Shenandoah University (www.su.edu) , Winchester, VA — In 2009, Shenandoah University implemented the iMLearning Program initiative to provide all of its approximately 3,200 undergraduate and most of its graduate students with a MacBook and other Apple devices to aid in their education.
The iMLearning (or Integrated Mobile Learning) initiative was meant to create an even playing field for all students and to make their transition to college as seamless as possible. Faculty were also included in the program so that students and faculty are on the same platform ensuring seamless course delivery and reception of content.
On March 16, 2020, COVID-19 forced the university to transition to a fully online education model. Thanks to iMLearning, Shenandoah University was well prepared for the COVID-19 pandemic due to its long history of having a 1:1 device program. Existing faculty and students were already equipped with all of the tools they needed to be successful in a remote learning environment. Zoom classes could be joined on their iPads while notes could be taken on their MacBooks. Students were able to easily and quickly transition to this new normal.
“Our students are prepared and equipped,” said Don Silvius, M.S.Ed., iMLearning Support Specialist. “iMLearning was designed to allow students to take learning materials wherever they go, and to have them available 24/7, at the student’s convenience. COVID-19 cannot stop Shenandoah University from educating our students, and transitioning from in-person to online classes was not much more than flipping switches. That was just another challenge we accepted and met.”
COVID-19 and Shenandoah’s Response - When COVID-19 forced universities and colleges across the country to turn to distance online learning, moving every course fully online was not a strategy Shenandoah had ever considered. However, the iMLearning initiative situated Shenandoah students, faculty, and staff to not only respond to this new “normal” but to do so in a way that is transforming both teaching and learning.
“I don’t know that anyone can ever be fully prepared for what we are experiencing right now due to the coronavirus, but fortunately, due to the iMLearning program, Shenandoah had a leg up on transitioning to online learning,” said Quaiser Absar, MS, Director of Institutional Computing. “The majority of our faculty and students already had equipment in hand, so the transition was rather seamless.”
“The one-to-one initiative of iMLearning is part of our technology DNA,” said Richie Crim, Director of Academic Computing Technology. “More importantly, it’s part of our teaching and learning DNA. As a result of COVID-19, iMLearning is now the hinge that all things teaching and learning pivots upon.”
Hardware support and software interoperability have not been an issue. Prior to the coronavirus outbreak, Institutional Computing was offering 24/7 help desk support, and that has continued, whether people are on campus or working remotely. In addition, Institutional Computing quickly set up a mail-based process for iMLearning equipment repairs and loaners so students don’t have to work through a third-party retailer if they have any issues.
Covid-19 and Returning to Campus – Covid-19 has forced Shenandoah University to adapt and become more innovative with their procedures as students returned to campus for classes in August 2020. The usual distribution of equipment to students had to adjust to this new normal as well. The Institutional Computing team immediately began looking at options for getting equipment to students.
A long-standing relationship with Apple helped ensure that incoming students would be able to have the same equipment and experience that existing SU students have had for 10+ years. A model of direct-to-student shipping was ironed out and immediately put into place for a small set of Summer classes that started at the end of May. From the experience of this small-scale trial, Institutional Computing was able to adjust logistics to accommodate the direct shipment of almost 3,000 devices to 950+ students! “What we’ve been able to accomplish with this direct ship model has simply been amazing,” says Devon Taylor, Associate Director of Software Services and Support. “Given the successes of this summer and the positive feedback from our students, I don’t think we will go back to our old methods of distribution after this.”
The innovation has not stopped now that students are back on campus either. Shenandoah University has transitioned to a “ShenFlex” model whereby half of all students are remote at any given time, with the other half in class. The students rotate weekly on who is remote and who is in-person. Without iMLearning this would be next-to-impossible!
In order to maintain proper social distancing, the university has also added several new residential living solutions and outdoor learning spaces on campus. The Network Team led by Ken Lambert, Associate Director of Network Technology & Infrastructure, spent the summer enhancing the network infrastructure and adding outdoor wireless networks so that Shenandoah University’s high standards of learning can be maintained no matter where our students or faculty are on or off-campus.
With technology at the forefront, Shenandoah University is always prepared to meet any new challenges that may come our way.