On October 22, Illinois State University information technology (IT) professionals gathered in the State Farm Hall of Business as well as their homes and offices for the annual Continuous Improvement in Technology (CIT) Conference.
The CIT Planning Committee decided earlier in the semester to ensure that attendees had a choice to attend sessions in person or virtually. The decision led to the biggest CIT attendance in the conference’s history.
“This is our biggest CIT ever,” CIT Planning Committee member Paul Unsbee said at the beginning of the IT News session. “I don’t think we will ever go back to only in-person stuff with how successful our attendance is. We have 171 people signed up for this and about 50 percent of you here and 50 percent of you off in the cloud somewhere.”
Before introducing this year’s keynote speaker, Associate Vice President and Chief Technology Officer Charles Edamala addressed the attendees about the difficulties of the past year, acknowledging those who have lost their lives during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic and the mental health needs of university employees.
“One thing I do want to encourage is that if you feel down and out, reach out,” Edamala said. “And if you see someone else that isn’t their usual self, reach out as well.”
This year’s annual conference was headlined by a keynote speech from Vice President for Academic Affairs and Provost Dr. Aondover Tarhule. Tarhule, who joined Illinois State in July 2020 after Jan Murphy’s retirement, opened his remarks with words of gratitude for the efforts of Illinois State IT professionals during the pandemic.
“A lot has been said about how flexible, how adaptable students and faculty were when faced with this kind of forced transformation,” he said. “But I think the real heroes of that transformation, and to this day relatively unacknowledged and unsung heroes, were the IT folks. You all made it happen.”
Tarhule spoke about his childhood growing up in Nigeria. He shared stories about his own limited experiences with technology as a child. Tarhule never had a calculator in school and frequent power outages made the use of other technologies nearly impossible. Tarhule said his first experience with a computer wasn’t until he started his graduate education in Canada.
“I wasn’t born in the 19th century,” he said. “I just happened to live in a country that was still in the 19th century and quite frankly stays in the 19th century.”
Tarhule contrasted those experiences with the rapid transformation that higher education has undergone over the past year and a half.
“We have to because we are serving students who are what are described as digital natives,” he said.
Tarhule spoke about the many challenges facing universities in the digital age, including hybrid learning, ensuring students have the technology and internet access they need to be the most effective students, and fighting cyber attacks. These experiences led Tarhule to create a new unit dedicated to online education. . A director of online education role will be advertised for later this semester, with hopes that the person will be able to start at Illinois State spring 2022.
He also spoke about new and continuing projects around campus that will renovate existing spaces for hybrid and online learning. Those projects, as well as new initiatives like the upcoming College of Engineering, has Tarhule excited for the future.
“I say to you all that the days ahead are bright for ISU,” he said.
After Tarhule’s talk, IT professionals from around campus shared their latest and greatest updates during the IT News section. Major updates included introducing the Next Learning Management System initiative, a new source for public knowledge articles on IT and non-IT topics, information security updates, and an upgrade to the campus data backup system. Michaela Cooper of the Information Security Office was awarded the CIT MVP Award during IT News as well. She was nominated by student employees who spoke of her mentorship and willingness to help them learn on the job. The full IT News presentation is available on the CIT website.
After the news session, participants had their choice of sessions that lasted into the afternoon, which covered topics from esports, to IT customer service, to proper video meeting etiquette, to improving the user experience. All sessions were offered simultaneously in person and online, and recordings were made of the sessions for later viewing.
The CIT committee is looking forward to the spring CITx conference and continuing the conference’s growth in its new, hybrid format.
“Planning for a hybrid format for this year’s conference required some considerations we don’t normally have to make, but it was an interesting challenge and we are very pleased with the outcome,” said Carla Birckelbaw, of the CIT Planning Committee.