The fiscal year 2019-2020 brought sweeping changes to DELTA operations and heightened demand for our services. The COVID-19 pandemic prompted all NC State courses to move online, putting our instructional and technology support capacity to the test.
For DELTA’s Educational Technology Services (ETS), these changes intersected with numerous departmental updates, from staff titles to technology enhancements. ETS supports NC State faculty, staff and students by developing and maintaining high-quality learning technologies. We spoke with Director Jeff Webster to discuss the department’s past year and how the team adapted and excelled with the changes.
Reinforced Security Measures
Data Center One in the Hillsborough Building, which contains ETS’s backups, Disaster Recovery and X drive, is being decommissioned. The systems housed there will move to the North Carolina Department of Information Technology Eastern Data Center in Raleigh by the end of June 2020. The Systems Support team has been working with the Office of Information Technology (OIT) over the last year to plan the move. This includes planning the logistical and physical networking, documenting space and power requirements, as well as planning to minimize the impact on services during the move.
ETS has continued to document the Disaster Recovery process, which provides detailed protocol on how to recover in case something goes wrong with a system or critical employees are out of reach. ETS plans to cross-train its team and launch a full-scale test of the process by January 2021.
The team also made improvements to its infrastructure for enhanced reliability and security. By increasing the redundancy of critical systems, adding tools such as firewalls and security monitoring and successfully navigating phase one of the Endpoint Security Policy, ETS has continued to increase efficiency in our virtual environments.
As NC State instructors transitioned their spring 2020 courses online, ETS responded to an increase in files and media by adding additional storage capacity. They expect to meet the storage needs for fall 2020 online courses.
New Syllabus Tool
DELTA continued working with an outside vendor on a new version of the Syllabus Tool, an online application to help instructors easily build standard NC State course syllabi in various formats. ETS completed an initial version of the Syllabus Tool that can be used to create a syllabus and allow enrolled students to view. The code was tested and deployed to DELTA servers early in the spring 2020 semester. A pilot for faculty was planned for summer 2020 but was ultimately put on hold due to COVID-19.
OpenDashboard Learning Analytics
ETS is in the second year of its pilot with the OpenDashboard project, which tracks learning analytics to help instructors identify at-risk students as early as possible and provide appropriate support, taking into account grade point averages, student engagement, academic progress and course rankings.
In fall 2019, the team worked with an outside vendor to implement an updated version of the dashboard based on feedback from last year’s pilot as well as contributions from other universities supporting the OpenDashboard project. ETS started a new pilot in spring 2020 with ten participants. The updated dashboard was well received, however, the predictive model did not perform as well this year. ETS will analyze the pilot results more closely and make decisions on needed changes for next year.
WeBWorK is a homework delivery system that allows instructors and students to write and answer questions in a mathematical format. The Department of Mathematics has been using WeBWorK and hosting its server for five years. As more people on campus begin to adopt the tool, the department has asked DELTA to take ownership of the server.
Since the summer of 2019, ETS has been planning the server’s move to DELTA. The team is in the process of developing documentation and support resources for WeBWorK. The service will be available with Moodle integration from ETS in fall 2020, which is also when the team will begin working on WolfWare integration.
ETS supported Psychologist Spotlights, a DELTA Grant project and community-driven resource for faculty. The grant team created the project’s website and learning resources as well as profiles for featured psychologists and learning resources. Psychologist Spotlights marks the first DELTA development project using the Gutenberg editor in WordPress, in which each piece of content is a draggable and customizable block.
Earlier this year, ETS upgraded WolfWare WordPress to Version 5 which added support for Gutenberg.
Instructional Media Production (IMP) Support
IMP is DELTA’s department for multimedia production and instructional video. ETS collaborated with the team members at IMP to enhance their internal workflows and processes. The department tracks and categorizes its work hours to accurately bill clients and estimate project completion timelines. ETS created a tool that allows IMP Associate Director John Gordon to pull information from Google Calendar and convert it into a spreadsheet. This provides Gordon with straightforward access to the data he wants to work with.
