Every fall, entering the ivory gates of college campuses is an eagerly anticipated rite of passage for millions of students across the country. This school year, students, parents, and colleges are catapulted into an unexpected new reality. It’s hard to fathom that in a few short months, higher education has permanently pivoted towards blended and remote learning, and the pressure on IT departments and the demand for connectivity has greatly intensified.
For us at Lyon College, this challenge became an opportunity to pilot various remote learning solutions on the strong foundation of an advanced managed campus network.
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2020 has tested and stretched our small, rural Batesville, Arkansas-based private college. With a major milestone – our sesquicentennial – approaching in two years and our students starting the fall semester remotely, we felt a get-it-done-now pressure to deliver high-quality online learning – not as a convenient alternative but as a critical part of the education experience.
Technology transformations for student success
It goes without saying that for students to get that high-quality online learning, they have to have the high-speed connectivity — as well as the technical support – they need. So, during the last few months, our Lyon team banded together to enhance capacity planning, optimize our network, and deliver high-quality online education. It is gratifying to see that our technology investments are paying off in numerous ways, including:
● Delivering high-quality remote instruction and preparing for blended learning
We’ve worked incredibly hard to make sure that our students can continue to succeed and reach their educational goals — even when they’re remote. Today, our students can connect to live lectures from anywhere, interact with their professors and peers, and also view recorded lecture material online. The number of IT requests submitted for remote instruction has been low, indicating that we were prepared for potential issues and dealt with them early.
● Increasing support & collaboration
We also stepped up desktop, classroom, and server support so all communication and collaboration between peers and professors are smooth and efficient. By “stepped-up,” we mean providing technical support to our entire Lyon community. Our goal is to empower our professors to teach courses, empower our students to receive instruction comparable to in-person courses, and to leverage technology beyond what in-person classes can offer. The positive feedback we have received affirms these strategies.
English professor Dr. Terrell Tebbetts, who has taught at Lyon for 50 years, admitted that he was “highly suspicious” of remote instruction in the beginning, fearing that online classes would lack the discussions and connections made during in-person classes.
“But no! I’m loving my fall classes,” Tebbetts said, laughing. “The students are engaged as ever, maybe more so, connecting well with one another and with me.”
He continued, “Why had I been so suspicious? Aren’t all classes fun, full of ideas shared among myself and my students? Online learning has done nothing to change that. In some ways, it may have even enhanced it!”
● Establishing an advanced managed campus network
There was a time when our legacy wireless network crashed frequently, and students and faculty struggled with teaching and learning. We have since modernized and partnered with higher education-focused managed service provider Apogee and laid a solid foundation for an advanced wired and wireless network. We were able to quickly roll out remote learning courses, and we have SLA-driven performance metrics, built-in regular equipment refreshes, around-the-clock support, and a predictable funding model.
Fostering robust remote learning
● Empowering Lyon staff to focus on more strategic work
Our managed campus network has empowered Lyon personnel to better focus on strategic priorities, and to carry out our mission of fostering critical, creative thought and fulfilling lives. For example, we were able to rebuild data integration and workflow lifecycles from Admissions to Development. We also improved 95 percent of our server core, yielding faster services, backup, and better security, all imperative for remote learning.
We believe the changes taking place at Lyon and across higher education in response to the pandemic are likely to have a lasting — and eventually positive — effect. Online learning and other forms of technology-enhanced learning (e.g. LMS, interactive whiteboards, video conferencing, etc.) are here to stay. They can be–must be–robust and engaging. Institutions and faculty who actively embrace technology and level up their knowledge, skills, and abilities to function in this new world will be the ones who will thrive.