Western Iowa Tech Community College Connects Campuses With Zoom Rooms and Phone
WITCC built virtual classrooms and embraced Zoom Phone's flexibility, using technology to simplify communications for staff and students.
Western Iowa Tech Community College
Location: Sioux City, Iowa, United States
Industry: Higher education
Challenges: Provide a diverse student community with technology to create greater access to courses; enable faculty and staff to continue communicating during the pandemic
Solution: Zoom Meetings, Zoom Rooms, Zoom Phone
Business benefits: Zoom helped WITCC connect its five campuses to offer access to virtual courses, and when the pandemic hit, Zoom Phone enabled staff members to work in new ways using a softphone, intuitive admin dashboard, and voicemail transcription
Our employees are enabled to be wherever they need to be, when they need to be there. They aren’t chained to their desk anymore.
Mike LoganDean of Information Technology
Western Iowa Tech Community College (WITCC) provides its diverse community of 6,000 students with a range of college and career opportunities, from trade programs to hands-on apprenticeships to two- and four-year degrees.
Technology has been central to the WITCC experience for nearly a decade. The journey started in 2011 when Mike Logan, dean of information technology at WITCC, and his team embarked on a path to connect its five campuses and expand technology access for all students.
“We’re trying to prepare our students to bring knowledge of technology to their future employers,” Logan said. “We have to embrace all these technologies and make sure the students have both technical and digital literacy before they leave here.”
The path to a connected campus
Over several years, WITCC began setting up free, high-speed Wi-Fi in every building, creating training programs to teach faculty and students how to use technology, and issuing every student a Macbook loaded with curriculum-specific software. WITCC has even been named an Apple Distinguished School for its innovative use of technology.
“We’re the most diversified of the 15 community colleges in the state, and we have the highest number of students seeking financial aid,” said Steve Brown, director of IT support services at WITCC. “So part of our whole plan was to level the playing field for students and the type of technology they had.”
“We didn’t want students who didn’t have computers at home to only be able to study when they were on campus. Giving them Macbooks gave them the tools they needed to be successful 24/7,” Logan added. “If students don’t have internet at home, they can check out a MiFi [hotspot device] — we provide that, too.”
WITCC also created virtual classrooms to connect its campuses in different counties and gravitated to Zoom for its ease of use.
There were other offerings that people were trying to use that were clunky and expensive. We stumbled across Zoom and it was incredibly easy — no-brainer kind of easy — and affordable. We started changing our rooms and started giving teachers accounts, and it was hugely popular.
Mike LoganDean of Information Technology, WITCC
Virtual classrooms, some of which are powered by Zoom Rooms, have allowed WITCC to provide greater access to courses that aren’t available at every campus. “We have high school students that take courses for college credit, and if we only offer a particular class at our main campus, students can go to another campus to access that class over Zoom,” Logan explained.
The college even built a Zoom Rooms-enabled culinary classroom, which Logan describes as a “Zoom Iron Chef kitchen.”
The college’s connected approach became critical to its response during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Before COVID, all our classes already had an online component. When COVID hit, we just sent everybody home and gave them Zoom accounts, so we were ready,” Logan said.
“The only thing is, when we left campus, we left our phones sitting on our desks. We decided to replace our previous phone system so that we could have the ability to operate, anywhere,” he added.
Zoom Phone enables flexibility & accessibility
“When it came time to decide on a phone solution, it was almost a no-brainer to me,” Logan said. “Everybody in the college already knew how to use Zoom. And it wasn’t cost-prohibitive — it was the most affordable solution.”
After a quick trial with key stakeholders, WITCC worked with Zoom’s Professional Services Organization (PSO) team to roll out Zoom Phone across the college in the middle of the pandemic.
“I’ve worked with lots of implementation teams, supplier-vendor partner projects, and this was probably the most pleasant project I’ve been involved in,” Logan said. “And we did this without any interruption in service to the college.”
Logan noted that other phone solutions his team evaluated were based on having hard phones at desks — which WITCC was looking to get away from. In fact, WITCC offered a unique incentive to entice employees to use Zoom Phone’s softphone feature.
“We secured Apple Airpods for every employee,” Logan said. “We put together a policy where if you still wanted a desk phone, you had to use Zoom Phone for 30 days, then write up a justification to get approval, and that didn’t really happen.”
Even WITCC’s phone operator, who had previously resisted the idea of a softphone, embraced the functionality Zoom Phone provided. “She said, ‘The more I’m in [the admin dashboard] the more I love this — it’s so easy,’” Brown said.
According to Logan, one of the biggest impacts of Zoom Phone has been the flexibility. “Our employees are enabled to be wherever they need to be, when they need to be there. They aren’t chained to their desk anymore,” he said.
Zoom Phone even enabled an employee who is deaf to work at WITCC’s IT help desk. Using the voicemail transcription feature, the employee can review the transcript of a person calling in for help, then provide support via chat.
“Her phone is set up to go immediately to voicemail so she gets the transcript by email. Then, she goes to Zoom Chat to send a message to the customer. She can also send an SMS text [using Zoom Phone] if the customer doesn’t have Zoom,” Logan said. “She can interact with the customer in a way she’s never been able to before — and that’s pretty amazing.”
Using technology to simplify education, not complicate it
As Logan and his team focus on continued innovation at WITCC, he wants to keep the user experience in mind and use technology to simplify teaching and learning, not complicate it. “Everything I do tries to focus on how you can use technology to achieve the goal and make it as simple as possible,” he said.
Our mantra is all about how we can make technology simpler, easier to use, and more effective. Zoom fits that beautifully.
Mike LoganDean of Information Technology, WITCC
That includes working on a project to expand the use of digital whiteboards in classrooms. Faculty members use the iPad whiteboard app shared over Zoom so students at home and in class have better visibility over the content. Saved whiteboards automatically get uploaded to Canvas, WITCC’s learning management system, for students to access later.
“There are all kinds of things tying Zoom to online components like Canvas and face-to-face that make it a seamless experience, no matter how you’re attending,” Logan said. “Making things simpler, that’s the benefit.”
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