Andrew Shennan and Ravi Ravishanker

Recorded January 15, 2021 Archived January 14, 2021 40:47 minutes
0:00 / 0:00
Id: ddv000464


Andrew Shennan (61) speaks with his colleague Ravi Ravishanker (64) about the decision to close Wellesley College during the COVID-19 Pandemic, and the transitions that students and faculty had to make during the shift to virtual learning.

Subject Log / Time Code

AS and RR recall their first discussions about their decision to close Wellesley College due to the COVID-19 Pandemic. RR remembers having a sense of what was to come and needing to make quick decisions, such as getting a Zoom license for the school.
RR reflects on feeling nervous about the large transition to virtual learning, but needing to give off a sense of confidence to the staff and faculty to make it work.
AS recalls the college being in “survival mode” trying to complete the year, compared to this upcoming year in which people would not be as tolerant of snags, etc. RR speaks about going over feedback and analytics to plan for the Fall term.
RR speaks about their fully-remote Summer Session, with a record number of students registered. AS compares this to the prior Fall in which they had half their student body on campus and the other half learning virtually. RR recalls having to work around this model, including students wearing masks in classrooms.
AS speaks about the college avoiding the “hybrid” or “high-flex” approach being a successful decision. AS asks RR if he can recall any technological missteps during this time. RR says they sometimes assume and take for granted that students have access to technology and understand how to use it.
AS describes RR as always having a positive attitude, and asks what takeaways he has from all of this. RR reflects on being a higher-education technology professional for 36 years, and dealing with an immense amount of stress during this time while being relied on by so many others. RR says he is grateful to be in the position he is in.
RR shares his happiness that at the end of their two-week Zoom training, he saw staff and faculty who were previously not tech-savvy go on to teach remotely. RR reflects on this potentially reshaping pedagogy for Wellesley while still trying to bridge the gap in personal connection.
AS and RR speak about the increased sense of partnership and collaboration that emerged during this time.


  • Andrew Shennan
  • Ravi Ravishanker

Partnership Type

Fee for Service


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00:04 I'm 61 years old. I'm speaking from Wellesley, Massachusetts on January 15th, 2021 and I'm talking to my good colleague and friend Robbie Robbie shotgun.

00:24 I am Robbie Robbie Shanker. I am just old enough to get the vaccine but not yet. I am 64 years old and I'm talkin from higganum Connecticut and I report to Andy and I'm the Chief Information officer and Associate Provost at Wellesley College. And today is January 15th, 2021.

00:55 Thank you, Robbie. That reminded me that I should have said. I'm the Provost Wellesley College.

01:02 So we talkin going to talk today about our experience over the last 10 months.

01:08 Of this pandemic and I were together our experiences together.

01:17 Ravi do you remember I remember the conversation that we had like four or five days before we had to make a decision to close the college and I don't know if he's actually an extra memory of it, but I remember speaking to you on the phone and you called me up and said I think we should maybe get a license for this dude thing.

01:41 You must remember that is exactly that you know ass is true with many of the it organization around in a debate is higher. Ed. We think a lot about design in that sends ask this with developing weaving already beginning to think about the various scenarios, and I was in a fortunate enough to be plugged into some of the conversations at the highest level of the college. So I got the sense of you know, what is going to end.

02:31 Quick decision-making had to be part of what we needed to do. That's about the only way that we were going to get to where we need it to get to spend one of the most fundamental that we needed to get a decision on was the technology platforms that we were going to use for the remote learning and that's when I had a conversation with my colleagues and we were all in a in agreement that the choice should be. So seriously since we will come along as we talk more but I distinctly remember and in fact, I told you that I'm the I really need a quick decision out there so we can get going on securing the license.

03:23 No, I remember that and I remember you saying.

03:27 I remember saying I think I think the president that she was out of the country. And I remember we talked back and forth about whether we could wait until she returned and in the end. I think we decided that we couldn't wait just said to go ahead and do this and we won we won we had no idea really I think we're at least I didn't know we were exactly going to be doing with you but we knew that we might very well need it as a tool to get us through this. I think is absolutely correct and you know what you just mentioned.

