ITS COVID-19 Information and FAQs for Faculty

As we transition to a completely online learning environment, Information Technology Services (ITS) is ready and able to support faculty. This page will be updated regularly with the latest information and guidance, particularly in response to Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) from the faculty community.

University-Supported Applications

ITS strongly encourages all faculty to utilize the following university supported, reviewed, and approved platforms for collaborating online. These platforms have been reviewed and meet required standards for accessibility, IT Security, and FERPA. They are also each known and supported by our ITS support teams.

While we understand the temptation to use other commercially available platforms (for example, Zoom, Adobe Connect, Dropbox, Slack, Google Hangouts, etc.), we cannot guarantee they meet compliance and security requirements, nor are we able to provide technical support. We are continuing to investigate other enterprise-wide solutions that we may add to list as they are approved.

University-Supported Teaching Platforms

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Blackboard

Blackboard Courses provides a secure login system and tools to create and administer face-to-face and online courses. Some of these tools include discussion forums, student group areas, text-based and real-time chat, a gradebook for securely distributing grades to enrolled students, and assessment tools for administering quizzes and exams.

Kaltura

Kaltura is a video management tool that allows faculty and students to create, host, and share video and audio inside the Blackboard Courses environment. Users upload audio and video directly to Blackboard using the Kaltura Media Mashup tool. Media uploaded resides in the users My Media Library (a personal cloud-based storage area). In the My Media library, users can choose to manage their media across all their courses, create screen recordings, or capture webcam video.

  • Log in via via mymason.gmu.edu using your NetID and Patriot Pass Password

OneDrive for Business

OneDrive for Business (OneDrive) provides 1TB of cloud-based storage. OneDrive uses Office 365 to store Mason-related files in the cloud making it easy to access your files and collaborate from anywhere and from multiple devices.

  • OneDrive access is tied to your @gmu.edu email address. You automatically have a OneDrive account. Access your account via mso365.gmu.edu.

University-Supported Web Conferencing Platforms

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Webex Meetings

Webex Meetings provides web conferencing, allowing you to meet face-to-face using video conferencing and to share your desktop, documents, or individual applications with others.

Webex Desktop Application

Install the Webex Meetings App for full functionally and for additional integration with Outlook to schedule meetings directly from the Outlook email client.

  • Mason-managed computers: The Webex Meetings App is available for download from Software Center (PC) or Self-Service (Mac)
  • Non-managed or personal computers: Visit com/downloads.html to download the app
  • Smartphone users may download Webex from their app store

Webex Teams

Webex Teams provides workspaces where everyone can contribute anytime, from any device, with messaging, file sharing, screen sharing, white boarding, and video meetings.

Webex Teams Desktop Application

Install the Webex Teams App for full functionality.

  • Mason-managed computers: The Webex Teams App is available for download from Software Center (PC) or Self-Service (Mac)
  • Non-managed or personal computers: Visit com/downloads.html to download the app
  • Smartphone users may download Webex Teams from their app store

Blackboard Collaborate Ultra

Blackboard Collaborate Ultra is an interactive web conferencing and virtual classroom environment designed for teaching and learning and real-time collaboration. It is available in all myMason Organizations and Blackboard Courses. Instructors can use Collaborate to set up virtual conferencing for their classes, while students can participate in chat and discussion sessions from anywhere.

Non University-Supported Platforms

The circumstances surrounding the coronavirus have resulted in rapid adoption of software and technology services to enable telework and virtual instruction. Under normal operations, these solutions would be reviewed for legal compliance, IT security, and accessibility through the architectural standards review process. In this urgent situation, we have become aware that Mason faculty and staff are purchasing software and agreeing to terms and conditions in a manner inconsistent with university policy. While we cannot control this rapid adoption of technology without proper review, it is important that all staff and faculty understand there are risks within every click through agreement and any agreement that avoids the formal review process will be the responsibility of the individual making the agreement and not George Mason University.

Support Resources for Non-Standard Software and Tools

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) for Faculty

The following FAQs provide further clarity around common questions from faculty.

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When is ITS available to help me if I have a question?
ITS provides support during the following operating hours:

  • Monday-Thursday: 8 a.m.-10 p.m.
  • Friday: 8 a.m.-7 p.m.
  • Saturday: 10 a.m.-2 p.m.
  • Sunday: 2 p.m.-10 p.m.

ITS is partnering with Blackboard champions in schools to handle the increased demand for IT support and Blackboard support. We will also investigate extended hours if we discover there is a significant need.

Given all of the changes right now involved with moving to online instruction, do we really have to implement Two-Factor Authentication (2FA) across Mason at the same time?
While we understand this additional step may add to your IT requirements, we feel this is a necessary requirement, especially as so much of the world moves work and instruction online. 2FA will strengthen our security posture across Mason, enhancing protection to faculty, staff, students, and the institution from security threats, particularly those looking to take advantage of the current environment. Much of Mason’s infrastructure has already been moved to 2FA, and the phased-in approach we have been using has worked well. Our support hours noted above are available to assist any faculty that may run into issues during the transition.

How sure are we that Mason is ready to move all courses online? Have we tested our bandwidth/capacity, particularly within Blackboard?
Blackboard is hosted in Amazon Web Services, which provides them the ability to add computing and network capacity on demand. Blackboard hosts hundreds of institutions and has indicated to Mason leadership that they will add capacity on demand.

Similarly, Cisco Webex is provided globally. Cisco has anticipated this demand and will add resources as required.

We will be monitoring the situation close and will continue to communicate regularly with our online service providers throughout this time.

I’ve used other commercially-available collaboration tools before. What’s the big deal if I don’t use Blackboard to teach my course online?
ITS and the Office of the Provost strongly recommend that you use Blackboard Collaborate Ultra to teach your online course. Mason’s technical support staff and instructional designers are trained to use and support Blackboard. Mason has an enterprise user license agreement with Blackboard, which provides protections for university data. Blackboard has been reviewed and configured to comply with IT security, FERPA, and accessibility regulations.

Any service that has not been reviewed for compliance exposes you and the university to unknown risk, and you will not have the benefit of support from Mason.

What resources are available for faculty who do not have a computer at home?
ITS has an outstanding order for additional laptops to provide to Mason faculty and staff. Once they arrive and are configured, perhaps as early as the week of March 23, we will be able to create a loaner laptop arrangement for faculty who need them.

What resources are available for faculty who do not have Internet access?
For Internet access, some Internet Service Providers (ISPs) in certain areas are offering free Internet access. Educause has created a list of these providers at https://library.educause.edu/resources/2020/3/corporate-resources-for-covid-19

Is it possible to relax policies to allow faculty to install University-approved software on home computers? Are there concerns with allowing this? I left my University laptop in my office and am using my home computer now.
Terms and conditions for software vary. Software licenses for Microsoft Office and Adobe Creative Cloud allow for use on personal equipment. Other software licenses are restricted to university-owned systems. ITS has additional software available on the Virtual Computer Lab (VCL). This includes ArcGIS, Matlab, Mathematica, SAS, SPSS and STATA. While the number of licenses and capacity of the VCL is limited, we are actively monitoring demand and exploring ways to increase capacity.