S1:E11 Missy Borter – Tech support for unfamiliar equipment

April 12, 2021 |  Case Studies, Remote Access, Students
30 min

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 serv