04:09 It's something we take into consideration in recommending a solution. We looked at how many faculty staff. Student would already using zoom? And how much is the college already paying looking for the paid versions of zoom and what is incremental cost for going with an Institutional licenses and we were not going to go into any long-term relationship with zoom at that point. So we said, you know, we're being x amount of dollars even if increased by 25 30% more it's worth getting an Institutional license because that added cost is not going to be a locked and if you don't go down the path of fully remote and don't use the institutional license presume. We'll get out of it the year later.

05:09 A better choice to go on in all these different dimensions, but it would assume at that point right in March last year. I think if I had known what lay ahead of us, I think I would have been way more scared than I remember feeling of the time. I mean it was it was it was concerned. It was confusing and it was worrying and all those things. But if we if I had known quite what we were going to have to ask people to do. I think I would have been incredibly nervous about weather.

05:53 It was good at what weather is going to be just an unmitigated disaster for the program.

06:02 From your point of view from the point of view of a technologist.

06:08 Did you were you confident at that point at that moment that all faculty and staff were going to be able to make this incredible pivot? Did you think of it that way? And if you did think of it that way will you will you confident that it was actually going to work out for us? So, you know ask you well know.

06:30 What you said is true mainly because it is so quick. None of us had time to think about what comes next we need to act on things looking so immediately number one number two.

06:47 My own fears, I did not want them. I did not want to show that out to my staff because it's the worst thing I could do. So I needed to put trade a sense of confidence that this will all work as a way to make sure my staff also came along okay with that kind of messaging because I said we know the underlying technology Works number to Via put together a team of individuals who have prior experience from our engagement for passport five years game initiatives such as a tax, which is better massive open online courses and the Blended learning initiatives at the college or get so we had a group of individual well,

07:44 Confident in our ability, but the scale was scary for everybody number of Faculty who would be teaching in this mode who have not done any of this before. I just needed to provide the level of confidence that happen to people who have done this before not just LPS staff photographer. We can collaborate with and we're so immensely thankful for those families who were willing to participate in workshops and talking to the other faculty boosting their morale that you can do it and also, you know talking to this confidence for the built during the two-week period before making a decision and the first remote class opening pictures of bernd Leno spring break time at the beginning. Yes.

08:44 Let you know that works Woody's about scaling and the other piece of this that hit has totally unaware that is is in order for this to work. Every participant not only needed to know the technology but needed to have the technology in the first place. We were beginning to hear from students that when they go home and internet connectivity may not be good or some students did not have the proper Computing devices. So, you know, we needed to not only pivot in chance of working with the faculty back to also take on all of these other responsibilities, but my team came to the rescue lot of my team members or cool the job description had none of this written Rose to the occasion. So it will be said in the two-week period from start to finish.

09:44 Confidence level grew up like crazy. So, you know you had to represent confidence to the people working with you and I'll actually I would say to the faculty and staff more broadly. Right? I mean, I think that people look to you at the college to have to eat. Can we do this at you're the one one of the people at the college essay? Yes, we can do this. We had we had two weeks to ramp up before the online the remote, where you from day one after the remote classes started with this was going to work with a will that moments.

10:39 At that point or in the nasal weeks after that that you you had doubts about whether it was going to work.

10:47 Frankly, I did not I'll tell you why we quickly set up workshops signups for workshops were incredible a number of Faculty who wanted to come and learn with nothing I've ever seen before you get that we have been sent device The Faculty to come to work shops at set up before but it wasn't nothing of that kind. In fact, I remember one family member calling me to the side and asking why are you insisting on having face-to-face Workshop?

11:28 At the same time the guidance from CDC and everyone else needs to keep distance from each other because the training spaces were overflowing so then be quickly converted to doing this in the room itself, but the initial reaction from The Faculty was really confident in a boost in for all of that. We made some conscious decision on telling the faculty the very first thing that we are trying to make you do if the simplest the common denominator that is likely to work for everybody.

12:11 Are there things that you can layer on top? Absolutely, but let's first get during these two weeks the bottom line approach. How do you start a zoo? How do you manage looking at multiple students on the screen? How do you manage the order in which students are raising their hand to a scratched the most rudimentary thing get that ass that and then the rest will come 4 days 5 days after the faculty took the first Workshop. We started hearing already from them. I'm not familiar with all of what you asked us to do. I want to move to the next one. I want to create breakout room. I want to create, you know, I want to learn how to manage a chat switch without, you know, Berry and creditors a great partnership. We're not of God.

