Pandemic Prompts Changes in Tech Orientation for Students

Information, Technology, and Consulting also improves its client-services portal.

With undergraduate orientation held online this year due to COVID-19, Information, Technology, and Consulting revamped its approach to teaching new students about technology at Dartmouth. At the same time, ITC staff members tackled related improvements they'd had in mind for some time, such as redesigning the client services portal

"We wanted to use the opportunity that the constraints of COVID gave us to be innovative about how we deliver the information that new students need as they join Dartmouth," says Maureen Hennigan, senior director of ITC client services.

To that end, ITC consulted with its partners on the student orientation team to create an online alternative to the in-person tech presentation of years past. The new approach made it easier for students to determine whether their computers met Dartmouth's requirements, and, given their classes, which software to download. It also streamlined the process for connecting with the Dartmouth Computer Store, so students planning to purchase anything there could place their orders more promptly.

The "New to Dartmouth" page now offers a collection of articles and videos designed to help incoming students, staff, and faculty install and use Dartmouth's technology resources. In addition to online resources and support, ITC also offered Zoom question-and-answer sessions for incoming students, who opted in as needed.

The upgraded client services portal—used by faculty, staff, and students—has made information clearer and easier to access, says Marlowe Frank, assistant director of client solutions.

And a new online chatbot—software that simulates human conversation—provides another avenue for asking questions about ITC's resources, says Frank, who with his cohort Barbara Lens led the improvement efforts. If the bot can't answer, there's a direct route to the service desk "so we can follow up and help as well."

With the walk-in Student Tech Center in Dartmouth Library's Baker-Berry Library unavailable due to the pandemic, the changes are especially timely, Hennigan says. "We want to make sure our students know where to go in all contexts to get help and understand the technology they have in front of them."

Rather than working with outside web developers, ITC staff—including student employees—completed the project themselves, on an existing platform, says Lens. "It allowed us to keep it moving forward."

And the students' involvement was key.

"We were taking students' perspectives as we were building it, and making sure that we were being considerate of how they approach things, not always presuming we know," says Hennigan.

Like so many pandemic-prompted innovations, the new self-paced tech orientation may have staying power.

"A million things are happening for students during orientation," so in previous years, retaining the information they received sometimes proved difficult, Hennigan says.

This year's asynchronous approach "really was a better way" of delivering the content, says Frank, noting the results of a recent survey of incoming students. Of 424 respondents, about 97 percent said they felt prepared to use Dartmouth's technology, knew how to get help, and found the introduction "easy to navigate."

And that's something ITC staff members will bear in mind in future years, Frank says, as they weigh how to continue to provide self-service options while also meeting students in person, to answer questions "and be that friendly face."

Aimee Minbiole can be reached at aimee.minbiole@dartmouth.edu.