A group of mask clad IT professionals speedily open conduit, select locations for microphones, and begin pulling cable, the first, and most laborious step in Operation 231. “Operation 231 is a push to put video learning capability in as many classrooms as we possibly can before the fall…” said David McMorries ’88, Assistant Provost of Information Security. “All of those (large lecture-style) classes are going to be delivered remotely this fall. For smaller classes that we can deliver in person, there may be students who for whatever reason — they have health issues or maybe they are taking care of a family member who is a vulnerable population — won’t be able to attend in person. We are trying to provide the ability to deliver learning wherever the students are.”
“It has that nickname because that was the initial number of rooms 231. It sounds like a rushed countdown: ‘2-3-1 GO! Let’s get ready for fall term!’” said David Goodrum, director of Academic Technology.
University Information and Technology, UIT, hit the ground running with this project in early-March because serendipitously the pre-planning was underway when COVID-19 and shelter-in-place restrictions caused OSU’s pivot to remote instruction. In mid-February, a strategic planning group within UIT brainstormed a wish list of learning and instructional technologies and infrastructure they thought would be necessary in the next three to five years. “One thing that came up was that every classroom should be able to do different modalities, and every classroom should be able to do in person and remote and connect to another location…” said Goodrum. “Little did we know, on Feb 14 when we were talking about the next three to five years, we were actually talking about the next three to five weeks.”
This summer, IT professionals across campus pulled 26 miles of cable, in 275 of campus’s 400 classrooms. They installed 271 cameras, 44 lavalier microphone systems, 550 ceiling microphones and 150 sound processors—primarily sourced from local Oregon vendors, as technology of this kind is in short supply in the current environment. This isn’t a one size fits all approach, to maximize budget there are different room renovation options based on needs. This includes 239 traditional large to medium classrooms where students would be able to maintain physical distance if attending in person, 15 laboratory set-ups in which a professor can wheel a tripod mounted camera around the space and share video content like chemical reactions bubbling under hoods, and 20 flex-kits a portable system including camera and microphones which can be adapted to spaces as needed.
This project presents tremendous opportunities, but equipment alone won’t provide the high quality educational content we all know and expect from Oregon State. “We need to bring people along with the technology…you can have the best technologies in the world but if people don’t use it, don’t know how to, or don’t feel comfortable operating in that environment, then we’ve lost it,” said Andrea Ballinger Vice Provost for Information and Technology. Groups within the OSU IT community are collaborating with experts in learning and pedagogy to consult and prepare faculty members for fall term. The remote and hybrid learning opportunities modified classrooms present are different than our highly ranked Ecampus programs. Instead of lectures being recorded in a studio and carefully managing interactions in an online environment, these remote and hybrid learning opportunities allow students to connect with one another, and faculty in real time. Microphones positioned over classroom seats ensure that those listening to the lecture online will be able to hear everything—from classmates shuffling papers, to questions asked of the instructor—just as if they were attending class in person. No one knows exactly how our next weeks and months will be shaped by this global pandemic, but Operation 231 provides the infrastructure instructors need to deliver course content remotely, in person, or hybrid as we continue to adapt.