From the director:

It’s certainly been an interesting year for all of us. As you all likely know, the University quickly moved all classes online effective Mar 23, 2020, in response to COVID-19. While the impact of the pandemic will be felt for many years to come, in this note I’m choosing to focus on what we learned rather than what we lost.

So, what did we learn? While some of it was trial by fire, we’ve learned a great deal about online instruction. Much of the old literature on online instruction suggests that asynchronous classes provide for online learners a much-craved flexibility. Given that our students never chose to be online learners, their preference is clearly for some level of instruction that puts instructor and learner together at the same time (synchronous instruction). This is also something desired by our faculty. Therefore, during fall 2020 very few asynchronous classes were offered, and, by spring 2021, no fully asynchronous courses were scheduled.

Our faculty also learned how to determine which parts of a course could be communicated effectively via video and which parts required student/faculty interaction. Numerous instructional videos were created over that 14 months, replacing classroom lectures to some extent. One advantage the videos have is that they can be viewed at the convenience of the student and reviewed repeatedly to reinforce knowledge. Many of those videos will still have value as we return to campus, resulting in class time being spent less on lecturing and more on teacher-student interaction.

Oh, did I bury the lead? We will be back on campus fall 2021! We cannot wait to welcome students back to campus and begin to have more face-to-face interaction with alumni and friends of the program. To be clear though, we will not wipe out the learning of the past 14 months and return to the old “normal.”

So, what else did we learn? We learned that while class time may be best spent in person, many other aspects of campus interaction may be better delivered via Zoom. Some of the activities that may still have Zoom options come fall include faculty office hours, student meetings with advising, and faculty meetings. Reclaiming the time spent commuting for these activities may produce improved outcomes and greater morale.

Finally, the move online required significant shifts in infrastructure. All software required for coursework needed to be delivered virtually. Our IT staff, Todd Thomas and Zeb Houle already had developed a solution using OpenStack that they were able to scale quickly to deliver virtual desktops to students wherever they were, whenever they wanted it. This was critical to student success last year and will continue to be critical. Our strategy will be to make infrastructure investments that continue to give students this flexibility. We’ll invest in servers rather than classrooms full of PCs. Imagine being an IT major but not having to live in a computer lab – instead being able to work from wherever is convenient. This is a big win for students.

All of this notwithstanding, we cannot wait to welcome students back to campus, see their faces, develop a sense of community, and see nods of understanding when new concepts are covered. We want students popping into our offices to ask questions or to share good news. We want to see them hammocking on the quad. We are genuinely hopeful that the knowledge gained in the last year will improve the student experience while the ability to return to campus will allow us to recapture all the things that make our ISU campus great.

Dr. Traci Carte
Director, School of Information Technology