For many years, I have participated in emergency management exercises to ensure we are ready for any type of situation that comes our way. If any of those practice scenarios had ever included what our university is currently facing, my response would have been "we won't ever have to deal with this."
If anyone would have described the rollercoaster ride we've all been on — moving to fully online instruction, then to a variety of in-person and online approaches, while anticipating new challenges — I would not have believed them. It's all come to seem like the ups and downs of a series of things we thought we'd never do.
March and April 2020
On March 30, IU conducted 7,946 online meetings/webinars. Nearly 28,000 participants connected online that day for 800,501 meeting minutes.
Back in March when we quickly pivoted online, we led the support of Zoom and Kaltura (lecture capture). We were nervous but excited, almost like we were launching a new startup company as we watched the numbers of users and sessions rise that first day after spring break.
We also launched Remote Desktop in the Student Technology Centers, so students could access the entire suite of specialized software (including discipline-specific collections like the IUPUI engineering build) through IUanyWare. We will continue building on this service to support distance and eLearning well into the future.
The IU Classroom Database has grown from 500 or 600 entries to over 3,500 space records — including details like what kind of webcam or sound system is installed, as well as the social distancing capacity of the space.
When spring semester ended, we knew we couldn't rest easy. For well over 15 years, our Learning Spaces team has used a sophisticated classroom database (classrooms.iu.edu) to capture pertinent data on the classrooms we support. Over the years, we entertained the idea of offering this as the main repository for all spaces on every IU campus, but felt that the task was too monumental.
Due to the pandemic, the university needed to identify learning spaces on all campuses, and asked us to coordinate the effort. While we truly never believed it was possible, we have now reached over 3,500 records of spaces across IU's campuses (including departmental, residential, auxiliary, and general classrooms). This is an incredible opportunity for us to provide all campuses with detailed information on their many learning spaces.
All IU campuses collaborated on a large volume order of audio/visual packages for classroom upgrades, including 500+ webcams and 700+ USB doc cams.
Meanwhile, we anxiously waited for the announcement about IU's plans for fall 2020. The Learning Spaces team also installs and supports the technology in most general inventory spaces, and we knew we'd need to act quickly … but toward what end? We began by first determining which technology is needed to teach a course where some students are in the classroom, and others are online.
We knew we'd be placing a sizable equipment order at a time of limited inventories and high demand. We felt victorious in placing an early large-scale order until we sent a call-out out to all departments to determine their needs, which well exceeded the order we had placed. With the mantra of "stay calm and pivot," we navigated an uncertain landscape to place another large-scale order, so departments and regional campuses also had the equipment necessary to ensure instructors could initiate Zoom calls, share content, and scale out audio to their online students.
July and August 2020
At IU Bloomington alone, the Learning Spaces team identified 21 auxiliary spaces, including in the IU Auditorium and Indiana Memorial Union, for classroom use.
But the story doesn't stop here. Because of the social distancing guidelines, the university needed to create new learning spaces in defined auxiliary spaces (now found in our new database). Once those spaces were identified, we jumped in to install sufficient technology for a quality experience for the instructor, onsite students, and online students. After receiving a variety of questions related to classroom technology, we also created a video modeling best practices (featured in this issue's "How to tech" column).
Needless to say, all of this has been a challenge, but I am completely astounded by the professionalism of my team. I cannot believe their ability to overcome insurmountable odds and meet goals I would have never thought attainable. With every new challenge, they rose to the occasion, stayed calm, and triumphed.
Even when the rollercoaster presented an unexpected drop, we knew we had enough momentum to rise to the challenge. We now have an extensive classroom database and an improved classroom support structure, which includes online chat and remote desktop assistance for our instructor stations. We are ready to support teaching and learning this fall — no matter what form it takes.
Most faculty have never personally met the amazing Learning Spaces team who work behind the scenes to make great spaces ready for great teaching. We care about the success of each and every class held at Indiana University. And we won't let a national pandemic stop us from supporting you and your students.