ETS also created a new system to back up IMP’s projects. Once IMP staff shoot video and complete post-production editing, they typically copy these materials onto a portable hard drive to take home. When they return to the office, they manually drag a copy of the files up to the file server to create a backup. ETS updated their file server and wrote scripts that will automatically backup any hard drive as soon as it is plugged in, saving staff members time and ensuring that all files are secure. Operations and Systems Analyst Brian Aldridge led the effort.
This year saw big changes in ETS leadership. Longtime ETS Director, Lou Harrison, retired after 20 years with DELTA. Effective December 2019, several existing ETS staff members were promoted to new management roles. Jeff Webster assumed leadership as the new director of ETS. The previous Applications Development team was split into two teams: Data, Integrations and Custom Applications led by Associate Director Jonathan Champ and Open Source Applications led by Associate Director Stephen Bader. Each associate director manages three direct reports. Breaking the department down into smaller teams has helped streamline communication and keep staff members in touch at a distance.
While the COVID-19 pandemic overlapped with many pre-planned projects and updates at ETS, the subsequent transition to remote instruction had limited impacts on its operations and services.
“We have been doing a lot of preparation over the last few years to handle a disaster and that work paid off,” Webster says.
During NC State’s extended spring break, the Systems Support team kept a close eye on system, storage and network utilizations to ensure they were handling the increased load successfully. Available storage for both Moodle and Mediasite has had to be expanded more often than normal.
“The Desktop Support team has been doing a fantastic job assisting DELTA staff in working remotely,” Webster adds.
This includes handling more support calls to connect staff to campus resources and conduct remote hardware troubleshooting and software installations. Desktop Support Analyst Robert Holloman and Technology Support Analyst Scott Leonard reported to the Center for Technology and Innovation during the closures to keep computers in the office running for remote access. They also handled ordering, accepting deliveries and arranging distribution of equipment to support remote work.
In addition to its larger projects, ETS completes routine technology maintenance and supports other DELTA departments throughout the year. Here are some additional initiatives the team worked on in FY 2019-2020:
- Completed the annual Moodle upgrade. This consisted of evaluating third-party plugins and modifications, retiring ForumNG and migrating its data to the improved Moodle Forum, and removing Blackboard Ally plugins from last year’s pilot. It was decided to not move forward with the product.
- Completed NC State Login visual updates. OIT, led by the Identity Management Service Team, and DELTA worked together on visual updates to the NC State Login systems. This included consistent naming and icons for the Unity Logins as well as a rename of the existing Guest/Parent/Affiliate system to Brickyard Login.
- Supported the PlayPosit pilot program. The pilot was successful, and NC State has acquired an enterprise-level license for PlayPosit effective Aug. 1, 2020.
- Assisted DELTA Testing Services in providing remote exam monitoring solutions integrated with Moodle. Respondus LockDown Browser and Respondus Monitor were installed on all Moodle instances.
- Configured Gradescope, a streamlined grading software, on a test Moodle instance. After Gradescope passed testing, ETS configured Gradescope on moodle-courses2021 and moodle-projects.
- Collapsed Mediasite down into a single instance. All new recordings will go to the new mediasite.wolfware instance. Work to move the last users who are still using presentations on the other instances has been delayed by the pandemic response and is scheduled to be completed in August.
- Developed and launched the new Online and Distance Education website. In collaboration with an outside vendor, ETS updated existing program pages and added new careers pages.
- Updated WolfWare Space Rosters. Instructors requested an easy way to download a course roster in WolfWare. ETS added detailed rosters with student profile pictures and the option to download rosters as a .csv file.
- Worked with the G-Suite service team to test and enable Zoom add-ons for Google Calendar and Gmail.
- Added additional functionality to the WolfWare Outreach / REPORTER integration, including improved support for setting days of Moodle access for participants, multiple REPORTER course instances for one Moodle course, and support for correctly returning course completion data when there are multiple instances in one Moodle course.