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Technology at Wake Forest Year in Review 2018-2019

Positioning the University for a future in which data, digital content, and technologies play an integral role in support of teaching and learning.

In our efforts to empower the WFU community in the use of information and digital technologies, we are continually evaluating current tools and platforms, researching new technologies, re-envisioning classroom software, hardware, and design, and partnering with faculty in the implementation of technology in the classroom. A number of initiatives have been implemented in the past year that highlight our collaborative efforts with the campus community to provide a technologically robust environment for teaching and learning.

Learning Spaces Committee

Research demonstrates a clear relationship between the design of learning spaces and student success and learning. At Wake Forest University, we aspire to excellence in teaching, discovery, and faculty-student engagement. To meet that aspiration, we aim to provide faculty and students with more flexible, technologically up-to-date classrooms, and other collaborative learning spaces that meet individual needs.

With an established Learning Spaces Committee (LSC) in place, Information Systems and IS Multimedia work collaboratively with cross-campus committee representation to develop standard options for a variety of teaching and learning scenarios, as well as deploying improved solutions to create, edit, store, discover, and stream multimedia content. The LSC works with faculty to discuss space utilization and the desired outcome to ensure the technology deliverables meet the unique requirements of the particular learning space. This collaborative approach has resulted in 50 modified spaces just last year, in both the graduate and undergraduate facilities, with the average cost per room being $12,000 versus $35,000 when the LSC wasn’t involved in the design and capital request process. Due to the success of this approach, IS Multimedia has recently assumed the AV/technology upgrades for the University's common spaces across campus, as well.

Canvas

In Fall 2017, IS Academic Technology, the Committee on Information Technology (CIT), and the Teaching and Learning Collaborative (TLC) began working together to review the Learning Management System (LMS) landscape in higher education and evaluate how well our current LMS (Sakai) was meeting our campus needs. This extensive review culminated in vendor demonstrations in April 2019 and a recommendation for Canvas as the new campus LMS. Over the summer, the new Canvas Implementation Committee, composed of both faculty and staff, began working on implementation activities and transition timelines.

Utilizing a phased approach, the Canvas implementation included piloting with a small group of faculty, systematically migrating courses, and hosting engagement efforts with the campus community. Over 150 faculty members within the College chose to be an “Early Adopter,” which included participating in training with the LMS Manager and transitioning their courses in the Fall of 2019. The campus community will be fully supported throughout the migration and during the continued use of Sakai this academic year, with the goal of all faculty, who utilize the LMS, to be teaching in Canvas by Fall 2020.

The following quote is from Adam Friedman, Chair of the Department of Education, in reference to working with our LMS Manager during his transition to Canvas.

Thanks to your good instruction, [the course] was REALLY easy to create. I also really like the assignment submission feature, as again everything is self-contained and students are able to submit and get feedback from assignments easily.

Web Hosting and WakeSites

The Digital Initiatives Team, with broad representation from Information Systems, the Z. Smith Reynolds Library, and University Advancement, recognized the need for a web hosting platform for our faculty and students. The primary goals of the new platform included the need to:

  • provide an easy-to-use, cloud-based, and secure web hosting platform (that includes WordPress) to build websites
  • allow migration of existing websites on older infrastructure to a platform that aligns with our cloud-first strategy
  • permit a campus user to take their website with them if/when they leave the university

Collaboratively evaluating a number of options, campus colleagues selected Reclaim Hosting as the third-party cloud provider for the university’s website platform, WakeSites. WakeSites enables campus users to build dynamic websites using web platforms such as WordPress, Scalar, and Omeka.

Campus users have access to other cloud options, including Adobe Spark and Google Sites. These alternatives offer drag and drop functionality for an easier way to build websites. Our campus community now has access to multiple tools that enable them to create a digital presence that they own, control, and can take with them.

High Performance Computing

High Performance Computing (HPC) most generally refers to the practice of aggregating computing power in a way that delivers much higher performance than one could get out of a typical desktop computer or workstation in order to solve large problems in science, engineering, or business.

The High Performance Computing refresh, hardware updates, and closer collaboration with faculty on research and teaching improves the capacity to analyze large data sets, creates custom research applications, and provides support to faculty across all disciplines interested in using technology in their research and scholarship.

The IS HPC team collaborated with Dr. Cho, in the Computer Science Department, to facilitate an Intro to HPC class, CSC391, for the second year in a row.

Students from the most recent class applied for and were accepted into the nationwide Student Cluster Competition at the Super Computing 2019 Conference, making Wake Forest University the first school from North Carolina to ever be accepted into the competition!

We continue to focus on and implement practices and technology that improve experiences for our faculty, students, and staff. Community engagement has been essential in identifying and prioritizing campus needs and implementing emerging technologies that address those needs most effectively and efficiently.

AskDeac and the IS Website

In August 2019, IS implemented AskDeac, our help portal and ticketing system, providing an easy-to-use platform for WFU faculty, students, staff, and guests. AskDeac offers a number of options to get IT help, including the ability to:

  • Submit tickets with a new easy-to-use interface
  • Use forms for Common Requests, allowing a user to submit a request with just a small amount of information and a click
  • View Solution Articles
  • Check the status of a support ticket
  • Live Chat Service Desk representatives
  • Correspond with Service Desk representatives through both emails and logging into the portal

Concurrently, the IS website was updated to work in parallel with AskDeac for easy access to IT services, help resources, current announcements, and alerts. The site averages over 5600 views per week!

