The Independent Student Newspaper of Northern Kentucky University.

How NKU’s IT Department transformed campus for the pandemic

October 10, 2020


Billy Keeney

Griffin Hall’s JRG Cyber Threat Intelligence Laboratory, usually packed with students, can now be found mostly empty.

There have been a lot of changes to campus this semester thanks to the IT department here at NKU. The pandemic has changed the way we interact with one another on a daily basis. We have gone from spending our time together in huddled classrooms or large auditoriums and spending lunch with our friends in the dining halls, to seeing each other’s faces over webcam or in a classroom where we are at least six feet apart at limited capacity. It is very apparent why things had to change to the way things are right now, but what is not as apparent is the process of how things changed here at NKU.

Heading into the fall semester there was a lot of uncertainty with students and faculty on how NKU could operate a hybrid learning environment, the IT department was quick to help students and faculty prepare for this unprecedented semester. 

“In the first part of the pandemic situation, we rallied the IT troops in buying lots of loaner equipment, which was hard to get, everybody in the world was trying to buy webcams and laptops and headsets, all those things; so we got ahead of the curve there,” said Tim Ferguson, chief information officer of IT.

According to Ferguson, buying all the necessary equipment last semester when the campus was shut down helped lay the groundwork for the fall semester. 

“As we started looking at the fall semester over the summer, the one piece that was missing from all of that is a hybrid situation,” Ferguson said. “We put together a large project where we hybrid enabled over 150 classrooms in about six weeks.” 

Ferguson said this process allowed professors flexibility in their classrooms to teach both in the classroom and to students online via webcam. There are also many classrooms with webcams installed in both the front of the room where students who are unable to attend in person can still feel like they are experiencing the class with their fellow students.

While some students may think turning a class into an online format would be relatively straight forward, not every class was that easy to set up. 

“We had to work with the faculty and chairs to understand special requirements; especially within some of the science and art departments,” Ferguson said. 

For the School of the Arts, classes such as ceramics or dance needed large projectors as well as mobile cameras on tripods that allowed for dynamic movement since students would no longer be able to gather around the instructor, according to Albritton. Changes like this were made so professors with the SOTA could have flexibility in the way they teach whether it be fully virtual or a hybrid environment.

“I think for us it was a pretty heavy lift for IT to get us up to speed,” Director of The School of the Arts (SOTA) Matthew Albritton said. “I want to make it very clear throughout this IT was just amazing in what they did for us and continue to do for us, pretty much anything we asked, they delivered.” 

The new technology and accessibility at NKU that was implemented this semester are not going anywhere, Ferguson stated.

The IT department gave students more access to the software needed for their classes more widely accessible online instead of mostly at on-campus computer labs and will continue to be that way moving forward. 

The more flexible learning environment the new technology provides for students will be built upon moving forward even once social distancing subsides.

“We’ve always tried to be innovative in IT at NKU and I think this was sort of an opportunity to show the innovation we had already established and then build onto that,” Manager of Desktop Support Staci Green said.

Departments like the SOTA before the pandemic had almost no capacity for online learning within many of their classrooms. Moving forward, they now plan to keep a lot of their new technology for more accessibility for students. 

“We’re just now discovering some of the benefits,” Albritton said. “In a post COVID world; I expect a different experience to be possible; I’m excited about the possibilities.”

The technological changes and implementations established at NKU this semester seem like they will have a lasting impact on the way we learn and grow as a university moving forward.

“We offer a lot of IT help to faculty and to students who need it,” Green stated.

There are many campus resources for IT help for students or faculty who need it. The IT Help Desk offers support for faculty, staff, and students at NKU and can provide service via email, phone, or live chat on NKU’s website. The Norse Tech Bar is also available to faculty, staff, and students and is located in the University Center, plaza level.

 IT Help Desk Hours of Operation:

  • Monday – Friday:  7am – 10pm
  • Saturday:  8:30am – 5pm
  • Sunday:  12pm – 8pm

Norse Tech Bar Hours of Operation:

  • Monday – Thursday:  8am – 6:30pm
  • Friday:  8am – 4:30pm

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