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Back to school, behind the scenes

Get an inside look at how UITS staffers prepare to meet the tech needs of thousands of students, faculty each fall

This article originally appeared in the August issue of IT Connections: http://bit.ly/1JmWd3P


More than 110,000 IU students kicked off their fall semester this week at campuses across the state, bringing with them a thirst for knowledge – and an average of 2.8 computing devices apiece.

There's an excitement that permeates our campuses when the students return each fall, but for IT staff who don't have direct involvement in back-to-school preparations, the process might remain a bit of a mystery. Here's a glimpse into the work our IU IT colleagues put in during this busy time of year.  

University Information Technology Services, with its hundreds of staff members working to support the scholarly mission of IU, is ground zero for the tech aspect of fall rush. To stay on top of it all each year, UITS convenes a Back-to-School (BTS) Coordinating Committee, with more than 40 members from all facets of IT@IU: networks, knowledge management, support, security, student outreach, learning technologies, and more.For a crucial two weeks each fall, the BTS committee holds daily meetings, Sunday through Thursday, to ensure that the fall semester startup goes as smoothly as possible, technologically speaking.

By meeting daily, the BTS committee is able to discuss potential problems and quickly propose solutions because everyone’s at the table. “This is about recognizing an issue before it becomes a really big problem and taking steps to reduce the impact on students, faculty, and staff,” O’Bryan said.This idea that IU’s vast technological resources should be available (and awesome) for everyone at the university drives UITS year round, but especially at the start of the fall semester.

Here’s how a few UITS groups gear up for fall rush:

Campus Networks: Wi-Fi where you need it, even the greenhouse

The thermometer reads a muggy 96 degrees in the Jordan Hall Greenhouse, but that doesn’t stop Matt Bonadies in his mission to bring IU Secure wireless to all corners of the Bloomington and IUPUI campuses. He just makes sure the wireless access point he installs can withstand extreme temperatures.

It’s all in a day’s work for Bonadies, part of UITS’s team of wireless network engineers. This summer, his group added more than 100 wireless access points to the Bloomington campus, bringing the total to nearly 5,300. “When we get the opportunity to expand wireless, this provides more capacity to the wireless network. It’s like adding more lanes to a highway,” said Bonadies.

The greenhouse is an important part of the IU biology department’s curriculum, providing space to grow plants that serve its teaching and research needs. Biology instructors and researchers requested Wi-Fi inside the structure – and UITS made it happen.

“We are endlessly trying to stay ahead of the curve to provide a wireless service that allows IU students, faculty, and staff the ability to learn and teach with the newest wireless technologies available,” said Kirt Guinn, IU director of telecommunications infrastructure and enterprise infrastructure. “With these new access points, we hope users notice they are able to connect easier, stay on longer, and have the ability to use the wireless network for anything they may need it for.”

Support Center: From freshmen to faculty, help is just a call or click away

Manager Momi Ford and her team at the UITS Support Center start planning for fall rush in early summer, hiring and training consultants in all areas of support for both IU and Ivy Tech Community College campuses. Her staff supports both institutions, which means roughly 130,000 IU students, faculty, and staff and 220,000 Ivy Tech students, faculty, and staff depend on the IU Support Center for answers to all their tech questions. (Established in 2012, this 24/7 support center partnership eliminates duplication of systems, space, staff, and management between the two institutions in order to most effectively use tuition and state resources.)

Support Center staff handle a staggering number of questions at this time of year. During last year’s two-week fall rush period, Ford’s staff handled nearly 24,000 contacts by phone, email, chat, and walk-in.“The sheer numbers are always the biggest challenge,” said Ford. “For many students, their contact with the Support Center is often their first impression of the university, and providing them with a positive experience can have a lasting effect. We aim to help our students, faculty, and staff get their IT needs thoroughly met, while doing so in an efficient manner.”

Collaboration with other UITS groups is key to the Support Center’s success during fall rush. “We work closely with the Technology Center Consulting and Knowledge Management teams as well as many others to prepare for the onslaught of contacts seen at the beginning of the fall semester,” said Ford. “If it wasn’t for the efforts put forth by these two groups, our workload would be significantly more difficult.”

Student Outreach: Getting everyone comfortable with tech

Walk by the UITS Student Outreach group’s area in the CIB at this time of year, and you’ll see boxes and boxes of t-shirts and other swag. These giveaways are a big part of the group’s mission to get the word out about UITS technology services. After all, who doesn’t love a free One.IU t-shirt?

Whether it’s a presentation at a residence hall or a tabling event at the School of Informatics and Computing’s graduate orientation and back-to-school luncheon, the UITS Student Outreach program helps faculty and students become more comfortable with UITS technology services, such as IUanyWare, Lynda.com, AskIU, One.IU, and Box.

With their approachable smiles and red IU t-shirts, two Student Outreach staff members were a helpful addition to the SoIC graduate orientation, handing out informational notecards and flyers and fielding questions from students eager to learn more.

“We want to connect with as many students as possible on each campus, so our back-to-school calendar is packed with events,” said Michele Kelmer, who manages Student Outreach. “We love sharing all the technology that IU has to offer students and instructors. The excitement of back-to-school time is unmatched.”The Student Outreach team is available all school year for services such as setting up information tables for events and presenting customized IT information for classes.

Check out all of their services (http://kb.iu.edu/d/bdmk) or email uitsoutreach@iu.edu to schedule an event.