Bolstering support and bringing the digital reality to learning spaces across campus

IT Services, in partnership with multiple divisions across campus, is on a quest to transform the learning spaces here at Miami University.

One of the most important initiatives supported by IT Services is the tech optimization project (in fact, it’s in our IT Top 5). But what does ‘tech optimization’ mean? Why are we doing it? What impact does it have on the University community down the line?

Put simply: The way we learn in today’s university is changing rapidly, and for the better. Technology—and the way we interact with it—continues to grow at a startling pace. In order to best support our students, who are coming in already inoculated to the digital world, we have to adapt to the new world order.

“Technology is changing in all the learning spaces,” said Brian Henebry, the director of architecture, service, and operations, who heads the tech optimization project. “Everything is going digital.”

The shift, Henebry noted, is in how the instructors interact with technology and incorporate it into their curricula. In years past, professors would go out of their way to get into classrooms without technology. Now, he said, they’re more likely to cancel class if the projector doesn’t work.

The number of technology-enabled learning spaces has increased to over 500 rooms in the past several years. In addition, funding has increased from $450,000 to $5 million over the last three years. As you can imagine, both of these factors change how technology support services operates.

“[The project] was initiated with the understanding that the matching funds were being made available ... to help refresh the learning spaces,” Henebry said. “The resources and time and infrastructure to support those resources and all that technology isn’t where it needs to be. [...] The project was kicked off to address the changing needs of the learning spaces and to address how to allocate the additional funding.”

top5 it initiatives

This project isn’t just the responsibility of IT Services. Those involved with the day-to-day function of the affected learning spaces are an integral part of the tech optimization process. This includes the technology service representatives and first responders, who manage anywhere from five to 156 learning spaces. In addition, Academic Directors of Technology from across each of the divisions had complete say in space selection and worked collaboratively to create the list of spaces and routing information.

Easy as one, two, three…

In order to meet the demands of today’s always-on student, create appropriate digital learning environments, and effectively allocate the increase in funding, we started with a set of goals drafted by J.P. Natale, the CIO and VP for information technology at Miami University. The list of goals isn’t exhaustive, but neither is it short: It details exactly what needed to happen in order to meet and exceed the expectations of an increasingly digital learning environment.

Our goals include:

  1. Create lists of all learning spaces and standard technologies supported by the Technology Support Services (TSS) team.
  2. Develop proper training for all TSS staff.
  3. Create standard work process documents defining the services performed, when, and by whom, and to identify the technologies needed to support this goal.
  4. Develop communication and implementation plans for the new operating model, as well as a way to measure the success of the project.
  5. Update procurement procedures to ensure consistency in technology purchases, as well as developing an inventory model that maximizes the efficient deployment of spare parts.
  6. Clearly define our services and publish them on our website.

How far we’ve come

The tech optimization project has been moving right along toward the above deliverables. According to Henebry, the project is on its way to meeting these goals by the deadline of July 2018.

So far, the list of learning spaces has been curated, the draft of tech specs has been completed by our team, we’re getting ready to look at training for internal staff, and we continue to collect and analyze survey data from support tickets to determine what we need to change. We have also:

  • Installed learning space monitoring and management software
  • Identified routing and process information for learning spaces
  • Implemented a multi-path escalation process for support tickets
  • Hired three new people in the TSS support group
  • All learning space assets have been documented and updated in a central location, allowing for tracking of updates and repairs.

What’s more, multiple divisions are gearing up for a transition to TeamDynamix, the ticketing platform used by IT Services and TSS, so that there will be a uniform system for looking at and responding to support requests.

What’s next for the tech optimization project?

There are plenty of goals still to be completed. Support training is scheduled for January; additional audio/visual resources and consultants are currently being investigated; we’re still preparing for campus-wide deployment. But we’re closer to the end than to the beginning.

And what happens after July 2018?

“After July, we go into the ‘assess’ phase,” Henebry explained. “Is it working? Do we need to change it? Do we need to revise it? What did we miss? What can we do better? We’ll be in maintenance and revision mode.”

It’s difficult to put a hard end date on projects like this, because technology is changing all the time. But, according to Brian, one of the most important achievements will be a process in place for supporting the digital growth of the University.

“The classroom isn’t going to all of a sudden fundamentally change in July, to where we’ll have to go back and do everything again,” Henebry said. “Hopefully, in five years, we have built the process in such a way that as it continually matures, we don’t have to turn around and run another big project initiative or do it all over again.”

The other big shift of the future learning spaces will be in eLearning, where demands and needs are completely different. But that is a conversation for another day. After all, this transformation can only take place one step at a time.