Big IT projects getting under way

The most frequent question I’m asked is “What is going to happen with Campus Cruiser?” After talking with many members of the community about your needs, it’s time to share where things stand.

Three projects in one

Campus Cruiser is really three products in one: an email system, a learning management system (LMS), and a portal for internal collaboration and administration. Consequently, ITS and its many campus partners are actually preparing to undertake three major projects:

  • Complete the transition to Office 365, including email migration, for all students and remaining faculty/staff. (~6 months)
  • Identify and implement a state-of-the-art LMS. (~18 months)
  • Identify and implement tools to facilitate internal collaboration and provide access to online administrative resources. (18-24 months)

Make no mistake: this is a huge undertaking that will touch every member of our community. But the outcome will be worth it: streamlined technology platforms that truly match the needs of a dynamic campus environment.

Where do we start?

For now, we’re focusing on the first two pieces: full migration to Office 365 and implementing a new LMS. The portal question is very important, but will be much easier to sort out after we’ve addressed the other two.

Office 365

It will be advantageous to all be on the same email, calendar, and productivity software. Going forward, we’ll all have Outlook calendars to schedule appointments with each other. Faculty and staff will finally have a single email address. And we’re excited to provide all of our students with free access to the Office productivity tools like Word, Excel, PowerPoint, OneNote, and OneDrive.

We know this is a big undertaking, but we are committed to helping our community migrate their email and get running quickly on Office 365. Our project team, led by Chris Smith, has developed a migration plan for all of us to start next academic year on the same system. Chris will be sending out more information to the community next week to share additional details about the plan.

A new LMS

There is an appetite on campus for a learning management system with improved features, a more elegant interface, and superior mobile device support.

With substantial support and guidance from the TIRC Committee, Joanne Caione-Keating is ramping up an interdepartmental project team to conduct a quick, but careful review of the current leading platforms. We expect the selection to be completed before commencement, and for early adopters to be able to begin learning and working in the new LMS this summer. Over the following semesters, we will work with faculty to support the migration of their courses and help them learn the new system.

Through their TIRC representatives, many faculty have already indicated their interest in the selection process. In addition to multiple, by-invitation sessions, there will be opportunities for any interested faculty, staff, or students to see demonstrations of finalist products and provide input. We will also be supporting “sandbox” environments of the top products for any faculty who want to experiment with the systems hands-on. We are committed to making the selection process transparent, faculty-driven, and learner-centered.

Joanne will make announcements about the project plan and evaluation schedule in the next week.

About change

These are big projects with ambitious timelines. But in my first months as CIO, it’s been clear that a lot of campus processes and pedagogical developments have been in a holding pattern while the University community awaited clear signals about our path forward. We hope you agree with us in ITS that implementing and supporting state-of-the-art digital platforms is a strategic investment in our institutional effectiveness. I, for one, can’t wait to see how much better off we’ll be once these projects are done.

All of us involved are aware that changes like these place demands on your time and may occasionally be disruptive. We will do everything in our power to be considerate of impacts on you, but we also hope that we will continue to receive the support and encouragement that so many of you have already expressed. Technical support, training, and communications are core components of our project plans. If you have concerns as they get under way, please do not hesitate to contact Chris, Joanne, or me.

Introducing Zoom web conferencing

Over the past few years, there has been a boom in demand for web conferencing services (such as Adobe Connect, Skype, WebEx, and GoToMeeting). While these tools are handy, we haven’t always been satisfied with their quality or ease of use.

As of February 2017, all Widener faculty, staff, and students have a basic Zoom account— just go to http://widener.zoom.us. Sign in with your Widener University username and password.

With your Zoom basic account, you can have a one-to-one meeting with anybody for an unlimited amount of time. You can also create class sessions or meetings for 3-50 people, but they will be limited to 40 minutes. Regardless of length, you can record and download a video file of any session.

I’m interested! Now what do I do?

Log into the basic Zoom account to try it out. Faculty and staff who want to use Zoom for classes or meetings of 3-50 people can contact the help desk (itshelp@widener.edu, x1047). We can upgrade your basic account to a pro account, which has no session time limits. All you have to do is ask us!

If you are interested in more in-depth ZOOM training or have questions about using the platform for teaching, please feel free to contact TLT Classroom Support (x4090)

Why Zoom?

You may be surprised how easy it is to start up a meeting. All you need to know are your participants’ email addresses. They can access a meeting from nearly any computer or mobile device. (Obviously, they need a camera to be seen, but you can have a mix of users who have cameras and those who don’t.)

One of the big advantages of Zoom is that your participants do not need to have a Zoom account. They only need to be able to do a quick download of the software, which they’re assisted with when they receive your invitation.

Zoom is a great way to carry on synchronous online classes, or to include colleagues in meetings when they’re at a remote location. It’s also a great way to reduce the costs and the environmental impacts of some travel.