IS staff working on PCs

Connecting Spiders globally required a turbo-charged approach

October 19, 2020

University News

For UR’s technology teams, a safe return for the campus community meant rethinking both in-person and remote instruction. Faculty would need to communicate with students in class and over Zoom simultaneously. New software, hardware, and security methods were tested and installed. Faculty would need to be trained to deal with new technology, and Wi-Fi was required anywhere a class might be held, including outdoor areas.

“I think the number that we ended up coming up with was about 150 spaces total,” said Doug West, assistant vice president for telecommunications, media support, user services, and academic computing services. “That was a combination of existing classrooms, as well as meeting spaces on campus that were not previously used as classrooms.”

The most visible changes were prominent in-class microphones and cameras needed to connect professors and students, as well as large displays, which provide better viewing angles for students. The Information Services group created a test environment, after consulting with the Faculty Technology Committee, school deans, technical services from the business school and law school, and the Teaching and Scholarship Hub. Then they went about rolling out the equipment in classrooms and other spaces, including four areas in the Robins Center arena.

We have students all over the world, and for the most part, they seem to be getting connected, and attending class just fine.
headshot of Doug West
Doug West

Assistant vice president for telecommunications, media support, user services, and academic computing services

Some of the rooms, like the Jepson Alumni Center, offered acoustic challenges that needed to be addressed — fleece banners were added in the tall ceiling — and many required tinkering over time based on feedback from faculty, staff, and students.

Every classroom has a wireless projection system so that faculty aren’t tied to a lectern, West said. Whatever the instructor is displaying on a laptop can be simultaneously shared on Zoom calls as well as on monitors in the class spaces, where students are at least 6 feet apart.

New class spaces also meant new needs for internet coverage, said Troy Boroughs, assistant vice president for systems and networks. 

“It takes a lot of wires and electricity for something to be wireless,” Boroughs said. His group developed studies to examine bandwidth on campus and create coverage maps. It required a lot of new cabling and wireless access points to make all those spaces suitable for instruction.

There are also 25 new modular housing units on campus for COVID quarantine and isolation needs, and they all needed tech upgrades as well. Boroughs’ team had to install fiber optic cable, networking hardware, and TVs to outfit those units and make them suitable for learning and living.

West said he was pleasantly surprised to find that hundreds of students abroad were able to connect to the internet from their home countries and attend thousands of Zoom meetings.

“We do have students all over the world, and for the most part, they seem to be getting connected, and attending class just fine,” West said.  

Beyond the current socially distanced campus environment, West said the experience will likely aid the campus community in the future, for blended-learning needs, which could include athletes traveling who need to attend class. 

“We’re already beginning conversations about taking mobile solutions we deployed everywhere and integrating them into the classroom electronics,” West said. “I think it's going to be a permanent addition to our classroom capabilities.” 

 

Photo: Academic Computing Specialist Jamie Fairley is part of a team that prepared laptops and desktop systems for remote use.