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Behind the scenes look on how working and learning remotely are made possible by Rutgers

For the past several weeks, many have had to adapt to a new way of working and learning due to COVID-19. Web developers Paul Gogliormella, John Reda, and Richard Whittaker from Rutgers Institutional Planning & Operations (IP&O) recently started a podcast, “IP&O From Home,” to shed light on the challenges that can come with working and learning remotely.

Frank Reda, associate vice president in the Office of Information Technology (OIT) at Rutgers, was a special guest on the podcast to discuss Rutgers IT’s efforts preparing the Rutgers community for remote work, teaching, and learning.

Here’s an edited excerpt from the podcast, with the full video also available below.

How has OIT assisted the university in preparing for remote instruction and supporting the remote workforce?
We prepared the university for this many years ago. The OIT Telecommunications Division built a network that can support the type of activities that we are seeing today. Over the years, we have implemented additional network capacity, and the OIT Enterprise Application Services Division has implemented a number of applications that live in the cloud, including Microsoft Teams and Webex, which allow people to collaborate and work with one another remotely.

More recently, our Senior Vice President and CIO, Michele Norin, was a member of the Emergency Operations Center that was created at Rutgers to help us prepare responses to this pandemic. In less than ten days, we took Rutgers from a brick-and-mortar institution to an almost entirely remote institution. That was a significant change in how we work. The way we did that was through involving our IT Leadership Council, led by Michele.  The ITLC consists of IT professionals from all across the university. Moving the entire university to remote has been a team effort.

What was the volume of Help Desk support inquiries when everyone moved to remote?
We expected the worst and planned for it just in case. We had a lot of eyes watching the support channels and making sure that people were well taken care of. In the end, we did a lot of work ahead of time to avoid a rush of people requiring support.

Luckily, in the past, people have worked from home. They know how to read email at home and have had IT resources readily available to them. They were able to navigate the technology better than we anticipated. Kudos to the Rutgers community for doing such a great job at navigating these changes. Our Help Desks did answer different types of questions than when people were on campus, but the process worked out fairly well and it was nothing that we couldn’t handle.

From all of the questions you received recently at the Help Desk, what were the most frequently asked questions?
The most frequently asked questions were about the following topics:

  • Video conferencing, specifically Webex and Microsoft Teams
  • NetIDs, which is your network credential(s) to access Rutgers systems
  • Virtual Private Network and Remote Desktop and how users can get access to information on their work computer in order to do their job

Has OIT been involved in anything COVID-19-related for the community outside of Rutgers?
Yes, we were. Rutgers has a mission to serve the state of New Jersey and all of its members. Our mission goes beyond just helping the Rutgers community. When Governor Murphy made the executive order to shut down libraries and computer labs on campus, we found ourselves with over 1,000 computers on the New Brunswick campus sitting idle in the computer labs.

One of our staff members learned of an effort, Folding@Home, that lends compute power for analyzing data on medical issues. When your computer is sitting idle and you’re not using it, Folding@Home participants can use your compute power to so they can run calculations on different types of data. OIT received approval to donate the processing time of the 1,000 computers in the lab to Folding@Home. Also, the Office of Advanced Research Computing had some additional cycles in their supercomputing center that they were able to donate as well. Currently, Folding@Home participants are using these resources for the fight against COVID-19. We are thrilled to be a part of that.

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