For the Fall 2020 semester, there is no single solution for how colleges in the US will conduct classes due to COVID-19. Some classes will be fully remote (e.g., the University of California system and Rutgers University) or hybrid (e.g., Wichita State and the University of Maryland system) or in-person (e.g., Temple University). Even some universities that previously offered online courses have been unprepared to scale up all necessary core courses if the school goes completely online or hybrid in the fall.
A streamlined solution for online college courses
Since COVID-19 cases continue to climb, it may be optimistic to consider returning to campus full time, so many colleges have turned to the higher-ed tech/student-information developer company Jenzabar. Jenzabar has worked with 1,350 universities to develop, launch, and scale online course offerings.
A new system has emerged, as Jenzabar now uses IBM Cloud infrastructure as its global cloud service provider, citing IBM’s methodology, delivery system, client interface, ability to scale and comprehensive range of solutions.
TechRepublic spoke to Gus Ortiz, director of program management at Jenzabar, and Ed Bottini, global director of ISVs at IBM, about the challenges and successes of their new online tech collaboration, which is currently offered in 235 colleges across the country.
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Higher-ed institutions were clearly in need of help, and Jenzabar presented struggling education administrators with a Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) solution designed to reduce costs and mitigate agility so administrators don’t have to worry about the underlying infrastructure and make the transition to many (if not all) courses become remote learning. The company said it “cuts complexity and cost in higher education,” and provides a needed “student-friendly service.”
“IBM and Jenzabar teamed up to help educational institutions modernize operations, advance IT infrastructures, and migrate workloads to the cloud,” said Bottini. “The IBM public cloud provides Jenzabar with a scalable platform.” Jenzabar can also recover any client’s workloads to new VMware virtual machines on IBM Cloud.
“Almost overnight,” Bottini said, “educational institutions faced a new reality and instantly needed to shift to a virtual learning model. Universities needed a scalable and secure platform to meet the increased demand for online courses, which would likely result in a spike in traffic and engagement. The IBM public cloud’s open standards and advanced security features allow higher education institutions to make this transition to online delivery with speed and confidence.”
From the educators’ view, hundreds of courses that need to be transformed for online learning. A critical technical consideration is the assurance that their learning management systems (LMS) can support such heavy traffic. Other important considerations that universities have to keep in mind regarding online courses include: Adjusting teaching and engagement strategies, training rofessors, students and administrators on new online tools, scheduling, tech support, and non-academic engagement.
“Jenzabar student information systems (SIS) include a LMS to deliver online courses, content, and information,” Ortiz explained. “COVID-19 forces colleges and universities to quickly shift to offer exclusively online content. Jenzabar clients already hosted in the Jenzabar private cloud on IBM Cloud infrastructure were able to quickly and easily make that shift to all online courses, often at no additional cloud infrastructure cost.”
Other universities “were able to shift workers from on-site to at home” when provided with existing Jenzabar private cloud on IBM Cloud infrastructure quickly and securely,” Ortiz added. Because Jenzabar SIS was “already in the cloud meant they didn’t have to make rapid and costly adjustments to their campus infrastructure to meet the additional computer and public network bandwidth requirements necessary to shift to all online courses or from home workers.”
How this scalable solution helps colleges’ IT departments
Ortiz said the new program reduces strain on a school’s IT department, since it is cloud hosting, which he also said “is less expensive to deploy and maintain, easily scales up when needed, and can scale back when demands are lower.” The company’s cloud clients no longer need to worry about the often pricey cost of server replacements, or perform data migration from old to new equipment, since Jenzabar and IBM Cloud maintain up-to-date cloud infrastructure and “handle migrations to newer equipment without any client involvement required.”
Jenzabar’s LMS , called eLearning, delivers some courses or portions of hybrid in-person/online courses, and “faculty quickly created or converted their in-person material into online content,” Ortiz said. “One of our clients reported they converted 500+ courses to online in less than a week.”
This is good news for school admins who realized the value and potential importance of developing online programs for any courses that can be taught virtually; exceptions for this include, labs for medical students, graduate art programs, and more.
But Ortiz said Jenzabar “allows colleges to offer a virtual computer lab environment for each lab course, delivered as scheduled, allowing lab-partner collaboration and virtual over-the-shoulder monitoring by a teacher/instructor/proctor, to help students having difficulty. This offering can integrate with eLearning to simplify the lab signup and email communications about how to access the virtual lab.”
How IBM supports ecosystem partners and clients
Bottini said IBM will “remain true” to its mission to “support our ecosystem partners, including Jenzabar, to better help clients navigate a dynamic environment by leveraging a hybrid cloud strategy, including the use of IBM public cloud.” He noted that the platform enables ecosystem partners and clients to operate businesses securely anywhere, and easily adapt to unexpected changes.”
Bottini likens this shift to IBM’s clients in other industries, “such as financial services and healthcare, educational institutions look to accelerate their digital transformation, post COVID-19. Together with our partners, IBM helps enterprises rapidly adopt a hybrid cloud strategy to help them emerge smarter from the pandemic and ensure business continuity in the future.”
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