S1:E11 Missy Borter – Tech support for unfamiliar equipment
Lessons learned have shown them that there is very little that they cannot do remotely or in person. Working together as a team they overcame issue after issue in providing what the students needed.
Tyler Jacobson 0:00
Welcome to LabChats, a podcast from the team at LabStats. I’m Tyler Jacobson, your host for today’s episode. Each week we’ll sit down with technology leaders in higher education to get the latest buzz and insights while we discuss current events, trends, problems and solutions. Now let’s get into it. For today’s episode of LabChats, we’ve got Missy Borter, who is [a] User Support Specialist at Indiana University Northwest. Missy has volunteered to join the conversation and talk a little bit about IT support during the pandemic. Missy, I wanted to give you a chance to kind of introduce yourself, and then give us a background of what happened almost exactly a year ago as far as tech on campus and students.
Missy Borter 0:44
Absolutely. Thank you, Tyler. I work at Indiana University IT Support. We support faculty, staff and students. And about a year ago because we’re an education, the state of Indiana sent people home because of a pandemic because children and high school students and college students, you know, are greatly affected because of the close proximity of them. They sent all the students home and decided that we needed to teach online and we needed to keep going. That created a challenge for us because we worked in an online environment, but only educational resources like your book or your class, we never actually fully had classes solely online. And that was a little bit of a challenge. The other challenge was in our institute, we don’t provide technology to students for at home use. So then we came to roadblocks of what support was going to look like. And for us, we also provide support on a minimum basis on a personal device. So essentially, we sent you home, we said “Do your work, but maybe we support your stuff.” So our model had to immediately change overnight. And it has been a year as Tyler stated and here we are now trying to figure out what we did good, what we didn’t do good, and what we’re gonna do going forward.
Tyler Jacobson 2:07
Where did you get the devices and how did that rollout go?
Missy Borter 2:12
It actually went really well. So we have an agreement with our campus that any machine that is out of warranty that is older and is still salvageable, we can sell them at our local bookstore on campus, we ended up having a pile of laptops that we were about to get to sell. And then the pandemic hit. Our team was able to figure out that we could make these usable to any employee that was on campus, we could give this to them for them to work at home. But students were a different story. And the reason students are a different story is because when you’re an employee, we have a contract with you already to provide you technology. So [with] a student, we don’t have that. So when it first happened, some students didn’t have laptops, our admissions department was amazing. And they were able to, I think get a grant, I’m not quite sure, but they were able to get some laptops. For some students, we were able to set them up. But in normal life, we would never set up a student’s laptop, because that is their property, they would set that up. So it was like kind of a gray area on setting up a laptop for someone to personally use. And that was a little bit tricky.
Tyler Jacobson 3:22
I know that when a lot of schools when they get equipment, you’re getting dozens, if not hundreds of the exact same model of computer.
Missy Borter 3:29
Tyler Jacobson 3:29
Which is one of the challenges is suddenly you’re opening it up to anything that a student’s grandma bought them for Christmas. And now you’re expected to support that. And so what were some of the things that you guys found are challenges with not having consistent equipment?
Missy Borter 3:46
Exactly that statement, not consistent equipment. So our university has security protocols where if you’re not up to date on the proper OS, you can’t even join our network. And [what] that would do to the technology that you have that grandma gave you. And so you have all those aspects, or it just stopped working. Normally when a student walked in and would say this just stopped working, we would send them to a computer repair shop, but we sent you home. So IT felt that we needed to help our students the best we could even if we normally didn’t do that in the past, and we would, we would spend maybe 30 minutes up to an hour trying to assist someone on their personal device, trying to figure it out—whether they had malware, whether the mouse broke, and those are typically things we would have not done in the past because we would have said “We don’t support that, we’ve tried, you’re gonna have to take it somewhere else.” But now it was kind of like where can you take it, everybody is closed. If I don’t help you. My student is kind of dead in the water.
Tyler Jacobson 4:47
I hadn’t even thought of that, of everything else was closed, which limits their options even outside of the school to get that support.
Missy Borter 4:55
Absolutely. And a professor still expects you to do your work on time.
