Perspectives on the BU Learn from Anywhere (LfA) Classroom Technology Project
Linda Jerrett is director of Learning & Event Technology Services (LETS) with Boston University’s Client Services & Support group in Information Services & Technology, and member of BU’s Online & Remote Technology Working Group. As director, Jerrett leads management, strategic planning, special projects and design of AV/IT solutions, services and support.
Boston University began to plan several months ago for a return to a residential educational experience for the fall and developed an approach called Learn from Anywhere (LfA). This model allows students to attend class in person or remotely, from afar or from anywhere outside the classroom. The Online & Remote Technology Working Group, chaired by Chris Dellarocas, was tasked with developing a multi-faceted plan, which included adding Zoom capabilities to an unspecified but likely immense number of classroom spaces. A multi-phase project was launched following existing procedures around classroom renovations.
The project team includes those with broad experience in this arena, who are regularly and actively involved with the implementation of classroom renovation projects, including technology upgrades. A more traditional summer would see an average of 15 rooms being upgraded and ideally planned 9 – 12 months in advance. I participate in these projects in my role in Learning & Event Technology Services (LETS) and now as a member of the Working Group.
It has been both challenging and fulfilling to be a part of the collective and collaborative actions that have taken place in partnership with so many others to get this done. The logistics around identifying which rooms would be LfA enabled, plus the effort to leverage existing technology, if any, has been daunting. LfA functionality is being added in just under 500 spaces across all three campuses. This project will move ahead until the last web camera is installed and the last mobile lab cart is deployed. Still, if I could have anything I wanted right now, it would be six more weeks.
LfA functionality is being added in just under 500 spaces across all three campuses. This project will move ahead until the last web camera is installed and the last mobile lab cart is deployed.
I’d settle for three weeks if I could also get a hundred Vaddio web cameras, but like other realities we are facing right now, what I am going to get falls short of what I want. I am tempted to quote the Rolling Stones here because, despite that, it’s true we will still find that we get what we need.
As we embarked on this massive effort, our team knew we faced many obstacles. National supply chain issues were the largest challenge, as all industries rushed to install the same functionality – a web camera and microphone – to bring their communities back together. People scrambled to build home offices buying cameras and curating bookshelves in their Zoom backgrounds. Healthcare rushed to enable experts from Italy to virtually consult with New York hospitals to share solutions and new best practices on how to implement the ‘last resort’ practice of splitting ventilators among two people. K-12 schools, anticipating plans for hybrid instruction, started buying carts…and web cameras and microphones. And so did we. Just in case.
As we executed Plan A to bring installed Zoom functionality into hundreds of classrooms, gyms, chapels and event spaces, we have simultaneously been executing Plan B to be ready if the cameras and microphones never came. On August 21st, we began deploying these into spaces where the ordered equipment isn’t going to make it in time. A reality we knew we were facing, and we are ready. A web camera on a stand is a simple way of delivering LfA capabilities. The basic functionality is the same: web camera and a microphone and a cable to plug into your laptop or device. This is the primary solution that has been widely deployed and is already successfully in use by our faculty at BUMC.
We have had hundreds of faculty visit prototype LfA rooms on the Charles River Campus. We are grateful for the feedback, relief and concerns shared that help us develop videos and instructions. Similar in–class meetings have also been held on BUMC where the faculty have been integral to ongoing support efforts.
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Additional BU Resources:
The site BU Classrooms site has evolving Faculty FAQs and the Find a Classroom feature including all LfA enabled classrooms:
- PDF of reduced capacity seating plan by room
- Description of LfA technology solution by room
- Furniture is being moved in classrooms to be spaced for social distancing.
- The LfA technology project moves ahead installing solutions in as many spaces as possible. These efforts will continue until each room has its planned technology.
- LETS and Facilities are testing how HVAC noise impacts the audio for remote students.
- LfA Classroom Moderators continue to be hired and training will begin soon.
While I wish I had six more weeks, I remain hopeful that we will move through the first few days and weeks of classes and find our footing and that we will have what we need. There are many resources to support you in your efforts. We all welcome you back and appreciate your participation and continued flexibility as we charge on together.
To learn more about Boston University’s Learn from Anywhere (LfA) pedagogical model, visit the LfA Faculty Resources site.
Here you will find technology tools, trainings, and recordings, information about faculty coaches and classroom moderators, FAQs, university-wide resources, Back2BU guidelines, and more.