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information technology

Virtual successes in 2020 add up

Tech team powers CMU’s pivot to online connections

Contact: Andrea Mestdagh

Everyone knows 2020 was the year of the pivot, when the pandemic suddenly changed the way people connected to work and learn.

Staff and student employees in Central Michigan University's Office of Information Technology fired up to work the front lines of that pivot and have the numbers to show it.

In the space of one week in March, when CMU transitioned to online-only operations, OIT supported a more than fivefold increase in use of remote meeting and messaging software — from 3,000 users to 17,000 — and more than nine times the number of virtual meetings, from 213 to 1,973.

And that was only the beginning, said Jim Bujaki, CMU's vice president for information technology and chief information officer.

While drafting scores of full-time, part-time and student employees into a "volunteer army" adding tech support and troubleshooting to their regular duties, OIT also geared up to create a mobile health screening app to monitor and protect against the spread of COVID-19; and to equip the CMU community for a whole new way of teaching, learning and working.

Counting successes
OIT found numbers behind some of the challenges and insights related to tech support in 2020:
  • 154: CMU students learning career skills as OIT employees (outnumbering the office's full- and part-time staff of 140).
  • 361: Classroom spaces equipped this summer for HyFlex instruction.
  • 1,684%: Increased use of one online meeting app in the first three weeks of fall 2020 compared with 2019, from 1,083 sessions to 19,318.
  • 66,496: Fall semester remote meetings, through Nov. 15.
  • 250,000: Approximate number of connections through an instant messaging, voice and video call platform in 2020, compared with 4,739 in 2019.

"Technology is the common denominator, but this effort was and is a partnership of every CMU college, department and employee," Bujaki said. "From a culture and positivity standard, it's been great to see so many people come together to make it happen in such a short time."

Hello, HyFlex

Practically everyone at CMU learned a new word last year: HyFlex, the course modality that offered new ways for instructors and students to connect online as well as in person.

CMU's approval of the HyFlex strategy in May gave OIT three months to acquire and install equipment in time for fall classes: lectern computers, webcams that pan and zoom, multiple microphones and more. Bujaki said plenty of "one-off" classroom spaces such as kinesiology labs required creative solutions, such as mobile tech on carts.

By the start of the fall semester, OIT had outfitted 361 classrooms and created a 130-member rapid-response support team — roughly half student employees and half full-time staff — to support HyFlex as classes began.

Bujaki said COVID-19 didn't drive every OIT success of the year. Pre-pandemic upgrades to CMU's Wi-Fi network paid off big when students on campus suddenly needed strong internet connections.

"We were ready," he said. "We had virtually zero issues."

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