It was nearly a year after Superstorm Sandy, and Don O’Hagan, Caldwell’s chief information officer, was standing in the lobby of Dominican Hall on a Friday afternoon. Like most folks in the tristate area, he was aware of the heartache the natural disaster had brought to the eastern seaboard less than 12 months earlier. But this October day was different—it was a day to celebrate the campus’s new technologies and how far the college had come in one short year. O’Hagan, along with students and staff, was marking the quadrupling of the college’s Wi-Fi footprint and a 30 percent increase in accessibility with a Wi-Fi Day celebration held in Dominican Hall.
“The change is here,” says O’Hagan of the dramatic improvement in connectivity. To commemorate the occasion, he organized the event, handed out long-stemmed roses to students and made sure all attending had plenty of coffee and doughnuts. “A lot of the work we do in technology is behind the scenes and only gets noticed when things break,” says O’Hagan. “Events like Wi-Fi Day help make the improvements we’re proactively putting in place more visible by building awareness and personalizing them.”
Meraki wireless access points added in Dominican Hall are just the beginning. When the project is completed, over 200 access points across six sites will accommodate faculty and students using multiple digital devices.
No one was celebrating when the hurricane hit, leaving wreckage and hard lessons in its wake. The silver lining, says Sheila O’Rourke, vice president for institutional effectiveness, was that improvements made after a surprise early snow the year before allowed the college to survive Sandy and accelerated the transformation of its information technology infrastructure.
O’Hagan’s arrival and the passage of a state bond referendum have propelled the rest of the strategy forward. From the moment Sandy hit, the IT department has worked to improve network security and access while guarding infrastructure vulnerabilities. O’Rourke, who with President Nancy Blattner led Caldwell’s crisis team during Sandy, says the college is now better prepared to weather disasters thanks to a new, leading-edge data communications center. Housed in a secure location on campus, the center provides increased safety, bandwidth, and performance stability along with monitored climate control.
Sandy also pushed the college into cloud computing. The new messaging system, called CougarMail, and several business and education functions now operate in the cloud. This arrangement improves technology resilience and operational uptime and leaves Caldwell better prepared should storms like Sandy strike again.
Other technology upgrades are making life easier for students. New charging stations installed all over campus allow students to power their mobile devices.
Multipurpose interactive digital display boards are replacing traditional blackboards, whiteboards, projectors and flip charts and improving the education and business experience on campus. The college plans to furnish every classroom with this technology, which creates an engaging, collaborative learning environment. O’Hagan says implementing the digital boards has been an exciting project because “it impacts everyone on campus.”
Sophomore Kristin Kelley says the boards “are really helpful for group projects, group studying, anything where a group is involved, because you don’t have to crowd around one little screen. One big board allows people to interact through touch screen, individual iPads and other personal devices.” Business Division Professor Virginia Rich sees the boards as “transformative to teaching because they allow for real interaction and truly interactive lessons. Active learning can’t occur when students just sit.” She says students using the boards visit their own websites on their own devices and discuss and create documents accessible to all. “We can save and share this information. It makes an active learning experience truly part of the lesson plan and provides a valuable takeaway.”
The digital displays are part of an extensive renovation bringing a new learning environment to the science building. Construction is nearly complete on a 1,200-square-foot nursing skills laboratory, which includes a state-of-the-art simulation laboratory and a technology-enhanced lecture classroom. The new learning environment was made possible through the bond initiative passed in 2012. The lab is outfitted with high-fidelity manikins and a control room with tinted one-way glass and the capability to record video simulations. The 960-square-foot lecture classroom includes interactive digital boards that will be used for collaborative nursing activities and versatile learning experiences.
“This classroom is fully equipped with interactive digital boards, satellite monitors and mobile furniture. Making these structural improvements will remove barriers to collaborative communication and enhance discussion and group activities,” said Marycarol Rossingnol, Ph.D., R.N., CNL, director of the Nursing Department.
Rich sees the advances in technology reaching beyond Caldwell. “Besides adding to the learning community on this campus, this is something that will allow students from all over New Jersey visiting Caldwell University to see that we are really on the cutting edge of new technologies and active learning strategies.”