ICT changing College Life during Pandemic

In just a few months, the Covid-19 crisis brought about years of change to ICT in the college sector. When the pandemic hit, the IT Support team at South Lanarkshire College faced dramatic changes to the systems they used and the way they worked.

Chris Sumner, South Lanarkshire College’s IT Support Supervisor and his team have played a crucial role in ensuring staff and students at the College, stayed connected connecting during the pandemic. When lockdown one hit in March 2020, Chris and his team quickly got to work adapting procedures and ensuring all staff and students received the IT equipment they desperately needed.

Chris said “At first there was a general uncertainty about how we as a college were going to be able to continue delivering all our teaching during lockdown. We already had plans in place for remote learning but not at the scale where the entire staff and student population was going to go online within literary a few weeks”

Chris continued: “When we got the lockdown announcement, the IT team worked quickly to ensure everyone had a device; knew how to use Microsoft Teams and had all the data they needed. We planned for worst case scenario and handed out around 300 laptops to staff within two days of the announcement. This allowed every teaching staff member, to have the crucial devices they needed to go home and start online teaching, ensuring students were not disadvantaged”

Chris explains from this point on, the IT team’s mission was to find any issue missed and fix the problem. This included software issues, remote support and faulty device errors.

Chris continued, “One of the biggest challenges was trying to get extra devices for the staff and students under the ‘new norm’. PC suppliers had stopped production and we were experiencing delivery times of more than three months from the point of ordering. Everyone on the planet now needed a laptop and the college was no exception to that. We spent the lead up to the summer sourcing devices and handed out as much as we could. Then as the courses finished and the devices were returned to us, we refreshed them and took delivery of new ones. The chain of events started again when students returned to blended learning in August”

When asked how he felt about his role during this crucial time, Chris said:
“My role certainly changed, as did many of my colleagues. We were supporting more than 4000 people with new systems and in terms of our interaction with the staff we became sounding boards for new ideas and tried our best to help develop those ideas to help the college continue teaching. This often meant building a new system or changing procedures and we all became very flexible in our working arrangements”

The ICT team at South Lanarkshire College realise that the end of lockdown does not mean an end to this new way of working, times have changed and the student and staff experience will adapt. Chris expands “The IT team itself has learned a lot about what we can do remotely. We’re still in the pandemic and although lockdown is gradually lifting, there are tools and software that we’ve developed that we can still use post-covid. For example, we’ve had situations where the attendance for some meetings/events have been better than previous years because people were able to use their phone from their own home e.g. watch an open evening or a student question time. One of our open days had people relaxing in their back gardens in the sun while listening to our lecturers talk about the course they were about to join. This is a function we’re likely to continue with even in level 0.

Despite all the changes to systems, Colleges need to maintain a high standard of security and compliance. New platforms such as Zoom and Hopin have emerged out of necessity over the past year and each new platform needs to be assessed by IT teams to ensure organisations are not exposed to any security risks. At South Lanarkshire College the IT team have been with working closely with lecturers and support staff to set up working groups to combat any foreseen or unforeseen security risk. Chris continued “Thankfully, this has kept our college secure and has ensured we’ve had a cohesive delivery of teaching. As Microsoft Teams was our chosen platform for teaching, we were able to train all staff to use the system in just a few weeks”.

At South Lanarkshire College, the entire experience has inspired lecturers to think about ways in which to use their new knowledge when the pandemic ends. Many are now looking at smarter teaching i.e. changing the way evening classes work, they are considering the blended learning approach which, will allow students and staff to frequently work from home and the new systems will also now be used to gather assignments and evidence. All new systems and changes will help streamline teaching for future generations.