Illinois State University

How Illinois State University unites their campus with Office 365

For over 160 years, the faculty and staff at Illinois State University have dedicated themselves to providing students with large university opportunities with a small college atmosphere. The state’s first public university, ISU was founded in Normal, Illinois in 1857. Today, its roughly 1,200 faculty members strive to offer their 21,000 students the state’s premier higher learning experience. While the university has a longstanding relationship with Microsoft, its Office 365 adoption started in 2015, and students and teachers alike are starting to explore the tools at their disposal.

Leading a team of campus IT professionals, Director of Student Technologies and TechZone David Greenfield and Director of Infrastructure, Operations, and Networking (ION) Craig Jackson first turned to Office 365 with a familiar need—they wanted to foster campus-wide communication. Traditionally, ISU relied on an on-site network for student email while faculty and staff utilized a variety of providers—complicating communication between students and teachers and impeding collaboration in the process. Greenfield and Jackson sought a consistent solution that allowed for flexible access across campus and empowered users with multiple mobile options to better fit the mobile nature of students’ lives. They found that solution in Exchange Online.

“Exchange Online allowed us to be able to get all faculty, staff, and students on one system so we could easily exchange information, schedule meetings, and enhance collaboration,” Jackson explains.

But communication wasn’t the only hurdle for ISU’s team. In the 2015-2016 school year, funding for Illinois state colleges fell 61%, a trend reflective of the state’s decade of financial struggles. ISU was one of 12 Illinois public universities struggling to make the most of a very limited budget. Fortunately, they found an estimated $250,000 in savings just by transitioning its email system. That transition away from on-site hardware and server management has also benefited the university by allowing those network professionals to focus on more value-added tasks. Together, the Office 365 solution has empowered ISU to increase their digital offerings and use their resources more efficiently despite state-wide cuts.

Creative adoption for extended engagement

With its new system in place, the next challenge for campus IT leaders was convincing the ISU community to use it. They migrated the entire student body over the 2015 homecoming weekend, and by the next Monday, all mailboxes were established, and students were free to transition their data into Office 365 at their leisure. To better facilitate the transition, the ISU team hosted pop-up workshops and other engagement events around campus, including a large pizza party on the campus quad for students who agreed to learn about Office 365 and transition their phone and other devices to the new email system.

ISU faculty and staff migration took a longer-term approach. Over the course of six months, Greenfield and Jackson worked in-depth with the specific IT professionals in each department and campus area to help ensure each employee could successfully implement their new tools and provide personalized assistance as needed. Together, this well-organized plan and open communication kept faculty and staff informed, helped minimize stress, and ultimately facilitated a seamless transition.

“Office 365 became a personal productivity platform for students and faculty members. With our updated LMS [Learning Management System] and Office 365 working together, it provides a learning experience for the student and a teaching environment for the faculty that improves collaboration and efficiency,” Greenfield says.

Beyond those six months, ISU also offered workshops for faculty members looking to learn more about their new tools. Today, some users are starting to leverage OneNote for organizing their classroom — creating lesson plans and rubrics, taking attendance, and preparing feedback. According to Communication and Faculty Development Coordinator Jim Gee some departments are even using OneNote to better collaborate with ISU’s network of in-the-field student teachers and those student workers who assist other students with documented disabilities.

This teaching and engagement program not only helped the ISU IT team drive adoption but improved their own communication and coordination between central and distributed staff. IT workers were easily mobilized across campus, regardless of job title, and the coordination efforts that were put into place have continued to bind the department even past migration.

Enhancing education with Office 365

Prior to the Office 365 migration, the university’s faculty often struggled with out-of-date media tools. The process of embedding videos on their LMS course site made media streaming unreliable and restrictive to the point that many students weren’t getting the material that they needed. And when streaming did work, the previous offerings didn’t include closed captioning, meaning not only that students with certain disabilities couldn’t access the videos, but that the university was actually out of legal compliance for the Americans with Disabilities Act 

Instructional Technology Team Lead Mayuko Nakamura explains, “Instructors use video for a lot of reasons, including illustrating concepts, showing historical and societal perspectives, and demonstrating process and procedures for lab, clinical environments, and other practical settings. Switching to Office 365 has helped us resolve issues with accessibility and embedded media, so we can encourage faculty to teach with more multimedia content.”

When ION evaluated Office 365 Video, the team quickly realized how many of its end users’ pain points the application could solve, including closed captioning, securing video content, size limitations, and reporting—all while using a familiar interface. They also saw the opportunity to streamline processes for getting videos to students, empowering faculty and graduate assistants, and giving time back to systems administrators. Today, when ION receives a request from a faculty member for a video channel, student workers create the channels, grant access to faculty members so they can upload and manage their content, and script automatic updates to distribute student access to videos based on class enrollment.

Devin Carlson, Interim Assistant Director of ION, says, ”During the entire process of implementing Office 365, Microsoft was there to help. We drew on their expertise from initial setup and configuration, migrations and general troubleshooting. Their product development teams have also reached out to us several times for feedback on some of the different applications, collaborating on future enhancements to bring more value to the products. It has definitely felt like a partnership.”

Illinois State is proud to offer its community a cost-effective, versatile digital solution in an industry that regularly struggles with state budgetary restrictions. It isn’t just streamlining the email experience but enabling the entire campus to make the most of their time, money, and other resources while lessening the burden of financial uncertainty for students and administrators alike. Simple apps such as To-Do and Forms as well as the innovative collaboration platform Microsoft Teams have IT managers excited. Jackson explains, “The Office 365 offering has been helpful for us to give really valuable resources back to the campus and manage those resources effectively without adding huge costs.”

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