A virtual reality: TU's IT team rises to the challenge - The University of Tulsa

A virtual reality: TU’s IT team rises to the challenge

As universities across the U.S. prepared for the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on campus operations, TU’s IT team began discussing and planning for the possibility that classes would need to move online in an effort to help slow the spread of the disease. Led by Vice President of Information Technology and CIO Paige Francis, the team had just a matter of hours to put those plans into place once university leadership made the decision to move to a virtual learning environment effective March 18.

Pivot! TU IT partners with faculty to move classes online

The first order of business: Creating and distributing a survey to faculty members assessing their needs for remote Paige Francis, CIO Information Technologyinstruction. All faculty responded, and the IT team acted swiftly to order and distribute hardware, provide training and troubleshoot internet connectivity challenges.

The web team also developed keepteaching.utulsa.edu, a one-stop resource for faculty to quickly access information, share expertise and get tech support. The Faculty Resource Center built courses within Harvey, trained faculty during individual and group sessions and established testing options for teaching and learning.

Using data obtained from the online survey, IT deployed devices, webcams and document cameras to faculty members. They also supported TU’s Student Success team by purchasing devices for students who needed them.

Within the first three days of the move to online classes, the use of Harvey increased by 35%. Francis attributes the increase to “thoughtful, intentional, trained use.”

Students completed three days of online learning before spring break, and classes resumed virtually on March 23 for the remainder of the semester.

Setting a remote workforce up for success

Shortly after mobilizing resources to ensure faculty and students had what they needed to teach and learn online, Francis and her team faced a second challenge: equipping a majority of TU’s staff to perform their jobs from home as the university implemented social distancing measures.

Francis again started with a survey to assess staff needs for remote support. Within hours, she had 370 responses to the survey and days later had more than 90% of those staff members ready to work remotely. Her team sourced and distributed hardware and software and continues to provide training and support to ensure staff can perform their jobs seamlessly. The web team established keepworking.utulsa.edu to serve as an online resource for remote work support. TU staff now use applications like Microsoft Teams to communicate and collaborate.

A Herculean effort

Of the efforts required to make such significant progress in a matter of days, Francis says, “I could not be prouder of this IT team and the university. Leadership has empowered us to take action, and we are running with it. The teamwork, resilience and grace in response to this rapidly changing crisis have been unlike anything I’ve ever experienced. It’s tough work, but it’s the right work, and we have the right people at TU.”

Feedback on the entire process has been overwhelmingly positive. Ron Walker, associate dean of Oxley College of Health Sciences and clinical professor of athletic training, wrote the following message to Francis and her team: “Leadership is easy when everything is going right; sometimes impossible when things aren’t going so well. You and your team have been amazing at communicating, confronting anxiety head-on and supporting our students, faculty and staff.”

Communication is key

Francis continues to send out communications to relay helpful information as faculty, staff and students learn to navigate a new way of operating. She says that nonstop over-communication is key during times of change. “If there were silos, we’ve knocked them all down by now. TU, we are here for you.”