Providing Stability during an Unstable Time: IT’s Role in the Transition to Virtual Learning

student learning online

When Duquesne University closed its campus and moved to online learning last spring because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the School of Nursing’s Office of Instructional and Clinical Technology jumped into action. From an outsider perspective, the transition to online appeared effortless and seamless, but a lot of work was going on behind the scenes to shift courses, labs, exams and other everyday services.

headshot of Joseph Seidel
Joseph Seidel, Assistant Dean for Instructional and Clinical Technology

In the Q&A below, Joseph Seidel, assistant dean for instructional and clinical technology, shares how he and his team—which includes Lindsay Bowman, Josh Calvetti and Kelly Fox—worked to ensure the transition was as smooth as possible for the School of Nursing, which totals more than 900 students, faculty and staff.

From the start, how did you know what needed to be done, including how to prioritize and communicate?

Throughout the transition to online, we relied on our experience. Our graduate nursing program is completely online, so we are familiar with the tools needed for teaching and assessment in an online course. We focused and prioritized the needs of students and faculty for the first couple weeks of the transition while we planned for the Spring 2020 final exams. It was a team effort of all staff in the School of Nursing. My team relied heavily on the software Basecamp to organize this transition and stay in close communication with each other.

What changes were needed and how did you make them happen?

One of the biggest changes that occurred was a project to add remote proctoring of exams to the undergraduate nursing program. This is something we were familiar with in the graduate program, but we knew this would be a huge change for undergraduate students and faculty.

Since traditional classroom spaces with an exam proctor could not be utilized, a remote solution would need to be quickly put into place. We added ExamMonitor to our ExamSoft testing platform, which students already used for quizzes and exams. ExamMonitor authenticates a student’s photo and records their webcam and computer screen throughout the exam to ensure a secure testing environment. We provided training, instructions and a mock exam to students so that they were prepared for this new way of testing.

To increase our technical support, I created the School of Nursing Help Desk, allowing for myself and my team to be available by phone, email and text if students or faculty ran into a technical issue during an exam.

We quickly purchased additional webcams for any student who was unable to obtain a webcam to take a remote exam. These webcams were also available to faculty and staff who had to transition to working from home. Staff still needed to attend meetings through Zoom and required VPN access to university systems. We also provided laptops to some of our staff who only had a desktop work computer in the office.

What sort of challenges did you encounter?

There were many challenges during the transition. For instance, the remote proctoring vendor we used in our graduate nursing program abruptly shut down when the local government in India closed its offices due to the coronavirus. We found out on a Sunday and had to quickly pivot to an alternate solution for exams in the upcoming week. Luckily, we were able to utilize ExamMonitor to continue the exams in the graduate program as well.

There was also an almost immediate equipment shortage of laptops and webcams last spring. We were able to pull together enough laptops from our Learning and Simulation Center and our inventory of laptops, which were due to replace other aging computers, to loan to nursing staff members and students. Our staff also contacted every Office Depot store in the area and had enough webcams delivered to us for any student or employee needing one. The extra webcams were used by the Duquesne University Office of Classroom Technologies in HyFlex classroom upgrades across campus.

Another challenge was providing technical support remotely. Typically, a faculty member or a student could stop by our offices so we could look at their computer or iPad and troubleshoot the problem. However, with everyone working remotely and students taking classes from off campus, that was no longer an option. Using screensharing, we were able to continue assisting users and remotely log into their computer to troubleshoot.

If the laptop had a hardware issue, we were able to arrange drop-off and pickup of devices on campus throughout this time with the wonderful help of the technicians in the University’s Computing and Technology Services (CTS) who quickly made repairs to get the device back to the user. For those that lived further away, we shipped laptops back and forth to make the repair.

What were your successes?

We were successful in remotely proctoring over 5,700 exams during the Spring 2020 semester. Since then, we have delivered over 30,000 remote exams in the School of Nursing. This includes about 6,000 HESI exams, which up until last year, we had never done remotely. It required careful planning and coordination between the HESI exam vendor (Elsevier) and remote proctoring vendor (ProctorU), as well as School of Nursing faculty, administration, students and our Office of Instructional and Clinical Technology team.

Did your approach or processes change from Spring 2020 to Spring 2021?

Since most of the processes we implemented in Spring 2020 were still relevant in 2021, we continued with the same approach and only had to slightly revise some steps. We now have more experience with the remote proctoring software and created a step-by-step checklist for students to prepare for exam day. We are planning future computer upgrades for faculty and staff who may not need a desktop computer but instead need to be more mobile with a laptop.

Do you think any of these processes are here to stay for the upcoming academic year?

The remote proctoring solution ExamMonitor continued to improve and add new features over the last year. With the success of this new system, we will continue to use ExamMonitor for our graduate nursing program for the foreseeable future. The School of Nursing Help Desk will also continue. We are now better able to organize technical support requests to quickly resolve issues. We will also be able to assist faculty and students remotely from the classroom with the methods we used while we were remote. This means we can assist a greater number of classes instead of only being in one classroom at a time.

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