Tyler Jacobson 5:00
Yeah, everybody was in a state of flux, because on another episode, we actually had an instructor that was talking about some of the challenges of interacting with the students was completely disrupted and changed, and just being able to understand if they were interacting well with the material. So it was a disruption in every department. Now we are a year out, people keep talking about a new normal. And I kind of chuckle when people say new normal, because normal is just people trying to avoid whatever is coming down the road. You’ve now have a scenario where you’ve got a lot of student owned equipment that you’ve been supporting, maybe some that you’ve sent out the door. How are you guys going to be bringing that back in? What’s the transition going to look like over the next year?
Missy Borter 5:49
That’s a great question. For the students, we have a couple departments that are grant funded, where they have this process always going regardless of a pandemic. Where if a student doesn’t have technology, they can borrow it, we’ll maintain it, because the department purchased it under our university. And the student can still utilize it. The specific, and I’m quoting “pandemic laptops” that our admissions department, they actually in the quickness developed a very good process of making it a grant laptop, almost. So the student signed an agreement to keep it until they graduate. So those laptops will not come back though, that student gets to keep it for the rest of the four years. And IT still will maintain it when needed. Now, I talked a little bit earlier about our faculty staff in these loaner laptops, we let out: our new thinking of deploying this equipment is that everybody still needs to be able to come and go as they please now. So we’re going to pull back on desktops and actually just deploy laptops hopefully going forward. When a new employee starts, we used to give them the option of a desktop or laptop, it’s just strictly laptop now.
Tyler Jacobson 6:59
Which I think a lot of schools had been in the process of going to because some schools—they provide desktops. And then if the faculty member requests a laptop, or they have a valid case to ask for one…now they have two devices. One of which may be just sitting on the desk unused entirely.
Tyler Jacobson 7:17
Yes. And so we talked about, we can’t support nor afford two devices for you. You need to decide, do you keep your desktop? Should we give you a laptop, we probably should give you a laptop. Now the other interesting segway is we have computer labs, right? With physical desktops in them now, and it’s 1000s of hundreds of dollars. What are we going to do with that? Do we need that anymore during our pandemic? (I’m saying ours like it’s mine, I’m sorry). We kept our computer labs open, and no one came to use them. You know, in the midst of you not having technology, it was available and you didn’t utilize it. This is an opportunity for us to say we spend this money on our students, how can we spend it better to give them what they need?
Tyler Jacobson 8:02
When you say that you had the computer labs open? Was that something where the students were aware that the campus was open and those resources were available? Because that may be one of the challenges that they kept your traffic low?
Tyler Jacobson 8:14
Absolutely. And we also had, we called them overflow rooms. So we converted to Zoom rooms, the students would [take] classes via Zoom, the campus converted a lot of rooms to Zoom rooms where there was technology in there and you could still attend your class, if you didn’t have technology at home. They sent out flyers, emails, they notified the students ahead of time. It just was underutilized. But you really don’t know why. Right? The door was open. Maybe they didn’t get the email. Maybe they didn’t want to come outside. Because I mean, true. It’s a pandemic.
Tyler Jacobson 8:47
How is that going now? Have you heard any feedback from students on what they are wanting to do for the upcoming semester or upcoming year?
Missy Borter 8:56
I think that survey is still out. I think they’re trying to find out what students want to do when we open our doors back up. So we did close physically and completely for I think it was a couple weeks or a month maybe. And then our support center opened back up for in-person support: students came. Students came inside, they still want physical help. So it’ll be interesting to see what the students weigh in on as far as how they want to see campus life going forward.
Tyler Jacobson 9:22
One thing, talking to the college aged kids in my household, they all have their own laptop, but they may be missing other elements, such as a software package or their laptop doesn’t have enough memory to hold a big project. And so they’re still needing campus computer labs. Is that something that’s reflected on what you guys are seeing? Even those, a lot of students either were given or purchase their own equipment that they’re still going to need the campus labs to a degree?
