By Rita Rosenthal. Like many colleges and universities across the country, the demand for technical teams to expand existing services or build new services in support of the campus community during COVID-19 has been at a steady hum. Early in March, as news of the pandemic began to ramp up, UC Berkeley’s Deputy CIO Jenn Stringer started to gather key IT partners twice weekly to discuss, plan, and take actions to help prepare campus for moving classes fully online and having staff work from home. In a matter of days, several teams had scaled up services like Zoom to meet the demand for video conferencing, figured out ways to get computers and equipment to those in need, and found new approaches to their work to best serve the needs of the greater — now predominantly remote — campus.
One IT in Action
The weekly meetings of IT partners continue and have been paramount to the One IT community’s ability to be proactive and responsive to quickly meet the needs of the campus. Topics are surfaced that are either discussed and solved during the meeting or participants go off and find creative solutions to implement. Here is just a sampling of the way teams have worked together to meet the needs of Berkeley’s students, faculty, and staff.
Enabling Teaching Remotely
- In March, full-featured Zoom video conferencing accounts were provided to faculty, staff, and registered students. Zoom licensing grew 1,324% (from 2,528 accounts to 33,741 accounts). Google Meet enhanced features were also rolled out for all employees and students to help with the demand for virtual meetings.
- There has been a 1,260% increase in the use of our learning management system (Canvas) with a spike in use during spring break.
- Our Digital Learning Services team held over 200 1:1 consultations and hosted 200 workshop attendees in 7 weeks. They are also prepping 26 online courses for Summer Sessions and providing webinars for instructors.
- The Student Information Systems team converted all undergraduate spring 2020 standard grade-based and elective passed/no passed enrollments to the default passed/not passed grading basis.
- Citrix has been integral in expanding the capability for students and faculty to access their lab machines securely from their shelter in place locations. The IST-Data and Platform Services team worked with several different departments and colleges to install Citrix providing access to 8 different labs, and over 300 workstations, enabling hundreds of people to continue instruction, and their important research.
Supporting COVID-19 Research
- Our Research IT team has been working with staff and faculty to get remote access to department and lab computers and negotiating licenses for sensitive data collection tools. Their virtual consulting with researchers has increased 151% since last year.
- Research Administration and Compliance has worked hard maintaining our award proposal pipeline by supporting Phoebe, Berkeley’s grant tracking application. To date there are 95 COVID-19 related research proposals in progress, totalling ~$21M in potential funding.
Supporting Remote Work
- The conversion to the new bSecure Remote Access VPN last year using GlobalProtect has made accessing the campus network much easier on our almost-overnight transition to remote learning, teaching, and working. Our IST Network Operations and Services team also worked with the vendor to build in extra capacity to avoid maxing out systems resources, to ensure users are able to connect to the vital campus systems they use each day.
- As campus moved to remote, orders for computers and peripherals ramped up. Student Affairs IT identified a gap in students who did not have computer access. IT Client Services worked with departments to order new equipment for staff and faculty. Together they created new processes to have items delivered or available for secure pick-up at their campus location.
- Early in March, we launched a Telecommuting Resources website to capture all the IT services we have available with important tips to consider when working remotely.
- Bomgar is integral in our ability to provide technical support remotely. It is used to allow remote technicians access to user’s computers to help troubleshoot and repair problems. With people moving to working remotely, IST Endpoint Operations and Services saw the demand for remote technical support tripled, and we nearly doubled our Bombar software licensing capacity to handle the additional demand.
Protecting University Data & Assets
- Unfortunately, COVID-19 has brought cyber criminals a new angle in which to take advantage of people by building on several scams that were already out there in the form of phishy emails (impersonating legitimate organizations like WHO and CDC), robocalls, romance scams, and those pushed through social media. Our Security team has worked to heighten awareness and educate the campus about these scams.
- Zoom bombing was caught short in its tracks thanks to our Security and Telecom teams working together with Zoom to make global changes to some Zoom default settings, and to educate users about other settings to use for more secure meetings.
During seeming dark times it is sometimes helpful to look at the silver linings of the situation. Reports from around the globe of people coming together during this crisis, a decrease in pollution, an increase in humanity. Some positive outcomes of this pandemic is how we have now positioned ourselves at Berkeley to move important initiatives forward: expanding online learning, tapping into talent to build remote workforce in departments where it makes sense (especially in IT), identifying any areas where we need to continue our efforts toward instructional and institutional resilience for whatever the future may bring. Whatever the future holds, we know our One IT community will be there, supporting new ways of learning, teaching, and working.
“I am in complete awe and so proud of how our community has pulled together during this time. The collaborative efforts between campus IT teams I’ve already seen happening over the years has been raised to a whole new level.” Stringer said. “Each day I hear inspiring stories of how teams have rallied to find solutions around challenges as we navigate this unique experience together. I am moved and truly thankful for their dedication and continued innovation.”
This article originally appeared in Technology @ Berkeley, May 8, 2020, and is re-posted with permission in the UC IT Blog.