News

ITS Lays Foundation for Hybrid Spring Semester

Ethan Bachand ’22

Chief News Editor

As the fall 2020 semester comes to an end at the College of the Holy Cross, students’ attention has begun to shift to what this spring will look like on Mount St. James. Although the College currently plans to operate this spring with students on campus, many classes will remain virtual. With this heavy reliance on technology as the hill reopens, the Information Technological Services (ITS) department is gearing up for a busy semester in order to accommodate these changes. With months of planning and preparation, ITS is ready for the challenge.

In order to prepare for this upcoming semester, ITS has taken numerous steps in order to ensure that the campus is fully compatible with a hybrid learning model. One of the biggest changes made is the increase of internet bandwidth. Despite an increase from 2 gigabytes to 4 gigabytes in recent years, the College has over doubled the available bandwidth to 10 gigabytes. Ellen Keohane, the Chief Information Officer at ITS as well as a Holy Cross graduate from 1983, cited the reliance on programs such as Zoom for the decision. As she said, “If a lot of courses are online, [with] students during the day taking class… we recognize hundreds will be in Zoom, for example, all at the same time.”

At the same time, Keohane pointed out that the number of access points will increase and extras will always be ready to deploy. The ability to replace access points with ease ensures that any issues with internet connection that arise can be quickly taken care of. This matches the goal of ITS. As Keohane put it, “We’re going to do everything we can to ensure that all technological services are running well and performing well for the spring semester.”

Another significant upgrade to the technological infrastructure at the college has been the renovation of classrooms for hybrid teaching. Jim Cahill ‘04, the Education Technology and Media Services Director, outlined the additions that were made. “Your average upgraded classroom now has a high-quality camera in the back of the classroom facing forward, a very high-quality ceiling mounted mic so that faculty member doesn’t have to put a mic on… these mics are all capable of technology that would do voice amplification. So if a mask seemed to be quieting down a member a faculty member at the front [of the classroom] we could enable this feature that would amplify the sound of the classroom, trying to mitigate that issue. These classrooms also have large flat panel display at the front or side of the classroom … so your zoom sessions would be on that screen.” In total, 45 classrooms received these upgrades.

Rebecca Chickering, the Technology Support Director at ITS who has worked at the college for over thirty years, noted that previously offered services will be just as helpful next semester as recent renovations. The Help Desk, which has always been available to students, will be featured prominently this semester. As Chickering said, “We’ve moved [the Help Desk] up to Smith 101, [which has] much more wide-open space. We are offering by-appointment only, so we can track who is coming in. We offer a daily google meet drop for technological support which is open to all faculty, staff, and students. We have staff standing by Monday to Friday, 8 A.M. to 5 P.M.” ITS will also be offering peer to peer remote support, on-site repairs, and has loaner equipment available as usual. Direct questions can be sent to helpdesk-request@holycross.edu.

Graphic design by Kate Nedorostek ’23

These technological improvements, however, are not entirely new for the spring. Classroom upgrades were done over the summer in order to prepare for the fall semester. Similar to the student body, ITS had to face the difficulty of a situation in flux. When asked what the most difficult part of this semester was, Keohane said, “…the uncertainty has been very difficult. When we all went remote in March, none of us imagined it would go on so long. In preparing for the fall semester, not knowing whether we’d be on campus, all remote, or some hybrid of the two was a challenge, so we had to plan for multiple contingencies.”

Even though the prospects of the upcoming semester are in a similar position, ITS is prepared once again for students to come back. However, the department is hoping that students will reach out to let them know what their technological needs are. As Keohane put it, “A key might be making sure we keep that line of communication open in a way that maybe we haven’t done in the past… We invite these communications and we welcome them.” Without feedback and notifications from the students, issues that could easily be resolved might go undetected.

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