How a website saved the day

When coronavirus shut down face-to-face instruction, the Keep Teaching website became the go-to resource for faculty transitioning to online teaching

Nobody expects a global pandemic.

But thanks to Indiana University’s cyberinfrastructure, a department’s foresight, and a team’s agility, when coronavirus changed everything, the Keep Teaching website was a ready resource for IU and beyond.

The Keep Teaching site has come a long way from its humble beginning as a document in the Knowledge Base, IU’s resource for information technology questions. It was developed by University Information Technology Services (UITS) in response to the H1N1 flu virus epidemic in 2009, to give faculty members information on moving classes from face-to-face to an online environment.

Over the years, regular updates kept the tech resources fresh, but in 2019, the time was right for an overhaul. The IT Training team, part of the Learning Technologies division of UITS, took on the task of transitioning Keep Teaching from a KB document into a website, working with an internal UITS committee that had maintained and updated the information. The goal of the redesign was to highlight modules that faculty could integrate into Canvas so they could teach online in the event of bad weather, travel, or illness.

“At that time, this was all theoretical,” said Michele Kelmer, manager, Digital Education Programs and Initiatives (DEPI). “’If campus is closed, how will I know who to ask for help?’ or ‘Would I be prepared to teach online if campus was closed for a month?’”

From dozens of users to thousands

The revamped site went online in early January. By early February, Kelmer was meeting with Stacy Morrone, associate vice president, Learning Technologies, to discuss site resources targeted to moving classes online in response to the coronavirus threat. “It quickly went from something that was more generic in terms of what you might do, to a very specific situation,” Kelmer said.

Tom Mason, principal IT Training consultant, said that advance planning paid off when the announcement came that all classes would be online when students returned from spring break. “The preparation we’d already done was up on the site,” Mason said. “At first, it was a crisis planning site, but it became a crisis triage site—that’s really what it still is today. The resources that people need to move, to take action, they’re on Keep Teaching.”

People definitely came looking for those resources as the coronavirus threat became clear. The site was averaging about 50 visits per day during the first week of February—over the next month those numbers steadily increased. By March 11, the day after IU suspended face-to-face classes for two weeks, Keep Teaching was getting over 3,400 visits per day.

IU's foresight, infrastructure was key

There’s a real sense of serendipity around Keep Teaching’s role in the pandemic response. Consultations with College of Arts and Sciences faculty just before spring break helped DEPI staff identify key concepts to address on the site. Creative Commons licensing, put in place to help Pepperdine University during the 2018 California wildfires, made it possible for institutions around the world to use the site for their faculty. And as Mason points out, IU’s continued attention to technical infrastructure enabled the quick and efficient expansion of the site.

IU’s web framework and content management system were particularly important to building out the site and keeping information organized. Hosting the content in the knowledge management system created a single source for the information. Any time updates were made, the changes populated any IU site using that content. “If someone hadn’t had the foresight to build these platforms over the years, we wouldn’t have been able to do this,” Mason said.

While students, faculty, and staff settle in to virtual classrooms, at least through the summer, the IT Training team’s work continues. Keep Teaching begat Keep Learning, a resource for students adjusting to online classes. And with the end of the semester in sight, Keep Teaching continues to add information about assessments and grades and resources for preparing for summer courses.

Teachers helping teachers

Collaboration is a key element of the Learning Technologies mission, and it’s evident in every step of the site’s development. When Keep Learning needed content, colleagues from the Teaching and Learning Technologies group stepped in to help. When Keep Teaching needed information about pedagogy and best practices, the Centers for Teaching and Learning had it ready to share. And when IT Training asked other institutions to share content for Keep Learning, no one hesitated to provide it.

For Kelmer, it’s rewarding to see how one simple idea developed into a resource visited by users from three different continents. “When we talked about Keep Teaching, we were thinking about something that would affect one campus,” she said. “It ended up that we were all affected nationwide, and by being able to share what we had been working on across the Big 10, the country, and the world, we were all able to work together.”