Kent State TechHelp Department evolves to fit needs of students and professors

A Kent State student receives help with his computer from TechHelp Friday March 3, 2017. 

With the rapid move to online schooling happening over a year ago, the TechHelp Department at Kent State is still recovering and is already preparing for a busy fall semester.

“Last year, we found ourselves transitioning to have to support everybody from a remote standpoint,” said Andrew Martineau, the lead IT user support analyst at Kent State. “We had to change a lot of the technology behind the scenes before we were ready to take the same approach and go remote.”

According to Martineau, the department had to restructure the chats and phone lines. The department even outsourced some tickets to a third party to help with increased traffic.

The first few weeks at the start of every semester are typically the busiest for the help desk, but the increased reliance on technology for class led more students and professors to seek help.

“It’s usually like a flash: huge volumes and then stops,” said Andrew Smith, a student worker in the TechHelp Department. “It seemed like this time it stuck around a little longer. 

“So many people were introduced to brand-new technology that they had never used before,” Smith said. “Sometimes you get professors that are a little more elderly, and they’ve been teaching on a chalkboard their whole life, and now they’re completely forced to come onto a computer.”

Back-to-school week at Kent typically is a busy week for the TechHelp Department students and staff. The department is already taking steps to prepare for the coming fall semester.

The department plans to continue coordinating with third parties to combat potential overflow during the coming fall semester. 

The TechHelp Department also standardized most classroom technology, making it easier for professors and tech repair to operate in different classrooms. The department replaced older and more unique things like projectors and computers with more new and common technology.

“It was really good that if professors went to a different classroom, it was the same tech that they were dealing with,” Martineau said. 

A lack of in-person availability is also challenging the TechHelp Department, specifically the Service and Repair Center, during the pandemic.

The director of IT service management, Jay Frye, characterizes the Service and Repair Center’s in-person aspect as an essential part of campus life. 

“We felt it was important that when something happened to a student’s computer,” Frye said, “they had a way for us to fix it for them and keep them learning.” 

The Service and Repair Center provides software and hardware support for students, faculty and staff.

“You’re relying on your computer more now than you ever would have any other time in your academic career,” Frye said. 

Despite its essential role, the Service and Repair Center can only have one technician regularly available due to understaffing and COVID-19.

Despite an increase in demand, activity at the TechHelp Department has slowed down at this point in the semester.

“At this point, I’m able to relax a little bit,” Smith said, “knowing that we’re not going to be hammered by people having problems.”

The TechHelp Department plans to keep some staff in-person at various Help Desk locations. However, most staff members will continue working from home.

Zachary Shepherd covers technology. Contact him at [email protected].