13:11 Witness to the fact that I should say

13:15 We have tried very hard before to get lot of Faculty to a dump some of these methodologies and do a neutral number for a small liberal arts. College Ave, long until a group of Faculty who strongly believe in the face to behave in a pedagogue. But once they've gone a feel for what they have to offer is very encouraging to see the adoption and the and the eagerness to want to okay do more and the other thing we told the faculty which helped us manage. This is to avoid doing hybrid or water collects hyflex having some number of students in different mode because we did have a small group of students on campus.

14:13 Do they were not coming to a cloud right now? So we said it's all going to be so bright tonight issue with the hyflex because I think one of the things to which is the way we approach this from the way a lot of other places have it that we made a very early and conscious decision not to go in that direction. I think we should talk about that some more. But before we come back to that, I can't my experience. I think it's consistent with what you just said of the spring is that we were kind of in survival mode. Probably, you know, I mean it was it was it was unexpected.

15:01 By definition that was a very limited time to prepare for it. We just had to get we just need to get through it. We just had to survive through the semester at the same time as we were surviving through the semester maybe once we had reached that point of confidence that it was going to be okay.

15:25 Am I in my recollection you and I and I'll tell him to say she's increasingly will looking to that this Academic Year to the pool and and the academic year ahead cuz I remember saying other people said a lot was you know, people have understood why things were a little ragged around the edges in the spring, but they would not be so in the standing in the full we would have time to prepare and it was a different kind of experience that we were going to have in the months ahead. So, I don't know if you have collections how you and your colleagues in LTS?

16:11 Made that transition from survival mode to planning mode to preparation for a more.

16:21 I need more points and then come back to the question and one is we in a keep traveling to LTS, which is library and Technology Services when we could not have done this without but collaboration with Oscar Fernandez in potc faculty development arm of the college and then later with defense and strategic growth initiatives who managed Lincoln summer programs at 10. Does a great great collaboration, you know, this is what we do. Well as a college, we just we don't just throw things at people and hope everything works well, but he's going to bring that up. There we when we opened

17:17 In collaboration with the class Deeds the registrar's office Weber, very carefully monitoring students are participating in the remote. If they're not class Deans and registrar's office reached out to them to find out the reasons why a problem like technology remediate they got on top of it. If it was other situation look at that required other units of the college to talk to the students so cute. It's weird to like some help so we can take a look at that. And then we can take a look at it from the back of the prospective happy. They told us how many students are participating make a etc. So these things played into planning for the fall and that we moved along.

18:17 What is working and what is not working in Spring and in May when the class is ended we had at least two if not more debriefing session with the faculty tremendously helpful in hearing from them. What are the gaps record that would have helped them do their teaching differently and better in Spring and based on that. What is it that we can do to help them give up our better experience in the fall based on that and we had in a very good feedback ranging from the type of documentation be needed.

19:07 Types of small videos that would help them at that dress a week. We took those feedback and we spent the month of June in restructuring our workshops restructuring of a documentation. So that during the month of July

19:26 Me and August we conducted. Okay several more.

19:31 This Workshop to prepare for this for the fall wedding. Dad had a lot to do with how content for the Delaware and I think the same is true on the student side having gone through her kid is in the spring and it did the fact that it happened. So suddenly versus give it some time to reflect on again during the summer months and make me a lot of difference one thing. We forgot the touch on if we also in a had a summer session in between which was fully remote and we had the record number of students in the spring or if I'm not mistaken with something like two and a half times the regular volume of prudence taking classes that again gave us

20:31 Additional information from the property who taught them that we collected all of them to prepare for the Falls which I think Maids while to be very different and text me to say Robbie the one of the differences between the pool in the spring is that in the fool the way that we set up the program the program we had we had to buy Taco students on campus and we had to help us students studying remotely. And so there was a technology challenges shoes technology child around the remote courses, but there was a different and

21:13 I think very significant technology-challenged around me on campus in a way with the most basic things that can happen in the classroom like and the professor. He had five students can the street and steel one another all the classroom setting up in a way that they can be satisfying you want just go with you on one front you were working on. Both of Prince's actually is another look at the thing that was a new dimension to add which is as you mentioned that we had about a half of the students in on Camp Half outside as I mentioned earlier, one of the earliest decisions we made and thanks for your offer to support us on that decision yet that

