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IT helps with K-State’s reawakening

One IT imageOn March 13, our lives changed when K-State had quickly shifted to remote teaching and learning. IT staff jumped into action to make sure that we could support our students, faculty, and fellow staff members who were working remotely during this unique semester.

Countless hours were spent providing technology training and answering calls at the IT Help Desk. The Keep Teaching and Remote Work Guide websites were created to provide guidance, equipment was distributed, software was provided, and IT staff did what they could to support our K-State family.

Daily we learned new information about the COVID-19 virus, and we started to make plans for the reawakening of K-State. Under the direction of Provost Taber, the Academic Instruction Working Group was formed to provide recommendations for safely conduct in-person classes during the fall semester at K-State three campuses.

The working group’s charge was to propose an academic instruction model that:

  • Continues to protect the health and safety of students, faculty, staff, and our communities.
  • Maintains high-quality learning environments for students.
  • Balances the needs of students and faculty.
  • Is quickly adaptable to respond to changing conditions related to COVID-19.

Scott Finkeldei, Director for Academic and Student Technology, Division of Information Technology, was asked to be a member of the group and make sure the needs of classroom technology were represented. Now that the group’s work is done and the fall semester is underway, Scott has taken a moment to provide some insight into the group’s work.

Tell us about the Academic Instruction Working Group

We started meeting immediately in March, two times a week to adjust to the ever-changing conditions. Our goal was to make a recommendation to the provost for academic instruction for fall 2020 with the focus being on students returning to the classroom at some level, while others would still need to teach and learn remotely. We knew going in that we would need to plan for a hybrid situation.

In addition to focusing on the fall semester, we also provided recommendations on how the spring semester should end and how the summer semester should be handled.

Our recommendations were given to the provost in June. The provost used our recommendations to develop the protocols and guidance to prepare K-State’s three campuses for the fall semester.

The group stopped meeting in August. Any changes or adjustments to the policies and procedures going forward will be made by the provost.

Do you feel like all parties at K-State needs were represented during the planning?

Yes, we relied on experts throughout K-State and outside resources like the Center for Disease Control to guide us. The Teaching and Learning Center at K-State provide pedagogy experts to recommend best practices. Global Campus provided advice for a more robust online delivery of courses and provided training for faculty.

Academic department heads and faculty representatives helped ensure that the voice of the individual instructor was represented and their teaching needs were met. The Office of the Registrar provided the crucial space planning component.

Cooperation with deans and department heads was critical to ensure that we could create a safe campus environment. IT recommended the training and deployment for hardware and software solutions to meet the goal of academic instruction plans.

The Department of Communications and the provost staff provided continuous communication to campus as the rapid changes were occurring.

What IT challenges did you face?

From an IT standpoint, equipment specifications and finding the right vendors was a challenge. Finding hardware, cameras, and microphones was difficult, and getting those items in a timely fashion so they could be installed for fall proved to be challenging.

For the fall semester, 498 general-use and departmental classroom spaces will be used. We ordered 400 cameras, 400 microphones, podiums, and other gear for general use classrooms. We worked with academic department system administrators to plan and distribute hardware, provide support documentation, equipment training, and cleaning supplies for the instructor workstations.

To clean the technology, 70% isopropyl alcohol has been provided to the instructors. Instructors will be responsible for cleaning the equipment before use. The Division of Facilities will handle the cleaning of hard surfaces in the classrooms. Plans are in place to restock cleaning supplies throughout the semester.

To learn more about the designated teaching spaces for the fall, view K-State’s Classroom Technology webpage.

To learn more about K-State’s cleaning policies, view the COVID-19 Cleaning and Disinfecting Guidance pdf.

What is a takeaway from this experience?

This project required an incredible amount of cooperation across academic and departmental units in a short amount of time. This has not only been successful, but we have all worked really well together. It was nice to see everyone come together and work really hard to provide a safe environment at K-State.

Many measures are in place to assist in mitigating the spread of COVID-19 during the fall semester. The K-State COVID-19 website is the best resource for current information and guidance.

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