How Wayne State’s investment in technology better prepared the university for online learning
Access to education all the way from daycare, through k-12 schools, to higher-ed institutions like Wayne State University, changed drastically around the globe in March 2020. Thanks to a strong priority placed on technology and recent investments in new tools and infrastructure, the Detroit research university was better prepared for the transition to online learning and work-from-home operations than most.
“Through the years, Wayne State has continued to support C&IT in improving its infrastructure and resources to better support the campus community,” said Wayne State Chief Information Officer and Associate Vice President, Daren Hubbard. “Even six months ago, we had no way to predict just how important these improvements would be, but because of them, we were in a great position to shift online.”
Computing & Information Technology (C&IT) has been hard at work upholding their mission to provide students, faculty, and staff with the technology systems and services they need to be successful.
Crisis preparation: Canvas, Microsoft 365 licensing, video conferencing, and a new facility
One of these early improvements was the migration to the Canvas Learning Management System.
“With Canvas, we are able to better support the needs of faculty for both in-person and online classes,” said C&IT Associate Director of Academic Applications, Nathan Chavez. “With integration for Office 365, Google Drive, and a ton of other tools that students are already familiar with, the switch to Canvas gave us a sturdier foundation to build our remote learning upon.”
Another major improvement was the transition to Microsoft Outlook 365 in 2015. The upgrade enabled all Wayne State students, faculty and staff to access Outlook email, Office suite licenses, and OneDrive cloud storage, allowing easy access to files anywhere with internet connection.
Wayne State also migrated to Microsoft Teams from Skype for Business in 2019. Teams lets Warriors of all kinds video chat and instant message, all while syncing OneDrive files to share and collaborate in real-time. The university also recently acquired a license for the video-conferencing tool, Zoom, to provide options for students and employees.
The biggest upgrade came in June 2019, when C&IT moved into its new data center. With redundant power supplies and improved cooling, servers hosting important university resources can operate without interruption. The new space also comes with more room for additional servers, able to support nearly double the university’s current computing power.
Responding to COVID-19
The first steps to ensuring that Wayne State was prepared to transition online during the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic, was making sure Warriors could stay connected away from campus. Through a collaboration with the Dean of Students Office, C&IT was able to distribute 42 wireless internet hotspots and Chromebooks to students and employees in need.
The next step was helping students and employees connect safely. In just a week, the information security team worked to upgrade the university’s virtual private network (VPN) software to GlobalConnect, allowing more employees to securely access sensitive university resources at the same time.
“Even during a pandemic, students still need financial aid assistance, employees still need help from HR. Making sure we have a secure, encrypted way to access that information from home helps keep the university running,” said C&IT’s Chief Information Security Officer, Garrett McManaway.
During finals week, C&IT expanded on their existing outdoor wireless project to bring connectivity to Parking Lot 50. Through the pandemic, students, employees, and faculty can access the parking lot freely and work in or around their cars while observing social distancing.
To further support remote business operations, the telecommunications team offered free licenses for call forwarding software to all employees and faculty, allowing them to support students by phone from their personal devices while protecting their private phone numbers.
At the heart of all these accomplishments is the C&IT Help Desk. From March 16 until the end of the month, our Help Desk received 3,614 calls. To put that in perspective, the Help Desk received 2,701 phone calls at the beginning of the fall semester. Staff worked extended weekday and weekend hours to ensure extra support, including answering tech questions, providing general university information, and directing calls to appropriate departments. Similarly, the DeskTech desktop support team has been working diligently to provide contact-free pick up for employees who are due to replace their C&IT-owned computer.
Learn more about Wayne State Univesity's campus restart and COVID-19 response at wayne.edu/coronavirus. Students, faculty, and staff can learn about all the resources C&IT offers for remote work and learning at tech.wayne.edu/coronavirus.
C&IT is Wayne State University's central IT organization, in the Division of Academic Affairs. For support with Wayne State IT systems and services, please contact the C&IT Help Desk at 313-577-4357 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Find FAQ at tech.wayne.edu/kb and follow us on Twitter @WayneStateCIT for instant updates.