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Head of IT in wake of coronavirus-shutdown: Yes, we made it online, but we have to learn how to be digital from scratch

What have we learned? — Students and employees of the University of Copenhagen may finally have made the digital leap online, but do we actually know how to get the most out of all the tools that are now available to us, asks Steen Glad Rydicher, head of UCPH IT.

University Post: After the shutdown, how long did it take to get the University of Copenhagen up and running online?

Steen Glad Rydicher: »Days turn into weeks, and they are all hard to keep apart at the moment. I do not remember the exact details, but I am confident that we had things up and running pretty quickly. The first two weeks were crazy. The existing IT-services had to be adapted to new user patterns, and we also had to introduce new services to facilitate employees working from home.«

What have we learned

The next person to say, nothing is so bad that it isn’t good for anything, should really just zip it!

Still, we are posing the question: What has working at home for months taught us? About teaching? About the environment? About life online?

»We informed employees about how to maintain a standard of security from their home offices; how to log onto a VPN (a secure and encrypted connection which allows employees to access the university’s system); how to update their hardware, and so on. In addition to Skype For Business, the administration wanted an additional platform for video conferencing and hosting lectures. We had already implemented Microsoft Teams at the time, but due to popular demand we set up Deics Zoom platform as well.«

»Those were hectic days. We were working with solutions that we did not know a lot about—I and many of my colleagues at UCPH IT have never used Teams for instance—so we were faced with a steep learning curve just like the rest of the university.«

What have you learned the last couple of months?

»We formed taskforces whose job it was to familiarize themselves with the new software. At the same time, they were tasked with supplying user support. So, our support team had a very steep learning curve. They were bombarded with questions about things they were only learning about themselves.«

Have you gained any valuable insights that you will be using in your work after the crisis is over?

»That is a good question. Working together like this, via platforms like Zoom, Skype, and Teams, I think will continue on after the crisis. But I also think there will be a learning process involved. We need to integrate them into daily work life when we are back to being physically present at the university.«

»At the moment, everyone is participating under the same circumstances, so things are working smoothly, but have you ever experienced being the only one present at a meeting via an online connection? You often end up feeling left out.«

Do you think the solutions that we have had to find during the crisis, will speed up the process of digitizing the university?

»Yes and no. We have to be very careful that we do not apply the old way of working and teaching to a digital platform. We have to find new ways of using the digital tools, and not just adapt them to our way of doing things.«

»I think a lot of people think a kind of revolution has happened, in so far that we are working together in a different way now, but we must not forget that many of us are performing the same tasks in the same way we did prior to the crisis.«

»These digital tools enable us to work together in a completely different way than before. If we carry on with business as usual, we miss out on the benefits of these tools. Because many of us have been forced to learn how to use them fast, we only know enough to complete tasks the same way we have always completed them—only now we are doing so online.«

»I have not even finished learning about all the new tools we have implemented myself. We are just scratching the surface at the moment. I have meetings lined up in Teams all day long, but we just use the platform to talk and look at each other on the screen. We are not utilizing the software to its full extent.«

Translated by Theis Duelund

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