In the spring semester of 2019, SHSU Online took the first steps in implementing the Texas State University System (TSUS) Shared Services Initiative. The initiative enables the facilitation of online education at scale for TSUS institutions and plays a key role in maintaining operations in case of a disruptive disaster, like Hurricane Harvey and COVID-19. Sam Houston State University, Lamar Institute of Technology, and Sul Ross State University have become the first institutions to enter into the agreement.
The activities undertaken pursuant to the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) are based on a spirit of cooperation and reciprocity that is intended to be of mutual benefit to all participating institutions. As part of this collaboration, a number of online education services have been negotiated, including a shared instance of Blackboard, with access to the complete suite of licenses native to the LMS.
Tim Parsons, SRSU Blackboard Administrator, Instructional Designer, and GSC Supervisor, recounts, “There was no bigger wake-up call for Sul Ross State University's online/DE academic support structure than the overwhelming strain that the COVID-19 pandemic put on our small faculty/staff/student support team. It brought into extreme focus how badly we needed to enter into this enhanced, TSUS collaborative effort in order to be able to consistently provide top-level support and quality online teaching platforms for our faculty and students.“
In addition to a robust installation of Blackboard, other benefits of the shared services project include licensing for exam proctoring, lecture capture and video hosting software, ADA Compliance tools, access to a 24 x 7 technical call center, instructional design services, and faculty development workshops. More recently, the initiative facilitated the emergency response to the current pandemic. Over the past three months, SHSU Online has provided institutions within the TSUS Shared Services Initiative support and assistance in maintaining instructional continuity in times of crisis.
Jason Woodall, Director for Online Education at Lamar Institute of Technology, shares his perspective on the collaboration of efforts in response to the pandemic. "Our instructors were given ample training opportunities to help them transition to online instruction, the instructional designers worked countless hours preparing course content and assessments, and, most importantly, the support line helped to keep student and faculty anxiety down by providing timely technical assistance."
Parsons continues, “Our Shared Services Partnership with SHSU has also been a major factor during the COVID-19 pandemic in supplying support material and training for SRSU. From the first week of post-extended spring break classes, SHSU opened up their SHSU COVID-19 Online webinars. Another major area that SHSU has helped is in our student support. SHSU shared the structure and model for an ORIENTATION FOR ONLINE STUDENTS Blackboard site that the SRSU Blackboard team customized for SRSU purposes and made available to all SRSU students through their main Blackboard area.”
As TSUS Chancellor Brian McCall, Ph.D., states, “Cross-institutional collaboration continues to enhance our System’s capacity to provide quality education online at scale, and I expect our shared efforts to continue to drive social mobility and economic prosperity for students from all backgrounds across the great State of Texas.”
Dr. Bill Angrove, SHSU Associate Vice President for Distance Education and TSUS’s Chief Online Officer, says, “I’m pleased to see the rapid progress of our TSUS shared-services initiative. The SHSU Online team is proud to be working alongside the students, faculty and staff of LIT and SRSU to implement this important project.”
As the Fall 2020 semester approaches, another key milestone in the project will be reached. Sul Ross State University will become fully integrated in the TSUS installation of Blackboard Learn. Starting in August, all faculty, students, and staff from SRSU will make the transition to the shared LMS, which appropriates access to a broader range of tools for online teaching and learning. Even though SRSU will become the third institution to be incorporated in the shared LMS, they will retain their unique look and feel, complete with the SRSU branding colors and logos.
TSUS Online Annual Report, Third Edition, 2019. https://gato-docs.its.txstate.edu/jcr:4a6f649d-78dd-48ff-a702-8bd658bcf024/TSUS_Online_Annual_Report_2019.pdf