Thank you from the trenches

Posted on March 20, 2020 by

To continue on the theme and title of my last post… it rained a lot, and we were knee deep in muck for much of this week. That being said, I am starting to have regular meetings that don’t focus 100 per cent on the topic of COVID-19. Aside from where I am working from (at home in Kingston), there is some normalcy returning. There is still a pile of work to be done, but we have moved the needle pretty far in a very short period of time. Kudos to IT staff across the entire University, whether it is Scarborough, or Mississauga or one of the divisions or departments on the St. George campus. I am very proud of what you have done and how you approached this collaboratively in a collegial and patient manner. It is reassuring to see the collective force.

On the teaching and learning front there were long hours answering questions and moving people online in a way that made sense for the last three weeks of the term. It was challenging for staff, but also for faculty. We had a bit of levity midweek, with this creative video on the trials of moving to online work

Most people at the University of Toronto have gravitated towards Blackboard Collaborate, which was already an established tool here. We saw thousands of sessions started each day and over 900 teaching/lecture videos were recorded as of March 19. In addition we saw people using Teams and Zoom, sometimes for the first time ever. There were a few small glitches as these cloud providers did a great job of scaling to demand. We aren’t out of the woods yet, but thanks to our cloud service providers.

Much of the work now is centred around policy and guidelines. How do we change assessment? What about exams? What about accessibility? Many questions are being discussed and answered each and every day.

On the administrative side, things have also moved very far. In ITS we did a preparation survey a few weeks back and 97 per cent of those who answered the survey had the capability to work from home.  There were some issues to work through, but it was relatively easy for us. There are still a few people from ITS on campus and some need to occasionally visit if there are needs around hardware and services. Shout out to the team in Simcoe Hall for supporting our universities incident response team on top of regular support. Thank you for this.

Yesterday I asked various leaders in IT around campus how things were going and the feedback was generally positive. Remember that IT support at U of T is very distributed so it sometimes hard to get the pulse of what is a happening, but this feedback suggests things are moving forward. Local IT spent many hours helping people get set up at home. In some cases they had to procure laptops, figure out how to let people take desktops home, secure virtual private network (VPN) and remote desktop protocol (RDP) access and help with proper protocols from meeting at home. Thanks to all those local teams who provided fantastic support and thanks to the team in ITS who rebuilt our public VPN and the Info Commons who helped role out the changes.

As I mentioned last time, this is going to create lots of opportunity, after the fact. The usage of Teams and the web version of Office 365 (0365) has gone through the roof. (Thanks so much to Microsoft for O365 and scaling up to meet the demand). People are now doing online meetings and patiently working through the challenges instead of just giving up. Figuring out how to blur your background, why you need headphones and general protocol with the kids, cats and pajamas is all being overcome. After this we are all going to easily move to a truly mobile workforce.

Kudos to all the folks across ITS and IT@UofT from Information Security to Enterprise Application Solution Integration to Education and Awareness (Communications) to divisional and local support. I have not mentioned everyone and it is simply impossible to do so in one blog post.

Check out our ITS Preparedness web page for frequently asked questions, usage charts and the latest info.

See some timely resources below.

Thanks to everyone and I hope you get some down time this weekend to catch up on sleep and spend time with those near and dear to you.

The health and safety of our staff, students and faculty remain the number one priority of the University. Read the latest official updates from the University here.