Success wired in: How UND IT improves the campus experience

As a recent Provost’s Forum shows, tech improvements help UND better reach students around the corner and around the world

UND’s Chief Information Officer, Madhavi Marasinghe, spoke at December’s Provost Forum to discuss technology upgrades across campus and the successes of IT’s work behind the scenes of University life. Photo by Connor Murphy/UND Today.

Recalling his days as an 1850s-era undergraduate, U.S. President James Garfield once paid tribute to a favorite professor with these words: “The ideal college is Mark Hopkins on one end of a log and a student on the other.”

We’ve come a long way, especially in educational technology terms. And just how far we’ve come from the chalk and blackboards — let alone logs — of traditional classrooms was made clear at the Provost’s Forum on Dec. 11, where listeners were brought up to date on the exceptional technologies that now grace the campus of the University of North Dakota.

“What IT has done over the past couple of years is nothing short of phenomenal,” said Tom DiLorenzo, UND provost and vice president of academic affairs, at the forum.

The technological changes that the Information Technology staff have helped bring about have enhanced student life, classroom learning, faculty research and virtually every other aspect of the college experience, DiLorenzo said.

“Furthermore, the individuals who work in IT at UND are unbelievable,” DiLorenzo said. “They’re always there for you, they always do great work. So, I’m really excited about that.”

The Provost’s Forums at UND are a means by which Provost DiLorenzo keeps faculty, staff and students informed about the university’s status and plans. At the Dec. 11 forum, IT was the focus, and Chief Information Officer Madhavi Marasinghe and others explained how technology upgrades are improving campus life, both in the classroom and behind the scenes.

For example, most UND students and staff now have supercomputers – their smartphones – within reach virtually every minute of every day. Those technologies and countless notepads, laptops and desktops are linked to the world through UND’s IT network, a major piece of campus infrastructure that runs 24/7, is monitored constantly and gets upgraded regularly.

Provost DiLorenzo sung the praises of the University’s IT staff and services at the semester’s final Provost Forum. He lent the podium to UND’s CIO, IT staff and UND faculty who benefit from IT’s work and campus presence. Photo by Connor Murphy/UND Today.

Upgrades and improvements

That task is spelled out in UND’s One IT Strategic Plan, Marasinghe said. The document’s purpose is to “provide technology excellence to advance UND’s mission,” and in doing so, it states, “we strive to position University Information Technology as a valued and trusted partner that delivers reliable, efficient and innovative technology and solutions.”

Along those lines, 13 classrooms at UND were upgraded during the summer to promote active learning, and more upgrades are expected in the coming year, Marasinghe said at the forum.

The university spend more than $4 million to upgrade its network to increase bandwidth, wireless availability and security. More than 100 student projects were completed in the University’s 3D Printing Lab, a facility that’s in the Chester Fritz Library and is available to all students, faculty and staff.

Meanwhile, some 14,467 service tickets were created last year, with each ticket representing someone on campus contacting the UIT Department for computer help. And fully 60 percent of those tickets were resolved within a day, Marasinghe said.

“Much of this success is thanks to you, the UND community,” she said. That’s especially true when it comes to security, which is a task the UIT Department simply can’t do on its own.

That’s because computer security depends so heavily on all computer users – meaning virtually everyone on campus – taking proper precautions.

Throughout the year, UND IT creates phishing campaigns to train the UND community on what to look for in an email and determine whether it is a phishing attempt or not.

“And when we do this, 90 percent of the people on campus do not click on the links,” she said.

“Kudos to all of you, because whenever that number is above 70 percent, it means people are well informed and are being careful. So we are doing very well there.”

Multi-factor authentication is the authentication method that requires computer users to present two or more pieces of evidence before logging in. These could be an ATM card and a PIN code, for example, or a password and an authentication via cell phone, which is now common at UND.

And it’s common because it works, Marasinghe said. Since multifactor authentication was implemented at UND, “we have had zero reported compromised accounts.” That squares with Microsoft’s findings, which show that multifactor authentication can block 99 percent of account hacks.

Security upgrades will continue in 2020, as UIT focuses on topics such as protecting and safely sharing restricted data.

Other One IT initiatives for 2020 include OneDrive, a tool that lets users safely access, share and collaborate on all of their files from anywhere; a major wireless upgrade over winter break; and Technopalooza, a daylong event to be held twice a year to help the UND community learn more about the UIT Department’s ever-growing box of cybertools.

Despite not being a ‘techie,’ Rob Stupnisky has found YuJa to be an user-friendly platform for creating lectures that online learners can access 24/7. Photo by Connor Murphy/UND Today.

YuJa and Zoom

Among these are YuJa and Zoom, which other speakers stepped forward to describe at the forum.

YuJa lets faculty easily create and share — in online classes, for example — video-based lectures that can show content from other media. So, that means faculty such as Rob Stupnisky, associate professor of educational foundations and research, can create presentations that feature two windows: one showing him teaching the course, and the other showing the PowerPoint presentation or other visual aid that he’s using in his lecture.

“That’s one of the things I really like about YuJa,” said Stupnisky, who talked about and demonstrated the software at the forum.

“I was imagining myself as an online student, and one thing I pictured was a student who wanted a real connection with the instructor. So, I knew that when I was delivering these lessons, I wanted the students to be able to see me.”

Among other reasons, “I like to talk with my hands, and this way, I can do that,” he said with a laugh.

Furthermore, “I’m not an ‘IT’ person; I’m not even that ‘techie’ a person,” he said.

“But I’ve found YuJa to be really easy to work with. And I like how easily it integrates into Blackboard,” UND’s learning management system that connects students, faculty and staff.

Associate Professor Dana Harsell provided a demonstration of how he uses Zoom in his classes at the Nistler College of Business & Public Administration. Photo by Connor Murphy/UND Today.

For its part, Zoom is a communications software that combines video conferencing, chat and mobile collaboration. “In my classes, I have students who are sitting in front of me, as well as students who are logging in from around the country and around the world,” said Dana Harsell, a UND associate professor of political science and public administration.

“Zoom is a really, really good tool for this, because it lets students interact. They don’t have to just sit there and listen to me; we can actually get them engaged with each other.”

This capability puts online students “in the room” with each other and with their on-campus counterparts, thus enabling small-group projects and other modern instructional tools. “And one thing I’m always pleasantly surprised by is the learning communities that form,” Harsell said.

“These students are separated by vast distances, but they get to know each other, they become friends, sometimes they stay in contact after the program is done. Sometimes they even fly around and meet each other after the program is done.

“It’s always nice to see those connections happen, and we do it through an online platform,” he said.

At the end of the forum, Provost DiLorenzo said he was impressed. Given the ease with which many UND faculty now use YuJa, Zoom and other tools, “I think we’re finally at the point where we’re doing as well in our in-person classes with technology as we’re doing online,” he said.

“And now that professors are doing this kind of work, you can see they can do things that they couldn’t do in a lecture hall. In fact, if people still are doing just lectures, they’re missing the point.

“We want to promote this kind of work that these professors are doing across campus,” DiLorenzo said.

Call it Mark Hopkins and the blog: “It’s not easy, but it’s fun. And it’s an incredibly effective way to teach.”