IT Team Advances Classroom Technology at S.J. Quinney College

by Angela Turnbow

“It is not just your computer and keyboard,” explains Mark Beekhuizen, director of Information Technology at S.J. Quinney College of Law,when asked to define what information technology encompasses.  “It’s finding unique ways to streamline processes such as communications or education, and sharing that information to make it available to students, faculty and staff.”  What was once an area known as “plugging in the computer or fixing the projector and maintaining server and network efficiency,” is now extending its scope to include classroom technology to further enhance the education of law students.  Since Beekhuizen’s arrival at the College in June of this year, his experience in management and technology have made it possible to reach beyond the “normal” boundaries of information technology.

Using technology within an academic setting provides the ideal opportunity to innovate because “There are very few roadblocks to try something new.  We are free to experiment and present new ideas,” says Beekhuizen.  However, the attraction of working with technology in academia doesn’t just start and end with the freedom to experiment with newgadgets.  As Wes Christiansen, manager of Client Services, states, “It’s not just technology for technology’s sake.  It’s technology for education.”  Using simple technological functions such as recording a class lecture and posting the video online promotes students’ learning because it gives students the ability to refer back to the actual lecture presented in class rather than relying solely on quickly scrawled notes.  Incorporating technology into classrooms allows students to focus more on principles of law.  Aaron Dewald, director of Technology Initiative, believes that the attraction involves improving the human condition.  “There are two sides to IT: one is plugging things in, and other is using advance application of technology to better humanity. It is problem solving, helping others gain knowledge, and advancing education. It’s using the next level to promote effectiveness of learning.”

Recent events within the school have allowed the IT group to take technology to the next level in the classroom. This past fall, the S.J. Quinney College of Law received a generous grant from the Reece C. Anderson Trust to establish the College’s new Reece C. Anderson Technology Facility.  Drawing on these funds, IT will continue developing hardware prototypes that promote learning and advance the College’s software development.  To enhance the benefits, the IT Operations Committee was established to aid the IT group as they pursue this new course of action.  The committee is comprised of faculty members who decide on the new technology projects for the College and assist with development of new hardware prototypes by implementing these new applications into their teaching instruction and reporting back to IT with feedback on their efficiency in the classroom.

Projects in effect since the establishment of this committee include development of the advanced teaching podium in Carlson Hall 115, next door to the law school; an upgrade of the Law’s wireless; turning over operational management of the College’s networking equipment to the central campus Network Operations Center; and the relocation of the Law’s server and storage systems to a more physically and environmentally secure location.  These last three projects benefit the school greatly by providing more stability and consistency for students, faculty,and staff.  The IT team will continue to monitor and attend to local support needs.  “The IT group is making great progress in preconceiving and developing new ways to make classroom technology easier to use and experience,” remarks Dean Hiram E. Chodosh.  Future projects include installing more flat-screen displays and alert systems around the school to and providing information specific to those areas, as well as wiring more classrooms for sound and video.

With technology constantly evolving at the College, the IT team intends to keep students, faculty and staff informed on the changes occurring and to bridge the gap between technology and end-users.  As part of their efforts, the team distributes a bi-monthly email newsletter to the College covering topics such as administration, development, support services, and infrastructure.  “We are eating our own cake with this newsletter,” says Dewald. “We’re using technology to share information with others and, in turn, we receive responses from people wanting to know how they can incorporate this application into their field here at the law school.”  The goal is to make education and information free-flowing and easy to access.  When new techniques that share information are not efficient for end-users and there is resistance to implement these new practices, the IT team views this reaction as a challenge to improve the method and make it better.  “When we meet resistance,”says Beekhuizen, “we think, How can we make this more accessible? What do we need to change to make it more user-friendly?'” Sharing information is important to the College of Law’s success because it brings the S.J. Quinney community together.  Currently, the IT team is finding ways to better communicate with alumni and friends to include them in activities and events that occur on campus. The team emphasizes the value of alumni and friends associating with the school because they have the legal experience and can help the College better educate future attorneys.

These new developments seem like a whirlwind only because the members of the IT staff are a “perfect storm of personalities who all work well together to make progress happen,” Beekhuizen explains.  There is a corporate structure to the department, but there definitely is not a corporate mentality when interacting with each other.  Ideas bounce around from one individual to another, and they all draw from each other’s strengths and expertise.  This mentality is far-reaching, extending to those who work at the help desk.  When looking for service agents for the helpdesk, Christiansen states, “We look at applicants’ interests and ability to problem solve so we can take advantage of their background.  For example, if an applicant has experience in ski rental equipment, we want them to apply that experience to check out lab equipment,” thus adding to the mix of personalities in the IT suite.  The IT department includes Mark Beekhuizen, director; Aaron Dewald, director of Technology Development;Aaron Herd, Developer; Duc Phuong, Manager of System Services; Wes Christiansen, Manager of Client Services; Rachel Pipkin, Library SystemsManager; Weston Applonie, Michael Lund, and Brandon Banz, Helpdesk Agents.

“They are not only extremely talented,” says Dean Chodosh, “they are also close and complement one another — they work well together because they share a broader purpose and grander vision for the power of technology in meeting our objectives.”