Staff preparing classrooms, TU community for fall term
When it came time to prepare campus for a fall term that will be taught partially online, the Towson University Office of Technology Services (OTS) was ready. After all, its staff had pivoted instruction delivery to fully remote learning four and a half months earlier.
“I think it’s amazing. OTS and all of campus really embraced it to make the best of what we were doing to transition to online learning and working,” says Jeff Schmidt, associate vice president and chief information officer at Towson University.
A lot of that early work included troubleshooting calls, Schmidt says, helping faculty, students and staff adjust to using software like WebEx or Blackboard Collaborate.
Between March 16 and May 29, OTS employees responded to more than 9,500 technology help requests. This included 2,424 requests for service regarding Blackboard, which Schmidt says is a 308% increase from the same time period last year.
Through the term and the summer, OTS staff were hard at work maintaining Towson University’s network, so things would keep running as is, Schmidt says.
More recently, OTS has been readying campus for the Return to TU, which will feature a combination of hybrid and remote learning courses. OTS has loaned about 90 laptops to students, faculty or staff, and added Zoom enterprise accounts for the campus community.
OTS staff has updated video and lecture-capture capabilities in classrooms as well. TU has 424 academic classrooms, Schmidt says, and about 77% will have screen and audio capture abilities by the fall term.
Mark Edmonston, laboratory manager for the Department of Physics, Astronomy and Geosciences in the Fisher College of Science and Mathematics, is just one of the many faculty and staff preparing course materials for the coming term.
Edmonston and OTS staff have partnered to make course software more accessible in Towson University’s Virtual Workspace.
“Just about everything that a student would see if they came to class and turned on a computer in a lab in the department, they would now see in a virtual workspace,” Edmonston says.
OTS has collaborated with other divisions and campus organizations to hold large meetings, including helping set up the town halls with President Kim Schatzel and other university leadership.
In advance of the fall term, OTS is reiterating the importance of following cybersecurity best practices. This is especially important, Schmidt says, because personal devices may not have the same protections OTS installs on university-owned computers.
Schmidt says his biggest security concern remains phishing, a scheme where a hacker sends what looks like a legitimate message or email that contains a link or a document that leads to a virus or malware.
Schmidt advises to familiarize yourself with cybersecurity best practices, not to click suspicious links and to report anything that could be phishing to OTS.
Even as some will continue to work or learn remotely, OTS wants the campus community to remember its services are available.
“We’re all still connected, so you can always call the Help Center,” Schmidt says. “I think people were, and still are, really driven to keep TU going.”