McMaster IT and ‘the return to campus’
We have officially passed the milestone of a full year of learning and working remotely. If you are like me, it felt like the longest, shortest year on record. The fact that we are now into the second year of a global pandemic continues to feel as surreal as it was the first time around. Happily, even in the hardest moments, humour reminds us that we have to let off steam as we go through the ups and downs. However, the heroic efforts required to get us through this past year, professionally and personally, are not a laughing matter.
As our students ramp up for winter term exams, administration, faculty and staff across the institution are thinking ahead to what the fall semester might look like in anticipation of our return to campus. Despite the vacillations between optimism and anxious uncertainty about all that it entails, let’s remember how well we achieved our goals when we all rallied to work together to move McMaster to an off-campus reality. I am certain we will be just as capable as we navigate new, potentially hybrid approaches to learning, teaching and working come September.
The truth is, we don’t know exactly what the return to campus will be like, yet. What will that new normal be? We will need to look to institutional leadership and public health directives to guide us. That is also the purpose of the ‘Return to Campus’ committees that are meeting regularly now, working to develop recommendations and action plans.
It is also understandable that people across the campus may feel eager to get the ball rolling, and with the end of fiscal year and the summer semester right ahead of us, it may make sense to undertake spending in this budget year and to have work activities defined before everyone plans vacations or has new semester activities to focus on.
Still, as we start planning, coordinating, and communicating, it will be beneficial if we take an aligned approach and encourage the maintenance of standards and pre-pandemic guidelines for technology decisions to avoid creating new security or support challenges as we prepare to move workloads back to campus. For those of us involved in delivering technology on campus, may I suggest a few principles we can enlist to navigate decisions over the next few months:
- Prioritize activities and initiatives that will support students’ and faculty return to campus
- Plan technical support activities as far ahead as possible:
- There may be supply shortages.
- Many technical devices and end points (printers, computers, etc.) have remained on campus, unused, since last March and may require update cycles and modifications.
- Changes to the McMaster Wi-Fi network and our new email and active directory changes could require additional hands-on support for devices already on campus, and those returning to campus as well.
- Try where possible to select technical solutions that support or improve standardization and uniform experiences:
- We may already have technology standards defined for classrooms and teaching spaces, as an example.
- Uniformity will improve the student and faculty experience.
- IT personnel across campus can support each other when they use the same technologies, creating ‘communities of practice’.
- Purchasing through vendor of record or utilizing already negotiated contracts can diminish effort and time investments.
- Consider if decisions should engage the Privacy Officer, McMaster IT Security team or IT Governance committees for evaluation, awareness and/or endorsement.
- Anything new that attaches to the campus network, including Internet of Things (IoT) devices, may introduce security and bandwidth implications, so please reach out to UTS for advice and awareness.
With the above in mind, areas that have dedicated IT support will need to undertake advance planning to ensure there is time to prepare. Areas that do not have IT support, and where individuals have traditionally supported their own computers/devices, may need to consider if they need additional assistance in advance of return to campus plans and should reach out accordingly.
In addition, none of us should assume we must rush to return to campus as part of the ‘first wave’ – work force planning and prioritization is still underway, however students and those directly involved with students will more than likely be the priority, as per the Provost’s recent announcement, and those who can work from home may be encouraged to remain doing so.
Whatever the decisions are that unfold, I know that a thriving McMaster IT community, including UTS and the Office of the AVP & CTO, will be ready to assist!gg's blog, News Category