Over a year into the pandemic, technology officials detail challenges

By Tatyanna Carman

The shift in class modalities has made Rider students, faculty and staff alike more reliant on technology, which has created some challenges for Rider departments that specialize in the use of technology by the Rider community.

Chief Information Officer (CIO) Douglas McCrea explained how the Office of Information Technologies (OIT) has helped the university with these technological adjustments.

Aside from Zoom, OIT has implemented Apporto — a virtual Windows environment — added a new phone system, extended WiFi on campus, installed microphones in classrooms for hybrid learning and enabled department-specific software to assist with the transition into the various new learning environments.

According to McCrea, some of the platforms were implemented before the pandemic, such as Zoom.

“I’ve been on a lot of calls with CIOs from around the state. They’ve had bigger nightmares than we’ve had —been much bigger nightmares,” he said. “And so I think about it, I’m pretty grateful for what we had in place, to begin with. A lot of people didn’t have Apporto, they didn’t have Zoom. They had 10 licenses and WebEx or something. And so they had to do that even faster.”

Academic Affairs Technology Project Manager John Gleavy added to this sentiment by saying that unlike Rider, other institutions, “did not have platforms like Canvas and Zoom fully rolled out campus-wide.”

“Rider has been offering distance learning courses for over 10 years and currently has 15 fully online programs — so we were confident that we could scale our systems to adequately meet the increased demand brought on by emergency pivot to fully remote learning,” Gleavy said.

Gleavy also explained that one of the ways academic affairs has helped the university adjust to the changes made as a result of the pandemic was by providing a “more rigorous training schedule for faculty.”

“Each week, we offer two to three sessions that are focused on effectively using instructional technology to facilitate remote/hybrid instruction,” he said. “We really emphasize running training sessions on using more video and multimedia in the classroom; in addition to regular sessions on using Zoom as an effective teaching tool.”

Gleavy also said that in 2019, academic affairs built a new “Faculty recording studio where instructors can record video lectures in a professional environment run by Rider students” and in that space alone, they have produced “nearly 10,000 hours of content with instructors from nearly every discipline at Rider.”

This shift to online learning has led many people to request computer equipment from OIT. Since the start of the pandemic, 182 laptops have been given to students, faculty and staff that requested them, according to McCrea.

“Each one of those requires, you know, we have to set it up, we have to sit down, well kind of sit down, outside with the person or at least on the phone and go through it and get them working,” he said.

Gleavy said that one of the main challenges for his department was ensuring that students and faculty had adequate access to technology at home.

Despite the increase in the Rider community’s use of technology, the number of people that utilize the OIT Help Desk has stayed the same, which McCrea said he was surprised about as well. However, he said that usually at the beginning of the semester the “ticket numbers” for the Help Desk are up to five or 10% because of logistical challenges.

McCrea said that one of the main challenges OIT has faced since the start of the pandemic was adapting a lot of the technology for the various changes done as a result of the coronavirus.

“A lot of people, or a lot of pieces of software, were not ready for being kind of in the COVID environments or remote environment,” he said. “That includes physical changes to the equipment or logical changes, or even licensing structures were just not built for that. And so really adapting that and working with vendors working with people doing training and that type of thing have all been kind of a big, big change in how we dealt with people and dealt with work.”

McCrea also explained how not being able to have a lot of in-person communication has impacted OIT’s work as well as the difficulty of timing and scheduling.

Gleavy said that Rider’s Teaching and Learning Center has “worked tirelessly” since the start of the pandemic by providing additional training workshops to faculty on how to adjust to remote learning.

“Those first two to three weeks when the pandemic really hit and we all started working remotely were probably the most intense,” Gleavy said. “Our team was usually working a minimum of 10-12 hour days to keep up with the increased technology support demand from faculty and students.”

McCrea also mentioned how the changes implemented by the university have increased OIT’s workload.

“Every single thing that you see has a computer or an IT component in it,” McCrea said. “So any experience you have on campus, realize that you know, there’s a pretty big stake of technology behind that. And if it has technology, it’s us. So anytime there’s a change in that, that means that we have to be involved. And so obviously, it kind of lends itself to increasing our workload.”

According to McCrea, with required changes to licensing structures, OIT has had to learn on the job, which he noted was a challenge. He said that most people have “survived this through being flexible.”

McCrea also described how OIT overcame a few Zoom-related issues. He said that in the beginning, a few people had issues with Zoom bombing. According to McCrea, there were ten incidents of Zoom bombing at Rider, including the racist incident that occurred on Feb. 11 during a virtual event, which is currently under police investigation.

“Regarding the Zoom product, it is secure and I stand by that,” he said. “The issues, in this case, were that the Zoom meeting’s default secure setting requiring a passcode was removed, and the meeting was posted publicly. Both actions could and most likely would lead to Zoom bombings.”

McCrea explained that if a passcode is removed, the meeting can be found and entered by anyone who guesses the meeting numbers and that having a passcode alone does not protect the meeting if it is posted publicly.

“If the meeting link is posted publicly, the meeting will more often than not, be subject to a Zoom bombing,” said McCrea. “The latter is most likely the case here.”

He said other than that, the only Zoom-related issues that have occurred were a few minor outages that were related to a widespread internet outage.

McCrea said he thinks the university has adjusted well to the technological changes implemented as a result of the pandemic and that he was “pleasantly surprised.”

“I’ve been impressed by the ability of people to be able to kind of bring themselves up to this next level,” he said. “We’ve done something like I forget the number, but somebody said, between three to five years worth of technology updating in a, you know, a couple of months period, and everyone’s along for that ride. That’s impressive.”

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