(by Marlo MacKay, via Dal News)
When technology fails in the classroom, everybody suffers.
A University Senate forum held late last year brought university administrators and academic support units together to provide input on some of the challenges that arise when audio visual and video conferencing technologies don’t function as expected. The basic message: these technologies are critical to fulfilling Dal’s academic mission and supporting learning and teaching.
In response to the feedback gathered at The Future of Dal’s Technology Enabled Learning Environment forum, and as recommended in a review led by Susan Spence Wach, vice-provost planning; and Donna Bourne-Tyson, university librarian; the consolidation of two teams of A/V professionals will result in the new Classroom Technologies unit — increasing capacity to support audio visual equipment in classrooms and video conferencing equipment.
This change, effective April 1, brings the responsibilities of technical support for the physical and virtual classrooms together under one unit, based in the Dalhousie Libraries’ Academic Technology Services (ATS) department. The new unit comprises three staff members from Information Technology Services (ITS) and three staff members from the Centre for Learning & Teaching (CLT).
The unit will be based out of the Dalhousie Libraries as part of ATS (previously named Library IT Services or LITS) which will continue to provide all the services they have been known for, such as Help Desk support, 3D printing, NetID management, Brightspace administration and training, and statistical software licensing and support.
“There is a high level of co-operation among CLT, ITS and the Dal Libraries, and all three will continue to play key roles in integrated planning initiatives related to classroom design, in conjunction with the Provost’s Office and Facilities Management,” says Spence Wach.
Prioritizing user-centric services
“We’re very happy to welcome six experienced Dalhousie staff members to our team,” says Marc Comeau, who will move into the role of ATS director from his current position as director of LITS. “The delivery of A/V support requires more IT knowledge than ever before, and these staff members will be surrounded by other IT professionals in our unit who are also providing critical, user-centric services.”
Employees David George, Jeff Langille, Richard Payne, Graham Denman, Spencer Cantley, and Roger Brush will be moving into the new unit. In addition to the six staff members, there are part-time student assistant positions that will be joining ATS and the Classroom Technologies team.
ATS will receive some additional resources to improve A/V and video conferencing services in the form of training for staff and student assistants, some infrastructure money, and an additional position that did not previously exist at Dalhousie to coordinate video conferencing support. Hiring for that position will take place later this year.
The funding from the administration will have a positive effect on the delivery of these services. A major challenge ATS will face is the significant deferred maintenance of A/V equipment in classrooms, so improvements to the services will at first be incremental, but continuous.
“ATS will develop collaborative relationships with CLT, ITS, MedIT, and Facilities, ensuring a service rooted in best practices. This is a positive change for Dalhousie that faculty will experience first-hand. Students will also feel the benefits of having reliable, functioning technology in the classrooms,” says Bourne-Tyson.
Knowing who to turn to
Early on, the team will be improving the communication between those who install equipment and those who support it, increasing training for full-time and student staff, and streamlining processes to report technology problems. Issues that will be addressed over the longer-term include standardization of equipment, remote monitoring to improve response times and avoid technology failures, and closer integration with the classroom scheduling system Infosilem.
“The biggest improvement that should be felt from the start is that faculty will know where to turn for technical support in the classroom and will feel confident that support will be reliable and effective,” said Comeau.
Working with the provost, vice-provost, planning, and through the Classroom Planning Committee, the Senate Learning & Teaching Committee and the Academic IT Steering Committee, ATS aims to identify challenges earlier by consulting users for new and emerging requirements, and employing strategies such as scheduling regular maintenance of A/V equipment in classrooms.