Missy Borter 9:53
Absolutely. And our new discussion is: what do they need? Do you need a docking station with monitors? Do we need maybe 20 machines instead of 200 machines? You know, do we need a dry erase board? Like what? What does our student really need? Do they need a supercomputer with ALL the software? That’s what we’re currently talking about now is, what exactly does our student need when they don’t have it? And what can we give them? My student doesn’t need all the software, but just for this project they do? And can we provide that for them? And how do we provide that for them?
Tyler Jacobson 10:29
The conversations that I’ve had are, I only need the software for one class. And so it just does not make sense to purchase it for an entire year or purchase a license for a very, very temporary need. And so where campus provides that that’s where they’re utilizing a lot of those resources that otherwise doesn’t make sense for them to purchase individually.
Missy Borter 10:51
Oh, absolutely. Our campus provides a streaming service for software through virtual desktop. So a lot of Mac users that have to take an office class, right? I don’t think it’s okay to tell a Mac user to go purchase a Windows machine just so they could take one office class, right. But we provide streaming software that they could stream from their Macbook. But let’s say I really want to get in there and do it. Absolutely. So here’s the machine that we’ve purchased for you in this lab, you can do everything that you need to do everything is on there. Yeah, you’d have to come to campus. But campus always use this as an opportunity, right? Our student is here, let us engage them in Student Life, maybe they’ll come back, maybe they’ll tell us what else that they need.
Tyler Jacobson 11:33
How has the layout of your lab spaces been adjusted, because a lot of schools needed to double or triple lab space, even if the reduced volume because of social distancing requirements. Have you guys run into that?
Missy Borter 11:46
So the nice thing for our labs is our lab is in a three story library. And it’s giant, and they have downsized book space, we were able to just separate machines and put signs on machines and give everyone the space that they needed. Um, the very nice thing is the layout is already open. So there were tables that students could sit at, they were socially distance from everyone else, we did rearrange some of our printing so that way students weren’t so congested. Our layout, I feel like was set up pre-pandemic for a pandemic, the way it’s spaced out, and everyone has their space. And we also have like individual study rooms, that a student could be in with the machine where they weren’t so tight knit with other students.
Tyler Jacobson 12:32
As part of your moving forward. In this next semester, our incoming freshmen are going to be given the option of getting a device. Is that a program that was temporary? What elements of this are you planning on maintaining?
Missy Borter 12:45
So that is the current discussion on campus? What are we doing for fall? Because the student laptop program was by the Office of Admissions, they will decide that, but IT has the agreement to maintain the technology however they deem [appropriate]. So if they say incoming freshmen get a laptop, then we will make sure we support that. For us, we try to make sure that we know all the avenues because we’re not all these departmentally funded entities. We don’t know the resources, but the student comes to IT first, right? I need my account, I need to know how to do my classes, I need to know how to get on stuff. So we’re making sure that we’re in those meetings. So we can say, “Oh, hey, guys. You’re a freshman, you’re not a freshman, you’re starting semester, let me tell you how to get the IT resources that you need to make you successful.” We always want to make sure that we kind of have enough knowledge to help our students in any avenue. So we can direct them the proper way. Hey, you go to this office for this, you come back here for this. This is what you do over here. And going forward. We talk about providing the support that we didn’t previously. And we’re going to probably continue to do so.
Tyler Jacobson 13:56
An interesting question that as you were talking, one of the common themes of conversations we have is the interaction between individual departments and IT. Are there things that you wish that were conversations that the departments would have with IT before they made decisions on equipment that they provide or services that they provide?
Missy Borter 14:17
Yeah, I mean, right? It would always be nice if everybody talked to everybody before a decision was made. However, our departments, they usually come to us: “Hey, we’re thinking about purchasing 200 laptops, what do you recommend?” Our departments always ask us for recommendations, whether they go with our recommendations…we’ll still support it, but they always do, “Hey, what do you think about getting this for this?” So if we recommend to steer clear of that brand or that piece of equipment. [For example], Chromebooks in higher education, some of them become a problem. So sometimes we steer clear of them and we tell people why we do.
Tyler Jacobson 14:57
[For] high school age Chromebooks are fine, because everything is pretty much online based and things like that. During the pandemic, there weren’t a lot of options. And so some schools, especially universities ended up sending out Chromebooks because that’s what they could get. How have you guys worked with providing resources that aren’t designed for a Chromebook to students that either by their own purchase or other means, ended up with a Chromebook?
