Classes at USC now come in many forms, from Blackboard Collaborate to Google Classroom to YouTube to Zoom.
The coronavirus pandemic has flipped higher education into online learning, and USC is no exception. Students have seen classes moved onto a variety of platforms in the past week, which has led to an "unprecedented surge in usage and growth" on Blackboard, according to a spokesperson for the company, who asked not to be identified by name.
“Our cloud-based technologies, including Blackboard Learn and Blackboard Collaborate allow us to scale in times of heavy usage to the maximum extent possible,” the Blackboard spokesperson said in an email interview.
Michelle Foster, the executive director of information technology communications for USC, said in an email interview that the transition to online teaching has been "very successful." She said Blackboard has been a good partner throughout this shift.
“There is no precedent for doing anything like this, but we have optimized our Blackboard platform and, as one of Blackboard’s longest clients, we have fantastic response and support from them,” Foster said.
The university began offering 24/7 assistance with Blackboard on March 20 to help with posting assignments and creating content such as exams. Students and faculty can access this by calling the service desk at 803-777-1800.
“The wait times were longer than we hoped for over the weekend and Monday but have begun to stabilize,” Foster said. “Other higher education institutions across the world began online learning environments around the same time South Carolina did, so wait times were longer than anticipated for those who called for support.”
These extended hours are for Blackboard support only. Other requests for support will be handled Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Blackboard serves almost 100 million users in college, K-12 schools, government and business. Blackboard Collaborate, a video conferencing program provided by the company, has seen historic usage in the past few weeks, according to the spokesperson.
“Due to this unprecedented demand, in the last two weeks alone, we have increased the capacity for Collaborate by 50x globally,” the spokesperson said.
The largest classes at USC can range upwards of 300 students, but Blackboard's spokesperson said it can handle a large capacity on programs such as Collaborate. According to the spokesperson, the platform can support “250 students in a standard session,” and requests for larger classes can be made.
The Keep Teaching Initiative has more resources available for faculty during this online switch, including how to help students who have limited technology available at home.
“The speed and breadth of resources that have been pulled together quickly to keep teaching through the pandemic is impressive. Our Gamecock family is supporting each other and working collaboratively to give students the support they need,” Foster said.