Behind the scenes: UMIT rallies units to move the University online

Behind the scenes: UMIT rallies units to move the University online

By Brittney Bomnin

Behind the scenes: UMIT rallies units to move the University online

By Brittney Bomnin
In an unprecedented shift, the University moved its classrooms and workspaces online with the help of several teams across the U.

Transitioning to a fully online learning environment required hours of training, reworking courses and syllabi, and translating teaching into digital platforms. As the University community adapts to this new way of working and learning, we’re taking a look at the teams that helped make this possible.

Months of planning put to the test

Following Hurricane Irma in 2018 and long before the novel coronavirus outbreak, the Academic Computing Advisory Committee (ACAC) began exploring ways that technology could be used to ensure academic continuity following a disaster. Working closely with the University’s information technology leaders, the team helps keep the faculty and university administration informed about IT activities, opportunities, challenges, and problems.

At the start of March—after a request from Jeffrey Duerk, executive vice president for academic affairs and provost—committee members and leaders at individual schools and colleges began adapting their own plans for academic continuity following ACAC recommendations, which included survey results from the university’s academic units and other institutions around the country. There needed to be a back-up plan to deliver lectures, so classes could resume as quickly as possible without having to physically be on campus.

“The schools and colleges have their own interdisciplinary approach to learning, and we’re coming up with ways to ensure continuity is evolving in each area,” said Charles Eckman, dean and university librarian who has chaired ACAC for the past five years. According to Eckman, University leaders are looking more closely at how each unit approaches learning and how different ways of learning can be adapted to other disciplines.

“This dynamic environment is setting the stage for future ACAC issues to tackle,” said Eckman, who continues hosting virtual ACAC meetings. “The team is thinking critically about how to get technology to people and make learning better. This crisis is forcing us to learn and adapt quickly, it will make us even more prepared for the upcoming hurricane season and beyond.”

Quick decisions

On March 2, the University established an enterprise agreement with Zoom. By the end of that week, zoom.miami.edu was up and running and all faculty, staff, and students had pro licenses. By the end of March, more than 10,000 ’Canes were actively using the platform and today more than 18,666 meetings—totalling more than 7,557,294 minutes—have been conducted on Zoom, including three virtual town hall meetings that drew more than 5,000 participants.

“I’ve never seen a technology implementation move this fast, impacting so many people, with such positive feedback,” said Ernie Fernandez, vice president for information technology and chief information officer for the University. “It’s a credit to the culture of trust and teamwork that Dr. (Jacqueline) Travisano and the provost have created—where administrative staff and academic faculty work as one to enable the best possible outcomes for students, faculty, and staff.”

In addition to their regular jobs, University of Miami Information Technology (UMIT) staff shifted members of their teams into different roles to offer support for increased help desk requests, to train faculty members, and to develop guides and videos for users new to online learning and collaboration. “When there is disruption, it's important to get a lot of information to everyone very quickly,” said Allan Gyorke, assistant provost for educational innovation and chief academic technology officer. “We had to tackle this challenge by using our UMIT volunteers and communicating key information with representatives from various academic and administrative groups.” Through two-way communication, the team received valuable feedback from their representatives that helped them plan accordingly.

In tandem, the University increased the capacity of Blackboard—which was adopted in 1999 as the University’s learning management system—to handle up to 24,000 simultaneous users. The platform has capabilities for supporting online courses complete with videoconferencing built into Blackboard Collaborate. “In the end, faculty have the choice of using Zoom, Blackboard Collaborate, or other tools to share content and communicate with students,” added Gyorke, and UMIT is available to offer support to all.

A true University-wide adaptation

Across the University, academic and administrative teams moved quickly to collaborate. “Just a few weeks ago we had over 1,300 faculty training sessions to prepare for online; and prior to that, we were really only novices,” reported Duerk during a town hall session on April 1. “Yet, in a short period of time, we became capable and able to try new things. I think that’s such an impressive testament to the resiliency of our faculty and staff,” he added. 

“The Division of Continuing and International Education (DCIE), which has been on the front line of online learning, has become a more integral part of what we do as an institution,” Duerk pointed out. Since mid-March, DCIE has offered training sessions to more than 900 faculty members, and the team continues to provide consultations regarding best online teaching practices.

“But we couldn't have done that without really unique partnerships that are now stronger than ever before between the academic side and the institution,” said Duerk. Teams across the U—including the University Libraries, the Division of Business and Finance, the University’s Information Technology Leadership Council, faculty and staff members from individual schools and colleges, and faculty and staff volunteers—have helped make this possible.

According to Gyorke, the Division of Continuing and International Education, University Libraries, and many faculty members within schools and colleges helped train others to teach online and helped them find resources that they could use in their courses. “This allowed UMIT to focus primarily on technology deployment and support,” Gyorke added.

Learning to adjust

With 3,888 spring semester classes now online, and most of the workforce telecommuting, everyone is adjusting to this new working, teaching, and learning scenario.

“Let’s face it, technology has forever changed the way work is conducted and education is delivered,” said Ronaldo Montmann, a School of Nursing and Health Studies lecturer who teaches online courses in the Master of Healthcare Informatics program. “My advice to faculty and staff is to welcome the change.”

While the workplace may have shifted, the actual work has not. “This shift allows us to develop our digital expertise and connect in new ways,” added Montmann.

 

IT support is readily available to the University community. For more help, contact Academic Technologies at 305-284 2008 or academictechnologies@miami.edu. Find Blackboard support at 305-284-3949 or send an email to blackboardhelp@miami.edu to create a ticket.  

This is part of a series highlighting teams at the U. Do you have a story about a colleague who has gone above and beyond while working remotely or on campus, let us know at lifeattheu@miami.edu.