When Silos Come Down, High Performing Teams Emerge

As the coronavirus pandemic escalated during the week of Spring Break, what is usually a time of relaxation for Notre Dame faculty, students, and staff became an urgent call to action to move all teaching and learning online in less than two weeks. 

While faculty prepared to teach online and students returned home to continue classes, the Office of Information Technologies (OIT) and other ND staff members came together behind the scenes to update, test and pivot existing technology systems to allow for continuous learning.

For some professors, this move to online teaching meant using Zoom or Panopto-enabled classrooms, both on campus and at home. 

Audio Video Technology (AVT) staff, who normally provide Registrar classroom support, remained on campus after many Notre Dame staff members had begun working remotely, to help facilitate technology changes and provide in-person support.

Jason Eitelbach (AV Designer) tested Zoom with various configurations in technology-enabled classrooms and enlisted the entire AVT staff on test calls to help evaluate the best settings for remote participants.  With the help of the Core User IT Services team, he bench-tested each model of Wolfvision document cameras in the AVT warehouse and coordinated the remote installation of the necessary software to enable the document cameras with Zoom.

“Getting the Zoom software setup using brand new document cameras, as well as 10-year old legacy units required the participation of the entire team with Core User IT Services to make sure we got it right.”

AVT staff visited active technology-enabled classrooms to rewire cameras to work with Zoom and Panopto.

Teaching and Learning Technologies (TLT) staff became aware that some faculty members may need the use of document cameras in their remote teaching locations and asked if there were any available for loan.  

AVT staff identified 32 document cameras in classrooms that were due to be replaced this summer and provided those document cameras to professors who wanted to utilize these platforms from home. 

Colin McCan, Tim Cichos and Joe Gyarmati (AVT Technicians) led the effort to get all 32 devices removed from various campus locations.  They brought them to the AVT workshop where each one was tested, cleaned and provided with a new cable to use for connecting them to a professor’s computer.  Tim Cichos, Jason Eitelbach and Brian Burchett (TLT) worked with a Wolfvision representative to outline the steps that would be needed to use the document cameras at home in the way the faculty were envisioning.

AVT staff also performed rigorous testing on the Panopto-enabled classrooms to get the software updated and ready for faculty on-campus use.  Once the classrooms were ready to be used, AVT staff visited approximately 152 Registrar classrooms all over campus to power down and unplug the classroom systems so as to conserve energy while the campus was shut down.

“I just saw everybody drop everything and work together, communicate, to make sure this would be successful. There was a lot of teamwork...if we didn’t have the work environment we do, it wouldn’t have happened. You definitely saw the ND mission come to life,” said McCan.

Professor Mitchell Wayne’s teaching style consisted mostly of blackboard and chalk for his lectures until faculty were asked to switch their lecturing style. 

“Luckily for me, I was connected with Lynn Langston and Chaz Barbour, who set me up in a Panopto classroom in DeBartolo.  

This has worked very well and is about as close as I can get to my “normal” lecturing.  Both of them have been very patient with me – I had never even heard of Panopto, let alone had any idea of how it worked.  And ever since the first test lecture, during which the camera wasn’t quite aligned, everything has gone very smoothly.  

The feedback from my students has been good, and I feel like we’ve done as well as we can, given these difficult circumstances,” said Professor Wayne of the Department of Physics.  

This switch required organization and scheduling by the Production Management Team and TLT team of ND Studios, along with coordination with Debartolo Hall Building Managers, Lilia Levya and Hue Hoang. 

The Office of Information Technologies would like to thank both Levya and Hoang who remained flexible to help the AVT team do custom setups in specific classrooms and the housekeeping staff who are still sanitizing classrooms multiple times per day.

“I was impressed that this came together within two weeks. There were no silos. We were a high-performing team,” said Shelly Birkla, AVT Warehouse, Inventory & Installation staff who helped coordinate technology classroom efforts.

In speaking with John Cavadini, McGrath-Cavadini Director, about his thoughts, he said, “I have received many email messages and notes from students telling me how reassuring it is to see the same familiar classroom and everything else they had been used to.  

I make sure to even dress the way I had been dressing for class, with my jacket and tie, to provide an impression of stability.  The students say they have found it reassuring in this confusing time.”

He also reflected on his experiences of Lecturing to an Empty Classroom in a blog post he gave us permission to share. 

As he was teaching his class called “The Catholic Faith” he spoke of the different icons related to the topic of the day, “The Descent into Hell, The Resurrection, and the Ascension of the Lord.”

“The empty tomb—the icon is saying—is an absence which is paradoxically a presence.

I thought of the empty room (it happens to rhyme with empty tomb!). An absence that is a presence. Reflecting on the icon, I saw the empty room differently. In this absence, all of the students were, paradoxically, present. They would view the lecture later. Our little classroom community would not be broken by distance after all. In some way, by our mutual commitment, the absence manifested the presence even more. “

Professor of Psychology, Daniel Lapsley, Ph.D. also relayed his feelings about the online format to our team

“It is certainly odd to deliver lectures to an empty auditorium, but with some imagination I could see my students sitting there, even turning my attention to my left and right as if to make eye contact with them.

It helped improve my cadence and pacing. I also made a point, at the start of the lecture, to mention students by name so they would know that I was thinking of them. 

And I wanted them to see that I was wearing protective gloves (a box was wonderfully provided by the University) and to watch me wipe down the monitors at the end of the lecture if only to impress upon them the importance of taking all necessary safety precautions.

After doing the lectures for asynchronous viewing, I did hear from a few students who said they missed the “live” interaction. 

So for both of the classes that I teach, I record my lectures live at the appointed day and time of the class, and then upload the Zoom recording to the Panopto folder on my Sakai course websites for those who cannot join the lecture live, for whatever reason.

Out of necessity, I am learning new educational technology tools, and already I am thinking about how to utilize them whenever we get back to in-person classes again.”

Professor Gary Lamberti, Department of Biological Sciences, agrees. “I have been doing Panopto recordings of my large Biostatistics class for years, mostly to enable students to access the lectures to clarify any concepts, or were unable to attend class due to illness, interviews, or athletic commitments. Of course, currently I am doing it with no audience, which is an odd dynamic because of the lack of immediate feedback.

I think fundamentally students want direct interactions with their instructors and classmates. I chose to address this with live Zoom sessions every week where students can log in to chat about class material or really anything on their minds.”

This is the first time in Notre Dame’s history that teaching and learning have been done exclusively online. 

While we remain uncertain about how long the Notre Dame community and the world will feel the effects of the pandemic, we know that OIT and other ND staff will continue to come together to ensure that teaching and learning continue and that students have a positive learning environment and experience.