From the CTO

11 February 2021
CTO in mask

A typical winter would be a time for the world to slow down, to go dormant, and to prepare for the germination to come. 2020 and 2021 are far from typical and far from slow, and yet I am sensing from friends and colleagues that we are preparing to emerge from a forced hibernation. How have we changed during this time? What have we learned over the past 11 months that will stay with us?  

There are others better suited than I am to analyze the impact on us personally and collectively of surviving a pandemic, an economic crisis and events of racial injustice. In my professional arena, I have been impressed with the creativity and resilience of the Carleton faculty, students, and staff, and I’ve been proud of the excellent work of staff in ITS supporting those efforts. Together we have not only survived, we have also discovered some great opportunities for the future.

Technology Changes: Ahead of Schedule

My colleague Paige Francis, who is the VP IT/CIO at the University of Tulsa, made the following statement: “Not one investment (focus, time, cost or otherwise) we’ve made throughout COVID-19 from a technology standpoint was an outlier. Every initiative, every change, every automation had a place in line on our strategic roadmap. We simply reprioritized and escalated tasks and projects. Our strategy and vision – pandemic aside – remain shockingly the same.”

I couldn’t agree more. In this context, here are some of our accelerated initiatives:

•        Ensure all students have a laptop, including some subsidized by the college

•        Enable students and speakers to join classes from remote locations

•        Provide an expanded portfolio of learning modalities / technologies

•        Provide tools and processes to support remote workers

•        Reduce printing when there is a good digital alternative

•        Expand the use of video for training and support

What Stays after the Pandemic

Although many parts of our work lives will return to former practices, I imagine that all of these initiatives will continue to some extent. For example, ITS is working with Student Financial Services to create a proposal for continuing the student laptop program, recognizing that students who lack a personal device are at an academic disadvantage. ITS installed cameras and microphones in 30 classrooms to support synchronous and asynchronous teaching during the pandemic. We will keep them in place to provide the opportunity for class recordings to support various learning needs or to support students and guest speakers who might continue to join from outside the classroom due to illness or distance. 

Two of the learning technologies that have provided great engagement opportunities during the pandemic may or may not fit into post-pandemic learning. Brett Coup wrote a blog post about Gather.town as an alternate web-based conferencing tool that facilitates small-group conversations with those near you as your avatar moves around a physical space. Brett also wrote a post about growing interest in the use of a lightboard to record or stream a lecture on the whiteboard-like surface.

More Ways to Connect

The rest of this newsletter covers other changes that will likely continue, focusing on expanded methods for how we communicate and connect with each other. Jeanne Blair shares a summary of our December Technology BINGO event, which leveraged short pre-recorded videos and recordings of interactive sessions. Richard Goerwitz writes about Slack as a new way of supporting team communications. Julie Anderson brings us up-to-date on the status of our migration from Reason to WordPress, as well as giving us all some resources for learning the new platform.

These approaches highlight a fundamental thing that hasn’t changed — our need to connect with each other and to work together to achieve the college’s mission of educating the next generation. 

I also know that we have been changed by the pandemic, and I hope that some of those discoveries will become opportunities as we move into our new normal. 

I wish you a good February, and I look forward to seeing you in person soon.