it up, so we added more servers and memory and worked with BlackBoard engineers to size everything appropriately. This infrastructure is what really weathered the storm.”
Earlier in the semester, on a typical Tuesday, the busiest day of the week for classes, the peak volume of hits-per-hour on BlackBoard is about 900,000. The hits-per-hour on the Tuesday after the move to remote classes nearly doubled, with 1.6 million hits per hour. Due to the quick infrastructure preparation during the short break between face-to-face and remote classes, there were zero performance issues with BlackBoard Learn, according to Raber.
Not only was there an increase in hits-per-hour to Blackboard, both teams had to prepare for an influx of questions from faculty, staff and students. To combat the influx of HelpDesk calls, the IT team pushed the chat option. HelpDesk agents now take about 2-3 chats at a time, which decreases wait times to roughly 0-5 seconds per person.
Considering the dynamic situation, both teams are proud and thankful for the support of the Kent State community.
“I can’t express how deeply appreciative I am towards faculty and students,” Raber said. “Kent has always been a place where people take care of each other, but it has been so visible and tangible over the last couple of days.”
While the IT team and the OCDE team made the move smoothly and efficiently, it was a difficult and telling time for the Kent State community. But each group did its part.
“Absolutely everyone has risen to this challenge. This challenging circumstance has given all of us the opportunity to show how much we care about Kent State and our students. There have been a lot of very long days, but I have not heard one complaint,” Kelly said. “The people of Kent State have really come together, even if not physically, to try to do their very best for students.”