Missy Borter 15:26
Yeah. So we directed them to our computer lab, we directed them to our streaming service [which is] completely online, so they could utilize the streaming service and remote into the desktop. If they needed, like the full version of Office, or they needed Adobe, our software is set up to stream it online as well. But the student would come in frustrated, right? Because they don’t understand why [they] cannot install it. And so that was like the majority of our support actually was just to teach them how they can still do what they need to do on a device that we just couldn’t install things like the old way,
Tyler Jacobson 16:00
If you knew a year ago, what you know, today, what would you have done a little bit differently, or are there pitfalls that you would have avoided?
Missy Borter 16:09
I would ask everyone to buy a headset. And I say that because nobody realized that you had to do Zoom, and you have to speak and you have to interact. And a lot of equipment, and a lot of users, their internal speakers broke, they couldn’t hear people. And it all stemmed to a headset, which is so like minimum and like, really, you’d never think about that, right? Like you’d never think about that you needed a headset to do 90% of your work, but you do. And so we realized that six months in when machines started breaking down, and people couldn’t make phone calls or students couldn’t attend Zooms, it literally was because of an internal component. And once we had them purchase a headset, they were great. But as you and I know the store is closed, there are no headsets because everybody bought them
Tyler Jacobson 16:55
Headsets and webcams!
Missy Borter 16:57
Tyler Jacobson 16:57
Webcams are pretty hard to come by too.
Missy Borter 16:59
Yes. And so now I’d been like, oh, we’re giving out a laptop, we need a headset.
Tyler Jacobson 17:04
Do most of the laptops that you guys are providing you they have the webcam built in?
Missy Borter 17:09
All equipment we purchase has [an] internal webcam, whether it’s an all-in-one or a laptop.
Tyler Jacobson 17:14
When we had a webcam that went out in the office, the only ones available were a lot more money than we were used to paying. So that was a bit of a shock for us. I can only imagine if you’re providing hundreds of devices of how much that multiplies the problem.
Missy Borter 17:30
Well, and then you touch on price, right? So does it matter anymore? If I really need this? Are we paying the $500? Now for the webcam?
Tyler Jacobson 17:40
Well, we’re in a higher education space, as price always matters. Which brings up another issue. Have you…you had mentioned grant computers? Do you have any idea where the funding came [from] to manage a lot of the pandemic? Nothing came cheap. In fact, a lot of things came more expensively than anybody had ever expected, because you were set up to go to class on campus, which means that you had already acquired everything you needed to teach a class. Now you have to duplicate that. And so in a lot of cases, expenses literally doubled, if not more in order to transition to off campus. Have you heard anything about how the school found funding for that?
Missy Borter 18:22
No, I haven’t. But it was amazing that they did. Whatever project they set up to do, they were able to get the funding. I don’t know where it came from or how it’s managed. But it’s set up for our students to be successful and to be rewarded for it. Like I don’t know the perimeters of their grant either. But they have very nice equipment to now do their school work from home. I’m very curious to see if we’re going to keep going with the grant every year. Or if this was just a pandemic situation where they were able to come up with like an emergency grant to just purchase just these or this is going to be an ongoing issue with them as well.
Tyler Jacobson 18:59
How did you guys coordinate new tech issues? Typically, you deal with 80% of your tickets are probably a very small set of questions. Now you expand the devices, and the whole world opens up. How did you guys coordinate the new list of common problems?
Missy Borter 19:19
Well, I’m going to admit that it was a hot mess at first. I’m sure everybody’s was! What we actually did is we opened up a Microsoft sheet and we just had a running paragraph of a question and the answer or the tech issue and an answer. And every day we just updated it religiously. So if someone called us and said, “I’m doing zoom from my cell phone, and I can’t attend my class,” and this is the first time we’ve ever seen this. If we came up with the answer, we throw it in this Word doc that everyone has opened and we just keep going. In IT you always come back to your document and write because we’re too busy resolving issues and [we] keep going. We have to keep going, we have to keep going. So we had to tell ourselves, you have to stop and document it because someone else is gonna need it. And because of that every day it changes. Things are implemented every day because of the pandemic. So…we were doing that yesterday, I see now we have to change it today. So this document, it ended up being a very long document, but we would go in it daily and check it and use it and refresh it and update it.
