The rise of mobile devices created a dilemma for Minnesota State University (MSU). “We had a stable and highly secure central exchange server and a local storage area network, but it didn’t work well with devices,” says vice president and CIO Ed Clark. “So when our users needed to share documents or large files, they had started using Google Drive or Dropbox.” Since these services lack business agreements, users were putting the university at risk of litigation in the event of a data breach.
MSU became the first MnSCU (Minnesota State Colleges and Universities) university to adopt Office 365 for faculty, staff, and students. The cloud solution met users’ need for mobile access while reducing the need for future expenditures on servers and storage. “We converted our IT staff first and suffered through finding most of the login bugs and caching issues,” Clark says. “Then when we rolled out the conversion. We had training workshops and stationed teams across campus to help users configure devices and answer questions.”
With a 100 percent adoption rate, the university’s files are secure once more. Users can easily share large documents internally or externally and access them across any platform. “And we are planning to retire most of our local storage space—keeping only what is necessary to support research and certain administrative needs,” Clark says.
Months to complete campus-wide conversion; two months solely for IT
MSU Academic Technologies
“When I came to MSU, IT was more operationally focused and not aligned with the business of teaching, learning, and research,” Clark says. A technology disconnect existed between the university’s IT professionals and its students and faculty.
Working with campus stakeholders, Clark established the academic technologies department to bridge the gap and hired Jude Higdon as the new director. “Jude has been a remarkable hire, and he immediately went about hiring additional brilliant people and building credibility with the faculty,” Clark says.
Working with partners in academic affairs and MSU faculty members, the newly formed team swiftly augmented campus IT services with an array of strategically focused academic technologies. With funding from a Gates Foundation grant, a course-level analytics application was created to aid students in remedial math courses. Through regular assessments, student progress can be tracked, and when a student is falling behind, he or she receives an alert directing him to university assistance. Additional accomplishments include a 3-D modeled museum, featuring renderings of real artifacts that can be explored via Oculus Rift, and a Braille keyboard that empowers vision-impaired students to learn computer programming.
Vision-limited students able to gain computer programming experience
Like many Internet users today, MSU students and faculty were suffering from password overload: e-mail accounts, tech IDs, state government services, and a multitude of application logins. Moreover, many students and faculty take courses or teach at more than one school within the MnSCU system. “They had all of these different accounts, and every place they’d log in they’d see a different environment and different requirements,” Clark says. “Maintaining these unnecessary hurdles to student success was not reasonable.”
StarID provided an attractive solution. To incorporate a large volume of potential users, StarID uses a randomized naming protocol. Each user is assigned a login consisting of two letters, four numbers, and another two numbers. With this ID, a user can log in anywhere on the MnSCU network.
“Once we were successful, we shared our project plans and our rollout conversion process with the rest of the system,” Clark says. Today, all thirty-one MnSCU colleges and universities have made the transition. Although the unique usernames were initially challenging to some users, the benefits have been manifold. Besides a 50 percent decrease in support calls, MSU was also able to incorporate services such as their directory, e-mail, and financial aid into the StarID system as well, giving students unparalleled access across the state.
Decrease in support calls
Another symptom of IT’s lack of a centralized structure was a lack of campus cooperation on technology solutions. Technologies were being adopted by central IT without campus stakeholders and therefore suffered from low usage. Faculty and staff adopted their own technology solutions and were unable to get timely or effective support from central IT.
Working with MSU’s provost Marilyn Wells and the dean of the libraries, Clark reached out to the faculty association, student government, and the local IT committee of each college for representatives. Together with the central IT leadership team, they formed a technology advisory group, known as the Technology Roundtable, as well as a campus software and data advisory committee.
“IT is now more aligned with the stakeholders in terms of how we adopt and diffuse technologies across the campus and communicate with campus representatives. Together we weigh in on the annual IT work plan and help IT understand the needs and priorities of MSU’s 17,000 technology end users.”
Students (president and vice president of student government)
Additional campus representatives
Members of central IT leadership team