IT shows up for move to remote teaching

April 30, 2020

If you have helped anyone move, you know it can be a challenge. Now, imagine moving thousands. When the University made the decision to transition to emergency remote teaching, Information Technology showed up to help our colleagues on the front lines with the heavy lifting.

The examples are many.

When Yale College students left campus March 6 for Spring Recess, they assumed they would be back to their dorms in two weeks to start classes. When on-campus activity was suspended on March 10, students were asked not to return to campus to retrieve their belongings. The suspension naturally prompted many questions from students. Working with Student Academic Services, the Student and Academic Support Systems (SASS) team helped create a Dorm Room Essentials Survey using the NextGen Dynamic Forms technology. The survey allowed the University to identify critical items, including pets, which were left in dorm rooms and arrange to have them returned to students. More than 1300 students responded in the first two days of the survey being made available online. By March 19, the team had also implemented a change that refunded over $18 million dollars in room & board charges to student accounts.

Meanwhile, the Poorvu Center for Teaching and Learning used the final week of Spring Break to help hundreds of faculty members temporarily transition their courses from in-person, to emergency remote teaching. Many of the services that IT supports were critical to this transition. IT and the Poorvu Center quickly started a seamless collaboration. “We didn’t have to spend time figuring out every detail of how to work together because trust was already established,” said Lucas Swineford, Executive Director of Digital Education at the Poorvu Center for Teaching and Learning. “We could simply get to work, confident that we were all doing the best we could to identify solutions in good faith.”

Homebase for Academic Continuity

“ITS has reacted and supported the transition at record speed. The Yale Sites Development and User Experience teams partnered with the Poorvu Center to create the Academic Continuity website in five days,” said Patrick O’Brien-Sevilla, communications officer for the Poorvu Center. “The site serves as a hub of information for faculty, teaching fellows, and students. We continue to partner with ITS to update and share information on the site, including information from the Student Technology Collaborative.”

Virtual Classroom

Zoom and Canvas integrations increased from 50 courses on March 11, to over 1500 by the time classes officially resumed, on March 24. To support this rapid scale up and mitigate security concerns, the Email and Collaboration Services team have stayed on top of Zoom configurations and kept the University in the loop via a Teams channel representing various stakeholders across campus. “The Teams channel allowed the quick dissemination of information while providing an agile environment for gathering feedback and making changes in a responsive and timely way,” said Louisa DeLand, Technical Lead for the ITS Help Desk. “The new use of Teams to collaborate has been one of the most effective communication channels I have seen ITS implement.”

The Student Technology Collaborative (STC) helped over 200 students try out Zoom over spring break, holding test courses online. STC also partnered with Yale College Safety Net and Distributed Support Providers (DSPs) to get laptops to students around the country, whose personal machines had stopped functioning.

Members of the Poorvu Center and ITS Digital Accessibility team helped ensure that students with disabilities were supported in the transition to remote learning by posting guidelines on making Zoom sessions accessible, leading workshops, and making sure course materials uploaded to Canvas are accessible.

Supporting Faculty & Students

“Faculty, students, and staff have a variety of doors they can knock on for help, be it the Poorvu Center for Teaching and Learning, or the ITS Help Desk or straight to their DSPs,” said Pilar Abuin, Director of Educational Technology at the Poorvu Center for Teaching and Learning. To reduce overhead and make sure no inquires fell through the cracks, the Salesforce Development & Platform Services and Service Management teams quickly worked to integrate the various entries points. “Now with a more seamless integration between the ticketing and tracking systems our teams use, inquiries can be passed between Service Now and Salesforce with the push of a button,” Abuin said. “This work was also all coordinated through Microsoft Teams, bringing the various support teams involved as well as the technical teams responsible for the integration work into one place.”

This work was particularly important as the help desk saw a dramatic increase in the number of support requests received from faculty and students compared to last year—from 1,216 faculty and 390 student requests in March 2019 to 2,272 faculty and 1,269 student requests in March 2020.

To handle this surge in requests, the Help Desk made several other key changes to daily operations:

  • Prioritization within the phone queue for faculty experiencing issues with online teaching
  • Prioritization of tickets from students and faculty for fast turnaround times as volume increased
  • Continued collaboration with the Poorvu Center and DSPs via a dedicated MS Teams channel.

Grade & Registration Policies

With classes now taking place remotely, some students faced increased challenges to completing course work. Students who traveled home to different time zones had difficulty attending course lectures and discussions in real time. Lack of reliable internet or dedicated spaces for work disadvantaged other students. As a result, many of the schools made policy changes allowing changes from letter grades, to a variation of Pass/Fail or Credit/Fail and requested bulk updates to transcript comments to reflect the unprecedented nature of these changes. Working closely with the University Registrar’s Office, the SASS team implemented these policy changes adding over 3,000 transcript comments and updating the Grade Modes for over 12,500 students in over 60,000 courses. The team deployed a custom Banner Page for Public Health students, and two NextGen Dynamic Forms allowing Graduate Students to request a grade mode change and Yale college students to request they drop courses.

Long Term Value

Necessity is, indeed, the mother of invention, and the solutions and practices developed in response to COVID-19 will outlast this crisis. The integration of our various ticketing systems will continue to ease obstacles in providing support to faculty, students and staff. NextGen Forms will forever replace burdensome paper-based processes now, and in the future. “While a NextGen form built for students to request deadline extensions due to extenuating personal circumstances will not be used this term,” said Joel Silverman, Director of Academic and Educational Affairs in Yale College, “I am certain that it will be an incredibly useful tool for deans as they counsel their students and assist them in managing their workload”. Perhaps most important, the shared experience of coming together to overcome incredible challenges will further cement the trust between IT and our various partners across the University.


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Quietly but effectively, Yale’s IT staff keeps us connected

ITS Help Desk rises to meet COVID-19 challenges