How Ohio State’s IT Units Pivoted to Boost Online Learning During the Pandemic
How did The Ohio State University, one of the largest universities in the United States, move over 12,000 courses online and transition tens of thousands of employees to working from home in March 2020, when the state suddenly went into lockdown due to the coronavirus pandemic?
It took an “all-hands-on-deck” mentality, especially in the Office of Distance Education and eLearning (ODEE), the Office of the Chief Information Officer (OCIO), and Enterprise Security (ES) led by university Vice President and Chief Information Officer Mike Hofherr. The units oversee administration of the university’s Learning Management System (LMS) CarmenCanvas and other learning tools, and provide Managed IT Services (MITS), to 34% of the university, not including the Wexner Medical Center.
“Higher education is known as an industry in which change typically happens slowly, but this situation has shown that Ohio State can and will adapt to change quickly in the best interests of our students,” Hofherr said.
Former Ohio State President Michael Drake, who retired from the university in June, announced March 12 that face-to-face classes would be going virtual after an extended spring break due to the coronavirus outbreak. That meant the university had about 10 days to help instructors — some of whom had never taught an online class before — prepare to teach courses designed for in-person delivery from their basements, bedrooms, and home offices instead.
“If you had told me in February that we would have less than two weeks to move all courses online, I would have said it wasn’t possible,” said Liv Gjestvang, associate vice president for learning technology. “This shift was a huge effort for faculty, students, and staff, but I was struck by the level of personal commitment our community made to ensure students and faculty had the support they needed to finish the term. It’s one of the things I found most moving about the work we did this spring.”
The four full-time staff and two students who typically answered Carmen and eLearning tools support questions swelled to a group of 68 staff and 27 students, who took shifts to answer questions around the clock. The first week after spring break saw a 271% increase in learning technology support requests from the week before the break; Canvas logins jumped 333%. Use of CarmenZoom, the university’s video conferencing tool, rose 2,350%, averaging 47,000 calls per week after spring break.
“We know how important it is, not just to have consistent and reliable learning tools and content, but to feel like there are compassionate, real people on the other side of these tools.”
— Liv Gjestvang, associate vice president for learning technology
“Our teams are very committed to supporting students,” Gjestvang said. “We know how important it is, not just to have consistent and reliable learning tools and content, but to feel like there are compassionate, real people on the other side of these tools.”
More than 40 workshops aimed at helping instructors teach online reached 330 attendees, and recordings of the events racked up 10,000 plus views. Affordable Learning Exchange (ALX) staff secured free access to digital textbooks from several publishers, helping students access their course material remotely.
Meanwhile, staff from both ODEE and OCIO worked together to make sure students, faculty, and staff had the internet access and technology they needed to work, teach and learn. Within days, the group had set up three websites: Keep Teaching, aimed at instructors; Keep Learning, for students; and Keep Working, for staff.
IPads were distributed to 270 faculty, staff, and students that had a critical technology needs. The IT Service Desk loaned more than 500 laptops and 150 Wi-Fi hotspots and offered curbside pickup and drop-off for equipment as well as on-site troubleshooting when necessary.
For staff who did not have laptops, OCIO set up a remote access portal, so they could access their files from home. And though OCIO doesn’t typically support IT for the Wexner Medical Center, the office’s infrastructure team ran fiber optic internet cable to support drive-through coronavirus testing in March.
When it became clear that summer instruction would be delivered online as well, ODEE instructional design staff helped develop a quality assurance process for those distance learning courses to meet accreditation and oversight body requirements.
The units’ support for the university’s remote teaching, learning, and work is ongoing as the university prepares for autumn semester. ELearning support tickets have remained above average throughout summer; 12 full-time staff and another 12 students are still answering support requests.
The Keep Teaching, Keep Learning, and Keep Working websites are being updated regularly with the latest information and resources, and ODEE is offering workshops for instructors to learn how to set up courses in Carmen, use CarmenZoom, and understand best practices for online teaching. A new website, safeandhealthy.osu.edu, addresses questions about community health, safety, and logistics for the university’s planned return to campus this fall.
Hofherr reiterated his praise for the university’s swift response to the pandemic and continued work to provide a quality education throughout challenging circumstances. “This experience has shown how bravely faculty, staff, and students will march into the unknown, knowing we’re going to figure it out together,” he said.