Collat's IT team and a crew of student tech workers and facilitators helped smooth the school's transition to face-to-face and hybrid classes this fall.Medical Properties Trust Auditorium in Collat School of Business

The IT superstars oversaw the addition of technology to the classrooms and provided on-the-spot assistance to faculty who had to get up to speed quickly on how to use the new hardware and software and how to integrate the tools into their teaching arsenal.

Faculty throughout the building praised the team for their above-and-beyond assistance the first few weeks of classes.

“Collat’s IT team and the student facilitators have done an outstanding job helping us work out the difficulties of using technology in a new way for classes and by helping us manage sometimes large hybrid classes,” said Mike Wittmann, Ph.D., chair of the Marketing, Industrial Distribution and Economics Department. “The student facilitators have been amazing.”

During the spring semester, the university shut down campus to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, moving all face-to-face classes online. All summer semester classes were taught online as well. But UAB made the decision early summer to do all it could to deliver some academics in person in the fall and committed significant resources to make it happen.

For courses in the Collat School of Business, that meant offering business classes in a variety of formats and providing educational accommodations for students who might get sick during the semester or need to quarantine. The school continued to offer many of its courses fully online for students who prefer that option or who wanted to limit their time in the classroom. Some classes, such as the BUS 101 course for freshmen, were consciously kept small in order to fit socially distanced in existing classrooms and were offered fully face-to-face. Others were offered in a hybrid format in which students attended one class a week in person and participated in the other class(es) online live during class time.

To accommodate the different formats, Collat’s facilities and IT teams were tasked with transitioning the classrooms to follow UAB’s safety guidelines, including limiting seating and establishing a six-foot distance between seats.

“At the same time, we needed to ensure [our classrooms] could provide quality online instruction for students not on campus,” said Kris Boyle, Collat’s administrative and operations manager.

Boyle and Phillip Cotton, one of two information systems specialists dedicated solely to Collat, spearheaded the transition.  Supported by an incredible team of staff and students, they retrofitted CSB classrooms with technology and safety measures in just a few weeks.

Cameras at the front of classrooms were relocated to the back so students watching live on Zoom could see their instructor and the white boards. New hardware allowed presentations to be captured and displayed separately to online viewers for better visibility. Microphones were dropped from ceilings to provide online viewers with clearer audio.

Phillip Cotton, David Childers, Kris BoyleThe team also helped troubleshoot questions related to online instruction.

“We received a lot of questions related to Zoom, like which camera and microphone to select,” Cotton said. “Or ‘why is the sound coming out of the computer and not the overhead speakers?’”

David Childers, another information systems specialist at Collat, was critical in ensuring success for hybrid instruction. Accounting professor Jennifer Hamrick, Ph.D., said Childers was instrumental in reconfiguring her class to be effective for both in-person and online students.

“My biggest challenge was to figure out how my at-home students could see the problems I work on the whiteboard or computer screen during class time,” Hamrick said. David met her in the classroom before the semester began to walk through the technologies and suggest solutions. She said it helped her be more confident with the technology.

“And my at home students were pleased with the ability to see the classroom and the problems that I worked,” she said.

Childers drafted instructions for all faculty on how to access Zoom and created a how-to list of common issues to help their transition back to campus.

To augment their assistance, Childers and Cotton hired a crew of IT student assistants to smooth out issues they anticipated would arise in the first weeks of instruction. The assistants assisted faculty, students and staff with the new technology in classrooms, student labs, conference rooms and other spaces.

And of course, problems arose.

“On the second day of class, we had a third or so of our classrooms where the sound failed,” Cotton said. “We got those operational before the start of the day on Wednesday. Third day back we had classroom cameras failing.”

Thankfully Cotton, Childers and the student workers, Garren Lexie, Trenton McDade, Walter Pruitt,  Rosalia Reyes, Jordan Schmidt, and Asher Zheng were on hand to quickly tackle problems and ease the transition for both faculty and students to an unprecedented fall semester.