In spite of its ZIP code, “normal” is not the word that best describes the Illinois State University campus these days.
Classes have been moved online for the remainder of the semester. Faculty, staff, and administrators are working from home. Typically bustling buildings are virtually empty.
But there are some things that have not changed.
“It is business as ‘almost’ usual in the College of Business. Faculty are gladly teaching, students are gladly learning and the rest of us are working to ensure that teaching and learning can continue,” said Dr. Tamra Connor, associate dean of accreditation and operations, who is heading up the College of Business response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
She went on to describe how administrators and staff are helping to “‘keep the lights on’ by paying expenses, process scholarships and aid in enrollments.” Furthermore, during this time while the building is empty, “Our building service workers are deep cleaning and preparing the building for the day when students, faculty, and staff return.”
Dr. Ajay Samant, dean of the College of Business, spoke highly of the college’s response to the transition to a new kind of normal in a short period of time.
“I want to offer my heartfelt thanks to the College of Business faculty and staff for working with little notice to shift our classroom instruction and office operations entirely online,” he said. “In particular, I want to thank our staff in the Faculty Resource Center who have worked tirelessly to make sure that our faculty have support to teach online. I realize that some classes are more difficult than others to deliver online and I commend our faculty who have improvised delivery of their classes to meet pedagogical needs. Our students have had to make major changes to their mode of learning and to their lifestyles. Some have had to adjust to loss of income and some have had to find a different place to live. I commend our students for their dedication to learning and their resilience.”
As evidenced by the move to online classes, technology has played a large role in the COB’s response to the coronavirus.
Early on in the effort, Jeff Grabb, executive director of technology and building services, and his team were tasked with answering the question, “How do we get people access to the applications, the equipment and technology resources that they need?” Working with their university colleagues in Administrative Technologies, particularly the Infrastructure Operations and Networking (ION) team, they looked for ways to leverage technology already available on campus.
Grabb’s team proposed the idea of leveraging the remote access capabilities of Citrix software. The team piloted the concept using the 10 computers in the financial markets lab, and when that test was a success, they “pitched something kind of crazy” to their colleagues across campus, Grabb recalled. Not only could they give faculty and staff access to 174 desktops within the COB from the comfort and safety of their homes, but they also could make the computing power in the building’s computer labs available to students through the same remote access technology.
The creative solution met with support, and nearly 400 computers were contributed from different areas on campus to form a large general use lab that can be accessed online. The COB contributed 233 machines to the effort. Software and operating systems were reinstalled on these machines in order to make them as consistent as possible so that students could log in to any of them and do what they needed for class. Visit http://ithelp.illinoisstate.edu for details about how to access the computer labs remotely.
An additional 75 computers form a special remote access lab offering COB-specific software.
Connor applauded the COB’s technology staff members’ problem-solving efforts to meet instructional needs and connect students with resources so they can “complete their classes in as normal a way as possible.”
“For what it’s worth, these technologies probably won’t go away. Some of these innovations probably will stick around,” Grabb said.
He then expressed his appreciation for the “tremendous support” the faculty have given his team during this time of transition. Grabb also noted ISU has “a really good emergency management culture” that helped to smoothly coordinate the overall response effort so that teams like his could focus on their specific pieces of the puzzle.
If something is not working with the technology, he encourages students to utilize the help desk at the Technology Support Center.
“We can’t fix what we don’t know about,” he said.
As evidenced by the remote access labs, just because normal looks different these days does not mean resources are not available for Redbirds.
“We are here for you,” Connor reminded students. “If you have questions, please communicate with us. We are answering phones, responding to voicemail and responding to email. If you are struggling, there are resources in place for you. Everyone involved in your education wants to see you succeed and graduate on time.”
Academic advisors are available for phone or video meetings with students, and forms are also available on the advising website for requesting course recommendations for upcoming semesters and changing a major or minor.
The Redbirds Keep Learning website also has numerous resources for students, including tips for successful online learning, academic support, information about electronic textbooks and recommendations for students who are dealing with such concerns as anxiety, social isolation, grief, financial stress and physical health.
“Take personal responsibility. Stay home and stay safe. Wash your hands. Practice social distancing,” encouraged Connor. “As a college student who is experiencing the pandemic in real-time, you will have a story to tell when you interview for a job. The story won’t necessarily be what you learned in class. Instead, your story is how you adapted to your new situation and continued to learn not only the course content, but also the life skills to succeed in adverse circumstances.”
To stay up-to-date on the university’s response to the coronavirus, visit http://coronavirus.illinoisstate.edu.