Each year, SMU leadership and the Academic Technology Council reviews and approves a collection of classroom upgrade projects to be funded by the University Technology Fund. Project requests are submitted by each school in addition to identified major maintenance/fixes based on the age or current state of each room. These are vetted and prioritized to ensure we are providing stability across classroom experiences while also modernizing the technology in as many spaces as possible. In addition to the classrooms funded by the University, several schools or departments independently fund additional upgrades that are critical to their environment. The majority of these projects are conducted during either the summer months or during winter break to minimize impact to teaching.
The Covid-19 pandemic has drastically altered this year’s original upgrade plans. Instead of the original proposal of work, a new scope has been defined to prepare our classrooms for supporting instructions for both in-person and remote participants. Although the original statement of work has been identified and work is beginning, conversations continue to evolve on campus to incorporate more new facilities for instruction that can support instructional social distancing in the classroom. As changes continue to be defined, today’s plans may continue to be modified quickly to ensure our classrooms are equipped properly.
During the month of May, OIT’s AV team, the Academic Technology team, and several faculty volunteers reviewed various technology options that would support both in-person and especially remote teaching. The focus of the technology was to ensure that each space would have appropriate audio and video. For areas that rely heavily on whiteboards, a solution was identified that would allow for the natural use of whiteboards while allowing visibility for remote participants. Additionally, several spaces require a more flexible video solution. Therefore, several different types of document cameras and web cameras were ordered.
Each room was assigned technology components that would meet the space requirements within a limited budget. Several demonstrations were held with faculty from the various schools. Faculty test groups articulated consistently that the technology itself is not the biggest challenge but rather the planning and need to revamp class instruction and interaction for use of the technology in an effective manner. Academic Technology and CTE will be partnering throughout the summer and early fall to provide a host of materials and guidance for faculty to help make this transition. Online videos and documentation for each space will be available by Fall. Additionally, as rooms are completed, faculty are encouraged to visit the spaces and experiment with the technology to ensure readiness before classes start.
Installation work began on June 22, 2020. The full schedule of installations and estimated times for completion will be available on the FY21 Classroom Upgrades Project website by June 26. There are approximately 250 rooms to upgrade in the span of 8 short weeks. During the AV installation, facilities will also be preparing each room by marking the appropriate layout for social distancing and repositioning/removing furniture where possible. Additional room changes are likely to occur as the University optimizes space utilization options to solve scheduling problems due to the reduced room capacity. As the funding source for these preparations has been completely depleted due to expanded needs, the articulation of further changes—both to outfit newly identified spaces or to acquire and implement additional AV technologies—will be difficult or require further changes to today’s statement of work.
This is an enormous effort requiring a significant amount of coordination and collaboration. We will keep you posted via our project website over the next several weeks. You will also receive direct communications from your school’s Academic Technology Services Director (ATSD) for room orientation and training as your classrooms come online. If you have questions or concerns, please feel free to contact the Academic Technology Service Director for your school or contact Rachel Mulry (firstname.lastname@example.org.)