When the pandemic took hold, IT departments were very focused on creating a secure and efficient remote experience for their end users. At Chapman, like all universities, that meant supporting teaching and learning in a remote environment as well as supporting remote workers.
It felt like we had just gotten settled into the remote environment when we started to plan for bringing our students, faculty, and staff back to campus in a safe way. We knew we would not be able to have a normal fall semester, but we were committed to allowing our students to be on campus once it was safe and allowed by the state of California. During the summer, the governor of California indicated that the reopening of the state wouldn’t be like flipping a switch, but rather it would be a “dimmer switch” approach, with activities gradually reopening as it was safe.
That was certainly our experience at Chapman. We initially were permitted to allow faculty and students engaged in critical research to return to campus, then some health science classes and labs were permitted to meet in-person, and finally all classes could meet in person subject to a 25% capacity limit and implementation of appropriate safety measures. Unfortunately, as the pandemic numbers climbed, we ultimately moved back into a more restrictive environment as some of those permissions were rolled back.
As various groups returned to campus, the state and the county had requirements that people needed to meet. Chapman made the decision not just to meet those requirements but to exceed them, particularly in the area of required testing for people returning to campus in these groups. Individuals returning to campus were required to complete an online training module, to answer screening questions daily, to be approved for access by a senior leader, to undergo a PCR test for initial access to campus, and to be tested regularly after that.
This turned out to be a major data integration and reporting effort. In short order, we created systems that managed these return to campus requests, testing records, and training records. In some cases, we leveraged our existing systems. For example, we used our Learning Management System, Canvas, to manage the required online training module. We used the Microsoft bookings tool to manage appointments for testing at our health center. Our data warehouse team took the data from these sources and combined it into a single database.
Working with our partners across campus, we developed dashboards that allowed us to track exactly who had met the requirements to be on campus and who still had gaps. We used this data to ensure our compliance with the state’s requirements and our own policies. Even more important, the dashboards we provided to our campus health professionals helped ensure that people who were authorized to be on campus were following all guidelines for safety. As a result, our infection rate for our campus community remained very low.
We were also able to use this data for trend analysis. This allowed us to better plan our resources. For example, after Thanks giving, everyone – students, faculty, and staff – who returned to campus needed to be tested before they could go into a classroom or an office space. Those tests were administered in a location managed by the health professionals in our Student Health Center. The data warehouse team was able to provide data to this team that predicted how many tests they would need, and to ensure that they had adequate staffing to administer those tests.
During the pandemic, we think of the role of IT as supporting people working in a new environment, however, our data integration project to support campus access and testing show that IT’s role was critical to all aspects of the organization. Hopefully, due to the good news about the vaccine, we need to start planning for the post-pandemic world. IT will be a critical part of that effort.