22:13 We are at not going to support a hybrid class in the true sense, which is some number of on-campus students in a classroom and another group of students registered to participate through remote participation because we internally discuss the the technology challenges that the cruise and so we we made the decision in late June when the the department chairs were preparing okay their offerings for the fall so that there is Clarity to not having this joint with your way of offering courses that help, you know, the technology challenges for fall came in multiple ways zoom and

23:08 Additional ways to use zoom is one of them, but the other thing is we had less number of classrooms and the traditional classroom because of orchid way. We needed accommodate students the classrooms were socially distance classroom in order to accommodate the right number of classic. We had some additional spaces which are not typically set up to be classroom that I requested problems. Okay, and the distance between the instructor and the students sitting in the last row with Zoloft and log that they cannot hear each other. So we needed to quickly find the solutions to these and then there are issues with everyone in a classroom wearing a mask and talkin and how legible that is for the itch.

24:08 States are there so be invested a fair amount of money in additional microphones that work in situations like this and experimented with down. We invited some of the faculty who were nervous about teaching in this large spaces to come to the vest and check it out with LDS to stop members acting as students backbencher. Okay, so on and so forth introduce new dimension and we were okay well prepared for you know, all of that. So

24:49 Ravi the so I think the hive I think the avoiding the hyflex approach the truly hybrid approach I think was a small thing for us to do. I think that the educational experience being either in one mode or the other was better that if we did that was so successful decision. Can you think of a decision that we made about technology or about adjusting to this and that makes it maybe wasn't the best one that we that you have you have thought about maybe something that wasn't talk tomorrow.

25:34 Great crack and the answer to that doesn't lie on panda make but our strategy over the last.

25:44 829 years. Okay, we consciously decided that we needed to move to the cloud so weary within my organization developed a tricky dick man in short. It basically can be described as we are a small organization. Our bread-and-butter is the code academic mission of the college in more supporting touchy-feely servers in the server room on Camp. That's not where we want the invest our dog. So the last eight years we have moved a lot of a technology to the cloud why I'm mentioning that is

26:33 If we did not do that and some of the critical technology Zoom aside our Erp systems, like when we had Banner now, it's what dates are the car is a witches have a learning management system on campus with everybody out trying to come into our Network. We could have handled the Bandit.

27:01 Okay, so so. That strategy of completely Distributing her get everything out. Our website is running on a hook a different service providers baserunning elsewhere. I wear Sequoias Lenny. So when somebody tries to get to this thing, they're all not converging in one network and clogging it up very little crampy for which any one of these entities have to come to campus at all.

27:34 Okay, stop that. Frankly has helped us a gift for this particular ancient looking for and has done well, but what about other things that we haven't done that you wish in retrospect we had done.

27:56 I think I think the the only piece that we keep thinking about is a missed opportunity for us to be more into the technology proficiency and needs of a students are we take it for granted that all of our students at text Savvy and Dad?

28:24 All of them have tip Technologies of today. Okay, for example, I can pay that faculty. Don't even think twice about the use of technology for their teaching Brothers assignments use of media software like a for their classes like Adobe suite up all of our students have access to these Technologies and tools like looking for an institution like as I think I can put that somewhere between

29:08 Either one to one and a half percent. No.

29:15 Let me give raw numbers somewhere between hundred and hundred fifty. Okay student.

29:23 A subset of whom had a computer Windows computer. So the old choking couldn't do certain things zooming in the video was not working on their computer audio is choppy. Again. We need to be we need to be more into the needs of the technology the Technologies for the student and that's it. That's cranky. I think is a missed opportunity on our part that you know, we collectively as a college needs to recognize that. This is a problem that we need to work to resolve.

30:10 And just kind of exactly what you're saying there about what we have learned leads me to ask you about your experience with this past year in terms of things that you have found challenging about it and things that you have time, you know, I think everybody the isolation and the Stress and Anxiety just the cost of the of the pandemic are obviously a huge butt

30:54 They're all so I know you're at 0 positive. You're pregnant. You have Canal pissed at all that are beneficial.

