Students aren’t the only ones at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga learning how to use computers and software before the switch to all-online courses on Monday.
Faculty are in the same boat.
Between March 12 and March 19, 630 faculty members have taken training sessions from the Grayson H. Walker Center for Teaching and Learning on how to use academic software such as Zoom and Canvas.
Most of the 45 sessions—including evening ones—have been held online, said Dawn Ford, executive director of the center. And quite honestly, she added, remote sessions are probably the best way for faculty to learn.
“They have to be a student themselves, so they definitely have empathy for the regular students,” she said.
Staff at the center have been working 10- to 12-hour days to field calls and emails, offer training sessions and do one-on-one consultations with faculty, she said. “Hundreds” of questions are coming in, but there’s no sense of panic, just a desire to be ready when the online classes start, she said.
But the Walker Center isn’t the only on-campus department helping to make the transition from classrooms to online. The Information Technology department has been working on a host of issues, too.
Some employees are manning the Help Desk, answering technical questions that come through phone calls and emails. Department leadership is coordinating the purchase of laptops and other equipment needed for faculty and students to work at home.
The department is making sure the campus itself has the equipment and academic technology it needs such as laptops, Wi-Fi hotspots and software. And like faculty, some IT members are learning how to use academic software through the Walker Center.
Every morning, key people across campus from academics, administration and other key people across campus meet over the computer to discuss where everything stands at that point,
“We meet every morning at 9 a.m. on Zoom. It’s war room basically,” said Cherie Whipple, associate chief information officer in IT.
Surveys are being taken from students, faculty and staff to “learn who needs what and when,” she said.
Tony Parsley, director of Client Services in IT, called it “a process in motion.”
“It’s kind of a work in progress, but it’s very rapid process,” he said.
One of the first steps is to make sure that laptops can be given to students who need them.
“Students are our primary focus and priority,” he said. “If we can get people to come to us if they’re living close by then we can make that exchange sooner than later.”
The department currently has 100 laptops on order but, because almost every university in the country is desperate for laptops for their own online teaching, computer companies are swamped.
Starting Monday, staff in the IT department will be staffing the Help Desk from 8 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday-Friday to answer questions. In off-hours, questions will be answered by Ellucian, the company that develops software for higher education.
“Each day as information comes in from students and faculty and staff, we’re gathering that data and making quick decisions,” Parsley said.
“Every hour is a learning experience.”