Tyler Jacobson 20:26
Adding to new equipment, new questions: were you guys on site or, or was your staff home and scattered?
Missy Borter 20:33
At home and scattered.
Tyler Jacobson 20:34
Which makes it even more difficult to share new ideas and implementation of new solutions.
Missy Borter 20:41
Which is why we had a live document. We’re not going to utilize something we’ve saved in a cloud storage or departmental drive. You need to have this up and going. Like, I see you in there, I see edits live, because right—everything is changing. And I’m sure everybody in IT can understand, you know, you’re getting IM’d from your coworker, but you’re helping someone. You’re very inundated. So this document helped us because we knew: go there first. You’re having an issue, you go there and see if anybody else had this issue as well.
Tyler Jacobson 21:10
Was your internal staff already set up to work from home?
Missy Borter 21:13
Yes. And my personal department, we’ve never worked from home, because we provide in-person support. So there are about 10 of us that do in-person all the time as in like, our job is not web-based, we have to physically be there. We all got sent home, and we had to learn how to work too. We were pretty great with it, but that was an avenue we’ve never done before. So we had to learn how to tell someone how to do something without physically seeing. And that was a challenge [on] its own.
Tyler Jacobson 21:42
And you’re also dealing with people that are probably not real tech savvy. So just giving them instructions over the phone is not going to be an efficient way to help solve their problem.
Missy Borter 21:53
Correct. And I am notorious for saying, “The thing. Do the thing over there.” (laughs)
Tyler Jacobson 21:59
You can’t point over the phone.
Missy Borter 22:00
Look, and I say that to my customer. Oh, I’m pointing at my screen like you can see me…I’m sorry. (laughs)
Tyler Jacobson 22:06
Did you guys learn a lot about doing screen shares and things like that was that Zoom, because one of the problems that I’ve had in previous jobs is if you have a tech support issue, they will give you an answer of, “Oh, we will email the solution to you” or…but the solution is in a manner in which is impacted by the very problem I’m trying to fix. It’s like I can’t get onto my computer, you can’t email me the solution to my work email, because that’s the only place I can get it. Did you run into some of those problems?
Missy Borter 22:37
Absolutely. Especially with ourselves, right? It is notorious for that. “Oh, here, take the email, here’s the article.” When it’s like, we can’t do that anymore. We have to walk our users through this. And so first, we had to trip up on that, how to teach us how to provide different support, we ended up utilizing a service called bomb guard that we already have a license for. We ended up utilizing Zoom and we utilize Skype for Business. We really had to get inventive and tricky with ourselves, right? Like, if I can do a video chat with you through Skype, you can show me your cell phone screen, and I can set up your email by seeing what you see. But that’s only when you start getting your own gears turning of: “How can I help someone who I really have to walk them through every single step without physically being next to them.” And today, I think we’re amazing at it. Because we’ve spent hours and hours and hours perfecting it. Let me show Tyler how to get his email on his personal cell phone device. I don’t even know what type of device you have. But we’re going to get through it together. (laughs)
Tyler Jacobson 23:45
That was actually my next question or the next statement more than anything else is, it sounds like there are things that have really brought your team to the next level as far as being able to provide customer support. What things have you guys learned that you would not have learned in any other way?
Missy Borter 24:03
That we can do 99% of our job over a video chat. Before it was: “Oh, you need to reset your passwords on your account?”, you physically have to come to me because I need to verify your identity. I need to make sure you are who you are. I can’t do that over the phone. We now can do everything. There is a very small amount and it would probably have to do with physical equipment. Right? My fan died [or] my physical phone won’t power on. So we’ve learned that the things we said no [to] before, we can absolutely say yes and do. We also learned though: everything deserves time. Usually in IT, especially providing support, it’s immediate right? I have to help you right now. And maybe I don’t know how to help you. We’ve learned: “Let me go find how to help you the most efficient way and let me call you back in a couple minutes. And let me make it the most quick experience with efficiency.” Whereas before we’re trying to bumble around on the phone trying to look up articles, trying to hurry up and get your answer where it’s okay now to take a pause because I can get everything that I need, and I can give it to you more efficiently if I just take a moment for myself to figure out your answer prior to me actually executing it for you.
