Our presentation focuses on the rapid reforms our ITS division made in response to the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in Spring 2020, and is organized around the following simple principles which we found allowed us to be responsive and agile as we moved into uncharted territory:
Keep your ear to the ground: During times of crisis, such as the pandemic-induced pivot to a virtual teaching/learning/virtual environment, there are several actions that can be taken to immediately empower constituents to adapt. However, it is very important to listen to “weak signals” as Vijay Govindarajan refers to in TheThree Box Solution, championing the ideas of maverick thinkers. Outside of formal action planning, one has to keep one’s ears open to ideas that come from unconventional sources that become catalysts for innovation. At our University, one of the weak signals was allowing students to access their labs from remote locations. We had the infrastructure in place, however it didn’t come to the top of our priority list. We made this virtual lab resource available overnight to students, which had huge benefits.
Think outside the box: One of the challenges we faced as the University moved into a fully virtual environment was the number of students who did not have access to a reliable Internet connection at their homes; this was particularly acute for our first-generation students and Hispanic students. While we provided them with hotspots to immediately resolve the situation, we are also working with local broadband providers to get affordable broadband access to this community of learners and educators. Bridging the digital divide is not an issue just during the pandemic, it creates lifelong opportunities for our students and our community.
Think bigger: When you are in the middle of the crisis, think about ways in which the innovations that were accelerated can be sustained post crisis. Can some of the activities that were forced to go virtual because of the pandemic become permanently virtual? Do students ever have to stand in line to get signatures for approval or accomplish administrative functions? Can Counseling, Advising and Financial Aid services be delivered in a virtual format permanently, enhancing the speed and efficiency of services to students? What other automated services such as chatbots can be rolled out to weed out inefficiencies that exist in our operation? Can students and faculty come to Campus only to participate in activities that add value to their educational experience such as labs, practicums, teamwork and problem-solving activities, and do the rest virtually in synchronous and asynchronous modes? This will negate the need to build more labs, lecture halls and work areas on Campus.