In response to the coronavirus pandemic and the subsequent local shelter-in-place orders that rocked the world in March 2020, UC Santa Cruz had to quickly rethink service delivery and operational support. This article describes our response to supporting remote instruction with regard to governance, delivery channels, fully remote instructional support models, training, and the rapid implementation of infrastructure improvements to ensure connectivity for an expanded number of end-point devices. Although the challenges to enable remote instruction were particularly daunting, faculty, staff, and campus leaders who mounted the effort to overcome those obstacles were determined to succeed.
When the sweeping impact of the coronavirus became clear, the Academic Senate engaged in discussions with campus leaders and student government to modify and, in some cases, redefine instructional content delivery, synchronous and asynchronous interaction, assessment methods, and other issues that would make remote instruction possible. UC Santa Cruz’s Information Technology Services (ITS) would play a key role in supporting the operational exigencies of implementing these changes.
Under the auspices of Academic Affairs, support for instruction was led by the Instructional Continuity Working Group, a briskly formed collaborative comprised of staff from Online Education, the Center for Innovations in Teaching and Learning (CITL), the Faculty Instructional Technology Center (FITC), and other divisional and local groups in ITS. These teams provided just-in-time training and assistance for faculty struggling with new pedagogical delivery models.
At the outset, UC Santa Cruz had only a small portion of our faculty teaching in fully online or hybrid modalities. Meeting the challenges of a large-scale move to remote instruction required that new systems be added to our suite of instructional offerings, critical updates made to existing systems, and technical support provided to those who requested it.
Following are a few of the campus-wide improvements made to deliver remote instruction:
• ITS rolled out YuJa, a video platform that can be used to create and manage instructional videos.
• Zoom Cloud Recording was enabled and integrated with YuJa.
• Gradescope, a tool primarily used in STEM courses and streamlines the grading process, was integrated into Canvas, the campus learning management system.
• Online training modules were redesigned and additional remote workshops were made available to faculty.
Thanks to an agreement with Adobe, temporary student access to certain software titles were made available for free during the spring quarter. Remote access to other essential software used in instruction was also made possible by leveraging the workstations in our Library’s Digital Scholarship Commons Lab and those in our campus computer labs.
To ensure Internet continuity, the Student Success Division offered students grants for unlimited cellular data. ITS distributed WiFi access points and also erected mobile hotspots in parking lots for nearby residents or UC Santa Cruz constituents who needed to gain access to the campus network.
ITS partnered with our Division of Student Success to establish a laptop loaner program in an effort to help those students who did not have the necessary computing resources.
Our Library, working with ITS, made changes to enhance the fully remote experience for their patrons, including modifications to improve access to the Hathi Trust collections.
Integrating research activities into undergraduate education is a distinctive feature of teaching and learning in the UC system. An interesting example is described in a May 2020 article entitled, Pandemic Stories: Adapting physics labs in the time of COVID-19, in which Professor Jason Nielsen recounts the use of Canvas and Zoom to produce “real-time mini-lectures and data-taking sessions, guided by the Teaching Assistants (TAs) in the lab.” By live-streaming their experiment methods, the TAs facilitated the remote experience of a hands-on physics lab.
For their part, instructors needed to rapidly familiarize themselves with technology in ways like never before. Faculty, who had rarely had a need to use video conference tools or leverage the campus learning management system (LMS) for remote teaching, found themselves thrown into a whirlwind, attending just-in-time training and formulating new kinds of questions about how technology can be effectively integrated into instruction.
The phenomenal increase in remote courses across all departments was achieved with a corps of student workers who were reallocated to support faculty one-on-one in the Zoom-based classes. Equally remarkable: Support requests for our LMS, Canvas, doubled year-over-year.
Thanks to the collaborative commitment of faculty, students, and support providers at UC Santa Cruz, the spring quarter ended without major problems. For many, the spring was an opportunity to work with educational technology for the first time or in new ways. Moving forward, as more students and faculty become accustomed to using the technologies, one hopes that the increased demand for assistance will subside.
In retrospect, the efforts of ITS staff and other academic support providers have helped position the campus to transform. And, to some extent, the crisis itself forced us to grow: UC Santa Cruz is set to scale up technology use for the fall and beyond: our physical infrastructure is better able to handle the expected volume of remote connections, our licensing agreements have been adjusted, and support staff are now more experienced in helping a larger volume of faculty deliver a larger number of courses. The crisis also made clear how important it is to stay on top of technical debt, to keep our tools current and our systems patched and upgraded so that we have the bandwidth to respond.
It is resoundingly true that the delivery of remote instruction is not equivalent to well-designed online teaching and learning. Across our nation, faculty are rethinking the effective use of technology in their teaching and deepening their understanding of the tools available and their potential benefits. How we measure the effectiveness of these technologies to enhance and enable learning must become more sophisticated and transcend merely looking at increased usage volume of the systems and applications.
Planning for the coming academic year continues to evolve with the changing public health directives emanating from our state and county agencies. Thankfully, higher education’s herculean efforts to provide continued access to education remain at the forefront of national discussions. The pandemic has undoubtedly disrupted education and student academic careers in profound, and sometimes heartbreaking ways, but the harm and tragic injustice of the coronavirus will be matched by the resiliency of our student’s desire to learn and higher education’s undaunted commitment to ensuring their success.