Tyler Jacobson 25:15
So now the big question, you guys have gotten effective, efficient and skilled in remote support? Are you looking forward to getting back into face to face on site support,
Missy Borter 25:27
We went back about three or four months ago. So the way that we currently do it is to prevent contact or cross contamination with others. Each person on my team gets one day a week physically on campus where we are in person, and we have an open door for in person support. Other teams have done the same. We’re waiting for the students to come back now because our students are still online. And absolutely, the nice thing is, we know that we can help either/or now so there is no: “Oh, let me get this person to help you.” It is: “I took the call. You’re physically in front of me, you emailed me, we all can give the same answer and provide the same support no matter which way.” The question that we want to know is, are our students fully coming back in fall? Is it gonna look like a nice fall? I’m sure a lot of people in higher education, it’s empty. And it’s, it’s a little bit scary, right? Like are students going to need us? And I hope so. But if they don’t need us, that means that we did our job really well, while they were at home, right? Like they’re good at home?
Tyler Jacobson 26:31
Well, we both know that you, even if you did your job, well, they’re still going to need you.
Missy Borter 26:37
Tyler Jacobson 26:38
One thing that we’re hearing a lot of is when students were away from campus, a lot of schools took the opportunity to do things like you spread the computers out across the entire campus, or within the entire library. For a lot of students. It’s like returning home when they get back on campus, but they’re going to return home when mom and dad have moved the furniture.
Missy Borter 27:01
Tyler Jacobson 27:02
So are you expecting any concerns with students saying, well, “I can’t find anything because you moved at all.”
Missy Borter 27:10
IT didn’t move anything, which is the nice thing. We just spread, we just spread it out. So the computer classrooms are identical to where they were, the printers are identical to where they were, maybe two feet over. Everything for IT has remained consistent because of that exact issue. We want our students to know that no matter how everything else has changed, we have not. We are current in your software, we are current and knowing how to get to new things. But we still are here. So mom just put on a new sweater.
Tyler Jacobson 27:42
Great. Is there anything else that you think is relevant that we haven’t touched on that are final thoughts on pandemic disruption in the IT department?
Missy Borter 27:52
I think we all learned now we were flexible before but our flexibility was tested to the extreme. And I think people should pat themselves on the back, especially in IT just because you had to adapt extremely quickly. And everybody did, right? You don’t hear someone that quit their job and left because they couldn’t handle the stress of a pandemic. And I think we’re going to utilize our flexibility going forward to now think outside of the box even more than we were, hey, what can we do now what we’ve already went through a pandemic, I think we can go through anything at this point. And now we have new avenues to provide that support and new thinking of how to give people what they need.
Tyler Jacobson 28:33
I agree, I think that’s very exciting that as long as people don’t give in to the temptation to get back to quote unquote “normal” by looking just rearward, that there’s a lot of elements of this that are going to improve efficiencies and improve the educational experience and, maintaining and and maximizing the value of that flexibility. I think that it’s going to improve education and overall for years to come.
Missy Borter 29:01
Oh, absolutely. So in education has been trying to go this way. I think the pandemic just helped it out.
Tyler Jacobson 29:08
Right. It was thrust upon them to make some of the changes that they had been planning for yours.
Missy Borter 29:13
Yes, I will agree with that. 1,000%.
Tyler Jacobson 29:16
Thank you very much for joining us. And we look forward to seeing what the next year looks like as we do get students back on campus. And we appreciate your inputs and insights.
Missy Borter 29:29
Absolutely. Thank you, Tyler so much for inviting me. I enjoyed our conversation.
Tyler Jacobson 29:32
That’s all for today’s episode of LabChats, be sure to subscribe so you’ll be notified when a new LabChats episode is posted each week. We’ll see you next time.