31:10 So how you know, I consider this the the most challenging are gay in my whatever 36 years has a higher ed technology professional. There's no doubt. I can. This this tops hurting the list and the stress look it was you know,

31:35 Undeniable very different kind of stress, but you know I come from a background in a culture birthday. Where can I take a look at others and responsible for some 80 plus staff members and we have constant touch points with and you know, in addition to seeing what and hearing what are the students were going through and dinner in addition to do with being what's wrong with my staff were going through

32:15 Everyday, I thank my star, you know far better place despite the fact that is challenging and stressful. I am so thankful that I am in a much better place than them. So I get that my energy boost. When did that I can do to help on a personal level Robbie what you see is being really positive about the college. That's correct that many and one of the top things that I'll tell you where it's at the end of the two weeks Zoom training while I had one of my staff member check in with an English faculty and older English faculty member that I gave you.

33:15 You know has told us he's not tech-savvy her but he was still teaching a course and I wanted to check in on how he was doing. So I had told my packet my staff member to join in at every one of his Zoom class to help him out and my staff member turned around and said he really doesn't need any help. Okay, she is fully capable of helping others at this point, you know, institutionally we have benefited from this crisis exposing a technology that we have managed to we win in ways. Okay that benefits both of them and the student that I've also heard from other faculty.

34:15 It didn't never thought that the chat feature in Zoom will make such a big difference for a class discussion a Cadet students were otherwise not eager to raise their hand in a classroom are emboldened. Okay to express their opinion in the chat. So it's actually leveling the playing field for discussion in ways that appear to his classroom has been hearing from faculty how this new tools are making them think about different ways in which the Patagonia can be shaped like a butt using technology in concert with their traditional way of teaching. I think it's going to be beneficial to the college in the longer. It sounds like you

35:14 Hyatt personally think it is and it it's actually in the conversations going on continually in the college about privacy issues and that you're the academic freedom related issues. And what we are doing is do engage in conversation directly with zoom so that Zoom knows that these are issues that they need to address directly at the Wynn Tower Capaldi Zoom as a tool okay at the college and in a given that we have used Zoom so successfully we need to make sure that we address the concern so that we can continue to use it because I'm doing all of that good work done using a tool and moving to a new one is in a pretty stressful for a lot of people.

36:13 So you're you're you're sent to the Robbie is that?

36:18 We we in a we were already exploring the blending of digital and in-person instruction before we came into this crisis.

36:33 The show this crisis has accelerated that development and showing a whole lot of Faculty. That's something that they might have felt was alien to them and pee on their capacity to to use is actually perfectly manageable. And is it your sense that those faculty for those faculties is going to be no going back, but they are going to continue to use the technology or do you think that they will

37:04 Revert I think in the future is unpredictable, but based on what I have seen with the previous project such as headaches or Blended learning initiative at the college. You know, I think one thing that is good about another wildscape faculty is when they find something that it says to stay in their teaching learning and pedagogy. They are not shy to be accepted and used

37:36 So my feeling is there going to find the positive aspects of the newer Technologies and blend them with the face stupid. You know, we all know it's a no substitute. Okay for face to face. I mean it is just zoom doesn't card. I'll be the first one to tell I I miss you know hanging around with people and talking if it's very different Dynamic so that will continue birthday to play its part but I think there are ways to incorporate these Technologies in ways. It actually takes us to a completely new level of teaching and learning and I think that's where we'll find ourselves when we are back to The New Normal

38:26 Ravi we're coming towards the end of conversation and asked when going to a close I wanted to say a couple of things one is that I think another of the positive aspects of our experience this year is that to a degree that I've never witnessed that has been assistance of a real operation mean everybody working at the college in all the different capacities you mentioned this earlier but I stress that that I think the the the intensity of that of partnership is something that we have never witnessed and I hope this a way of continuing to hold on to some of that Community, but I really feel that it's taking it to a different level.

39:23 In the course to the closest this I completely agree and I I think I tweeted this two days ago. I keep saying that this is one of the most positive things that has happened because my concept of what a different department and division does

39:46 When I was not collaborating as men was so different from the appreciation for what they do. Now. It is so drastically different. I'll be honest. Okay, because I never had any concept of these are all the things that they are worrying about and that they are responsible for so absolutely I think you're so this is great. And I asked you said I sure hope that we find a way to you know, continue that going forward.

40:21 Well, thank you Robbie. It's been fun. It's been fun reliving the last 10 months with you this morning. Thank you. Thank you for all of your support and the support and quick decisions. Okay that were made so we can hook a support the community the way we did that without that it would have been a struggle.