Can Everyone See My Screen?

Person holding a computer.
IT staff worked with many campus partners to ensure all members of the Yale community had the tools and training they needed to transition to a new way of engaging with each other. Photo by Dan Renzetti

When the COVID-19 pandemic forced the university to require most staff to work from home and shift to virtual teaching and learning for the foreseeable future, the staff of IT at Yale were key players in facilitating a smooth transition. IT worked with many campus partners to ensure all members of the Yale community had the tools and training they needed to transition to a new way of engaging with each other, and then ensure continuity as faculty, students, and staff came back to campus once it was deemed safe to do so. Although the World Health Organization declared an end to the pandemic, hybrid working and learning remain, with videoconferencing now part of our daily lives.

“Before March 2020, videoconferencing was a useful tool. With the onset of the pandemic, programs like Zoom and Microsoft Teams became essential,” said Louis Tiseo, senior director of foundational technologies service at Yale IT.

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Zoom is one of the tools that quickly became part of many staffers’ toolboxes. Before the pandemic, the average Zoom participation rate at Yale was about 2,500 users per day. That number jumped significantly after March 2020, and has only grown since. Take this past June: approximately 424,743 participants attended 101,380 Zoom meetings and logged 18 million minutes on the platform. Additionally, 6,189 participants attended 97 webinars logging in 281,624 minutes.

A Look Back

Due to increased use of Zoom during the pandemic, IT leaders initially focused on security and stability, making necessary system adjustments, and closely following industry best practices. Recognizing how essential videoconferencing was for Yale to function, and that Zoom was one of the applications used to conduct the work, IT leadership convened a Zoom Governance Group consisting of about 30 members, including a representative from Zoom. The members act as connection points between departments, users, and IT leadership.

The group was charged with making decisions on securing and deploying administrative functions and integrating Zoom into Canvas, the application faculty use to post assignments and facilitate communication with students. “We wanted to get everyone in a room to discuss usage and overall needs,” said Tiseo. “Members of the governance committee conveyed the concerns of the community so that IT leadership could make sure changes were successfully made in support of overall needs.”

This committee still meets monthly. “The information the group gathers on user experiences shapes how the technology is used. This helps IT leadership make decisions on upgrades, enhancements, and troubleshooting,” said Bryan Kazdan, manager of platform services and support in IT at Yale.

The Evolution Continues

While work and study habits have evolved to incorporate technology and videoconferencing, so has the technology evolved to support the needs of the university — all managed by Yale IT staff who make logging on a better experience. Dozens of IT partners from across all three campuses (Central Campus, the School of Medicine Campus, and West Campus) contribute to maintaining high-quality virtual communications with minimal disruptions. Over time, concerns have shifted from technical problems (spotty connectivity, inadequate web cameras, novice users) to questions about use.

“Home internet connections are more stable, and the overall knowledge about videoconferencing platforms is greater,” said Kazdan. “The Yale community was resilient during a tough time and learned what was needed to stay connected.”

With such massive usage, ensuring an uninterrupted communication flow and an easy-to-use video-conferencing tool remains the biggest challenge. “If Zoom or Microsoft implement a change, it affects a tremendous number of people on campus,” said Kazdan, who stressed that IT’s goal is to perform upgrades with as much consideration for the institution’s needs as possible.

Early Zoom Adopters

The School of Management’s (SOM) IT team “stumbled upon Zoom in 2013.” They expanded their use when SOM moved into Evans Hall, and then starting using it for the hybrid MBA for Executives Program in 2015, said Rob Dietz, director of instructional technology solutions and design at SOM. As a result of the pandemic, the SOM IT team worked to explore Zoom’s boundaries and “get rid of the technology wall.” In one classroom, the team created a setup in which three Zoom rooms worked as one.

With large monitors placed strategically in the classroom, the instructor and classmates can easily see online students. “It’s an immersive experience for the online and onsite students and the instructor,” said Dietz. “If a hand is raised or a student is speaking, the faculty can’t miss it. It is as if everyone is in the room together.”

What’s Next

Yale IT meets regularly with representatives from Zoom and Microsoft to understand and consider upcoming features. In meeting spaces and classrooms across the university, former audio-visual setups are being replaced with touch-panel technology. “Faculty or staff can bring their device to a new Zoom room, and they can easily present or share their screens and host online speakers. It is much simpler than the old setup,” says John Eberhart, co-interim associate CIO Health Sciences, Yale School of Medicine.

In the clinical areas at Yale, virtual reality is being considered. “We are looking at how those technologies fold into the hybrid environment that videoconferencing provides,” said Eberhart. “It’s a fascinating prospect.”

Zoom is one of several resources available to staff to enhance hybrid working. Explore the apps available through Microsoft 365, including Microsoft Teams.

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