With a three-decade career and counting at Middle Tennessee State University, Carlos Coronel has seen lots of “latest” in technology in his role as director of the Jones College of Business IT Resources inside the Business and Aerospace Building.
That wealth of experience became tremendously important for the Jones College and the entire campus this year as MTSU pivoted to all-online course delivery to students in the spring because of the COVID-19 pandemic and transitioned over the summer and fall to a hybrid mix of course delivery that posed steep learning curves for numerous faculty and staff.
“As you know, we probably had 10 days to do this,” said Coronel, referring to the University administration’s decision to switch to online course delivery in the spring to stem the spread of the novel coronavirus. This meant a crash course for some instructors on webcams, mics, lighting kits and other tools not normally needed for an in-person classroom setting.
“We put together workshop sessions for faculty. We put together different one-on-one trainings for faculty,” he said. “And we put together a collection of resources that we had here in the Jones College and we showed them how to use it.”
While his IT Resources office focuses primarily on faculty, staff and student support within the Jones College, its oversight and operation of the BAS computer lab means that it has impact on students across the university. And the technological training and support needs brought on by the pandemic has only increased Coronel’s role at a universitywide level.
Jones College Dean David Urban’s office described Coronel as “indefatigable ever since the onset of COVID-19” and praised his “extraordinary service orientation” as his area followed the University’s health and safety protocols while continuing to serve the campus community.
Coronel praised faculty and staff for trusting his office to introduce new technology to help them improve the teaching and learning experience for students and also pointed to a strong partnership with the University’s Information Technology Division and Learning, Teaching and Innovative Technologies Center in bringing new digital tools on line and setting up training sessions for faculty campuswide.
Coronel said the Jones College had been using the now seemingly ubiquitous Zoom videoconferencing platform for a few years before the pandemic, perhaps making the switch to virtual course delivery a bit smoother for many business faculty and giving him a great comfort level with the platform as well.
In addition to Zoom and “D2L,” the acronym for the university’s Desire2Learn online learning management system for students and faculty, Coronel has provided critical training support for Panopto, a video management system that allows instructors to create video presentations, capture and record lectures, add narrations to presentations and other tools enabling the university to offer a wide variety of hybrid courses.
“I get calls every day about Panopto, how to do certain things. That’s another role that has expanded,” Coronel said. In addition, he’s developed a short video “tech tip” series available to Jones College faculty (also accessible to others) to help them utilize technology more efficiently and productively.
And with so many students now taking their courses remotely, Coronel says he also fields their calls and those of students from the 200 level courses in computer information systems that he coordinates.
Yet with technology constantly changing, Coronel also keeps his eye out for emerging tools, platforms and services that could be helpful in making the educational experience for faculty and students even better.
“In one of my trainings, I told the faculty, ‘This is one of the best times to innovate, to update your skills, update your curriculums,’” he said. “It’s prime time for us to step to the plate and come out with new ways, innovative ways to teach and deliver your classes.”
Coronel put action behind his words, developing an online booking system that allows students to schedule virtual meetings with their professors and instructors in defined time slots rather than faculty having the traditional general “office hours.”
“It’s been proven, study after study, that faculty or teacher availability is one of the critical factors for a student to succeed at a university,” he said. “The more access the student has to the teacher, the more likely they are to develop a relationship to be committed to the class, to be mentored by the faculty. And that’s what we need.”
Coronel feels that many of the innovations developed during the pandemic, such as the online scheduling for students, will continue into whatever the new normal becomes as the University continues finding ways to improve engagement with students.
— Jimmy Hart (Jimmy.Hart@mtsu.edu)