StatusPage and the IS-Info Group

IS has elevated the way we utilize the Statuspage application and the IS-Info Google Group, composed of key campus stakeholders, to disseminate IT-related information to the campus community in a more personal way, avoiding the overuse of broadcast emails.

IS held a breakfast in the Spring to re-engage and expand the role of the IS-Info Group to have our key contacts act as campus liaisons and communication partners for IT initiatives.

Implementing tools and building relationships provides us the opportunity to keep the lines of communication open and transparent between IS and our campus community.

For IS status updates, any member from the campus community can view Statuspage, available on the IS website, AskDeac, or at status.is.wfu.edu. Users can even opt-in to receive real-time outage and scheduled maintenance alerts by subscribing to updates within the application. Statuspage updates appear throughout AskDeac and the IS website when there is an announcement, increasing awareness and providing timely updates to the community.

Security

The IS Security team had a busy October promoting National Cyber Security Awareness Month, a nationwide campaign and a collaborative effort designed to increase understanding of Internet security and to ensure everyone has the resources they need to stay safe online. This year’s theme was ‘Stranger Things’, a familiar theme to many people on campus, and utilized to entice the campus community to learn more about security risks, stranger links and more. Throughout the month, IS hosted multiple events including information sessions, short films, and a guest speaker, all designed to raise security awareness.

In addition to the October events, IS Security has been building community via establishing a new approach for continuing education across campus. Focuses of these outreach opportunities include; understanding the basics of phishing, protecting data and identities, creating strong passwords, and staying safe online. A security awareness application was recently launched and has been well received by the campus community.

Establishment of a robust cybersecurity education program, including monthly learning sessions, expanded use of social media, and participation in National Cybersecurity month each October, has significantly elevated campus awareness resulting in fewer occurances of cybersecurity related incidents.

Recognition that an effective information security strategy requires a strong and collaborative partnership across the IT organization and with the University user community, resulted in the creation of the Information Technology Security Advisory Committee (ITSAC) to advise the Executive Vice President, Provost and CIO on issues of security, privacy, and risk reduction. This committee may recommend information security strategies that are integrated with the University’s overall enterprise risk management programs.

The IT Strategic Plan, established in 2016, created multi-year strategies and priorities. University leadership convened in the spring of 2019 to review accomplishments and identify areas for improvement and growth to meet the changing needs of our campus. A continuation of the original plan was outlined and three focus areas were identified. New initiatives to grow these three areas will continue to develop throughout the next year, while current efforts are underway.

A Student Information System (SIS) committee was formed in June of 2017 to identify, evaluate, and recommend a modern, cloud-based solution for a Student Information System. Committee membership consists of broad representation from multiple departments spanning the College, Graduate School and Professional Schools.

An SIS Planning & Analysis Group was formed shortly after the Workday launch in 2018 to capture lessons learned from a large scale ERP rollout. This team is comprised of both technical and cross functional team members and works hand in hand with the SIS committee.

Throughout the strategic planning process, business intelligence and analytics were identified as top priorities for many of our campus partners. In order to focus efforts in this area, IS has hired three experienced resources to establish a new team dedicated to analytics and data governance.

This new team will focus on two strategic areas:

  • Institutional Analytics - analysis of the business functions of Wake Forest in areas such as Finance and Financial Aid
  • Learning/Instructional Analytics - analysis of the student experience as it relates to student success, retention, and more

The team plans to develop a data governance program to include policies, best practices, definitions, standards, security, and ownership.

With an established Learning Spaces Committee (LSC) in place, IS Multimedia works collaboratively with the committee to develop standard options for a variety of teaching and learning scenarios, as well as deploying improved solutions to create, edit, store, discover and stream multimedia content. Data-driven decisions have resulted in a more timely installation and a simplified solution for technology in our learning spaces. With the implementation of RMS Resource Management Suite (RMS) to collect data on how technology is used in a typical classroom, IS Multimedia was able to almost triple the number of updated learning spaces in 2019 as compared to previous years while spending just over 250k.

Decisions are now based on a number of variables, including:

  • Number of tickets per semester for that room
  • Room usage percentage
  • Age of the room
  • Alignment with facilities renovation schedule
  • Recommendations/discussions with the Learning Spaces Committee

IS Multimedia is working with the Dean's Office and the LSC to prioritize the upgrade sequence for the remaining 35 rooms, with student impact playing a signficant role in the final decision.

Technology Accessibility has become an increasing area of focus on campus. This year, many campus partners engaged with the Paciello group, a world-class accessibility consultant agency, to develop recommendations for improvements in this area. Through this engagement, and conversations across campus, Wake Forest specific action items were identified, including the plan to form a new working group and program focused on Technology Accessibility. To help lead this effort, a new position within IS was formed, dedicated to Technology Accessibility, and charged with developing best practices, policies, and procedures.

This next iteration of the IT Strategic Plan will continue to focus on accessibility, both virtual and physical, ensuring that our campus community has access to technology tools that support their academic endeavors while also meeting the virtually accessible needs of people with a diverse range of hearing, movement, sight, and cognitive ability.

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Wake Forest University

Information Systems

PO Box 7408

Winston-Salem, NC 27109

title photo credit: Ken Bennett / WFU