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Coronavirus Outbreak Leads to Quick Technology Adaptations

In March, with the rise of COVID-19, students at Brigham Young University were told they would be finishing the remainder of the semester off-campus through online classes. For the College of Engineering, this transition has posed unique challenges since most of the coursework requires specific equipment, technology, and computers to enable hands-on learning.

In the Electrical and Computer (ECE) Engineering department, Jason Harvey, the Systems Administrator and Computer Support Representative, has worked around the clock with his team of students to make this transition to online work possible.

“Working remotely has created a greater challenge for our college than for most. Our classes revolve around the use of specialized software and hardware that, in the past, has only been accessible in labs,” Harvey said.

To work around this, Harvey and his team prepared each of the computers in the Digital and Analog labs on campus with the ability to connect with students’ individual devices so they could continue using the specialized software needed for classes.

Harvey also trained faculty and students on how to set up a Virtual Private Network (VPN), allowing them to access servers and run MATLAB from home. Having students adept to working with computers and electronics on a daily basis has made the transition to working from home easier.

“Our students are very sharp, and we were able to see a large use of Lab Connect immediately without students reaching out to us for help,” Harvey said. “After speaking with professors, they too were very impressed with how fast their students have adapted to this new online/remote form of the classes.”

As students have faced challenges with technological difficulties, they have been able to communicate with Harvey over Zoom to resolve any issues. Harvey added that by the time most students come to him, they have already tried on their own to fix their computer problems.

“They have been wonderful to work with, and I have been very impressed with them,” Harvey said. “They are very resourceful and are working hard to complete their classes.”

Faculty members in the department are currently working on preparing online instruction for spring term. Some professors such as Dr. Nelson have created virtual machine imagery showcasing the projects their students will be working on during the semester. According to Harvey, they are working hard to ensure the students will be getting the same quality of education as if they had been on campus.

Having technology experts such as Harvey has been key in ensuring this smooth transition. He said it has been amazing to see the steps that students and faculty have so readily taken to enable online learning in a successful way.

“This time has opened my eyes on how lucky we are to be living in this age. That classes can still function even though students and professors are not meeting in person. It is amazing how powerful technology is, and we forget how lucky we are,” Harvey said.