IT team under CIO Phill Miller ’00 M’01 enhances remote learning capabilities in 26 classrooms.
When Covid-19 forced RMU students and professors to leave campus this March, the university’s IT staff had several challenges to face. As they worked hard to shift the last half of the semester to online teaching, they also had to devise a better way forward for the fall.
The 12-person information technology team led by CIO Phill Miller within weeks had begun to put together a plan for improving classroom technology. Their goal: to make sure students who attend class remotely have the same opportunity to engage in discussion as those sitting in the seats.
They selected a combination of dedicated Logitech touch-screens that professors can use for running Google Meet independently of their own computers, with new microphones and high-resolution cameras for themselves and big 65-inch video monitors in each classroom to see and hear students not present in the classroom physically.
This fall, approximately 200 courses will use the new technology to enable a system of “virtual rotation,” to allow adequate spacing for safety in the classrooms. Under the new system, for example, half the students in a class will attend Tuesdays in person and Thursdays via computer. The technology has been installed in 26 locations across campus, mostly standard classrooms and a few larger lecture halls.
“Virtual rotation will give our remote students the same high-quality interaction with their professors as the students sitting in the classrooms,” Miller says.
Adopted as a way to enhance classroom safety during the coronavirus pandemic, the new technology is a long-term investment that will be valuable in enhancing remote and online learning for years to come. “Covid was the catalyst, but now we will have the ability to have more online students and remote students in more of our classrooms,” Miller says. “We’re not throwing this away when Covid’s over.”
Miller praised his IT colleagues for tackling the challenge while balancing other important priorities. The enterprise infrastructure team under Paul Dewey has had to maintain data center servers along with wired and wireless networks, and James Chiaramonte has kept help desk services responsive while coping with completely new challenges. The enterprise applications team, led by Kevin Matjasko, is building a new student information system that will replace the university’s Patriot and Sentry systems in time for next fall.
Miller remembers programming some of the code for Sentry himself as a student. Originally from Erie, he came to Robert Morris to study business and played on the Colonials NCAA Div. I soccer team as a goalkeeper for two seasons. In his sophomore year, he took a student job in IT on campus, and found he enjoyed the work. He got a full-time offer his senior year, graduated with a bachelor’s in management information systems, and earned an M.B.A. the following year. Miller has stayed in the university’s IT department ever since, and was named CIO last year.
“It’s been incredible to watch the RMU campus change and grow over the past 25 years, from the day I arrived as a student,” he says. “I’m proud to be a part of the leadership team shaping the future of the university and helping our students to ‘Get Ready’ for their next career.”