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Distance Learning in the University of Maine System, Part 2

Dec 28, 2010 11:53 AM, With Bennett Liles

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Yeah, what kind of a time frame did you have on getting all this old stuff out, or everything on the old system you were going to take out, and everything new in, up and running and ready to go?

Well, we were very fortunate in that respect. The existing network and distribution system was such that it could remain in place and run in parallel while we were deploying the new Haivision IP-based distributions system, so we worked over the summer to have the new equipment in before the start of the fall semester. So basically everything was ready to run mid-August, I would say, but we had a few particular locations where there was some delay in getting the network connectivity set up or construction or some other access restrictions and they were able to remain on the old network while we had already migrated to the new network. And then we simply switched those systems off as they weren't needed anymore. [Timestamp: 4:05]

Yeah, I work on a university campus, and that week or two right before fall semester starts is always a real fun time for the tech people.

Yeah, it was a very, very busy time. [Timestamp: 4:17]

That's when you're going to have the tech people throwing themselves out of windows, hopefully just on the ground floor. So you obviously had to coordinate tech and non-tech people, and the faculty, while they're experts in their subject areas, are not necessarily the techies on this. So how do you coordinate between the faculty and the IT? Who does what on that?

That actually happens at several different levels, and the first line for the faculty is to work with the distance education technician [DET] that's working in the classroom with them. They worked with the same instructor for the full semester. They get very well acquainted. The DET helps the instructor develop graphics, presentations, helps to ensure that they understand what's legible and what's not, what font sizes to use, what kind of material is appropriate. They're pretty much the first interface with the faculty, and then there's a second level of support. We actually have a constructional design staff and that's their full-time job is to make sure that they're there to assist faculty with developing courses for distance learning, be it live video or streaming or purely web-based courses. And then there's another logistics staff that deals with the faculty regarding the distribution of materials and collecting tests and exam proctoring at remote locations, all those kinds of things that go with having the remote students. [Timestamp: 5:49]

Yeah, when those students at the receiving end … I would think that probably on the production standpoint the people at the other end of the line there that may be more consistently the big challenge because they may not have the level of training, the local facilitators, that the tech guys have at the origination point. So how do you handle that? Is there one person as a local facilitator who knows what to do and how to call in and handle all the tech stuff?

Well, we'd like to think that it's not necessary to have anybody at the other end, and usually, I'm going to say 99 percent of the time, the students really are able to work the system on their own. If they're at a university location, one of the campuses, or one of the off-campus centers, obviously university staff are on hand, and if the student's having trouble with the telephone or for some reason they turn on the set-top box and they can't find the channel they're looking for or the TV doesn't seem to be working for them, they can go talk to one of the staff members. But we prominently display the 800 number for our support center in all the rooms, and our goal is to be able to have the students operate the equipment themselves and call an 800 number and get some quick help if they actually run into a problem. [Timestamp: 7:16]

Well on the tech level, sometimes the students may be a little ahead of some of the faculty members.

Well like I said, there's not a whole lot that they have to deal with. In this case, they really just have to make sure that they can find the class that they're looking for on the correct channel and that the equipment is turned on. We try to keep it as simple as possible. We actually have more problems with missing phones or misplaced remote controls than we do with equipment failures. [Timestamp: 7:47]

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