InfoComm, CEDIA, ISE—the technology industry is notorious for acronyms. But LETS at Boston University has a potent double meaning. Standing for Learning & Event Technology Services, LETS is also the motto for this solvent group, as in "LET’S get it!” said Linda Jerrett, CTS, assistant director of the division. Jerrett is a passionate advocate for her team and for AV and IT innovation at BU. Technology is a vitally important element of student-centered teaching and learning, and LETS is on the frontline of innovation.
Streamlined Tech Support
Operating in Boston University’s Information Services & Technology group under the Client Services & Support (CS&S) umbrella, LETS is a team of 22 people whose primary function is supporting the classrooms scheduled by the Office of the University Registrar—approximately 245 to 250 rooms on two campuses.
With such a large number of rooms accommodating some of the most established professors in the world, timely support is critical. That’s why quick service is not an exception, it’s the standard. Thanks to IS&T’s streamlined ServiceNow ticketing system and fastidious attention to detail, “We will have somebody standing with you within five minutes of a classroom help request,” Jerrett noted.
In-House AV Acumen
The LETS work doesn’t end with classroom support. “We also do live meeting and event support for several thousand events a year, from small kickoffs to supporting our university commencement.”
The team is also responsible for AV systems design, installs—"deciding if we want to work with an outside integrator or if it's something best handled in-house”—and repair. They work alongside integrators to provide them with information on standards that makes their jobs easier and to represent the university and the LETS clients. During the needs-analysis stage for a new project, Jerrett and her team keep an ear attuned for post-install support. “We think about coming to help you with this if there is an issue. What kind of training does the user need? In addition to standard training, if a certain group has a lot of turnover, we will share written documentation for them to include as part of their onboarding.”
Collaborate and Experiment
Collaboration between all groups is key. Within Client Services & Support, the LETS team partners with Desktop Services and the Service Desk to provide support for the BU community as a whole. These groups also partner with other teams outside of central IS&T including IT partners in several schools and colleges and BU’s Digital Learning & Innovation group (DL&I).
BU created the DL&I to work with faculty in introducing technologies and refining new teaching methods. This allows BU to keep pace with pedagogical and technological trends. DL&I offers consulting, training, funding, and co-development to aid Boston University stakeholders with modern teaching, learning, and tools.
“We partner closely with DL&I,” Jerrett said. “They own the vendor agreements and the application administration for Echo, our lecture capture solution, but my team is responsible for the procurement, installation, configuration, and support of the actual device.”
The DL&I also “owns” the Blackboard learning management system (LMS) service, Jerrett said, but the IS&T service desk provides tier-one and up to tier-three Blackboard support for faculty and students.
Mission to Advocate for the Clients
When LETS members attend AV tradeshows like InfoComm, “it's because we are working with faculty, staff, and administration in support of their live events and design of their new spaces,” Jerrett said, “we're not just looking for ourselves. We're thinking about future planning for other groups and what software might address specific issues. Faculty might want to share a classroom experience with a professor and a classroom in Shanghai or in Portugal. We then examine what is necessary to help them do that. It's part of our mission to advocate for the clients.”
Cross-Trained AV/IT Team
“Blessed with this group of people,” Jerrett explained that LETS is several former separate groups that have come together. As AV and IT have converged at BU, the AV engineering team had a couple of stops in different groups—AV and IT—and many have done client-facing work.
This brain trust brings diverse experience to the table. LETS has seen a consistent increase in demand for its services across the board over recent years. “We have to deliver at a higher level with great consistency and persistence,” Jerrett said. With the help of Network Services, LETS can empower more BU stakeholders to utilize AV innovations like projectors, wireless collaboration and presentation systems, audio, displays, webcasting, and much more.
General Purpose is Complex
As AV has evolved, it is no longer a “special occasion technology,” Jerrett said. “AV is essential, every minute of the day.” BU’s courses are using AV more broadly to such an extent that classrooms deemed “general purpose” need to be fully featured. “General purpose itself is no longer simple.”
Many BU students have never plugged into anything but power, but they want their technology to “do more,” she said. “The expectations are continuing to grow from all angles.”
The Future is Active
BU’s new Data Science Center is a highly anticipated space that will house the university’s math, computer science, and other STEM-focused programs. Each department’s technology-enabled active learning (TEAL) classrooms will be designed to fit its individual needs. With one 90-seat room that can split into two 45s and an adjacent 70-seat, the BU community can expect cutting-edge technology to be featured that will support the academic and research pursuits taking place in this state-of-the-art facility. “We are happy to be part of the project,” Jerrett said. “We have had interesting discussions about how to allow technology to support the flexibility of the space while also considering how to best work with environmental factors including air walls and glass.”
When Jerrett started her tech career, “AV support meant wheeling something into a room on a cart. I’ve been lucky to be part of this transformation and recognition of what I call the ‘Art of AV.’ I learned this myself because I was an IT person who was put in charge of an AV group.”
As her appreciation for AV grew, she began to evangelize AV: “There is an art to it. You can't assume that just anyone would be able to walk in and do AV,” she said. Everybody has a specialty that should be recognized—and celebrated.
While Jerrett marvels at the technological evolution evident on BU’s campus, she is most proud of her of team’s growth. One of the most notable changes has been a perceptual shift. She said, “In the past, equipment was the value. But now, for AV/IT experts, youare the value. You're coming to help. The value is you.” LETS has built its team and skillset over the years to meet the ever-increasing complexity of AV/IT support.
Empowering her team to see the industry evolution as a team journey was also instructive. When she joined the division, there was no growth trajectory; it was a flat organization. “With support from IS&T leadership, we created a job family and now there's a progression tree,” she said. “It's been fulfilling to take the team through promotions. When they're sharing their knowledge and skills, and it is a reversal—I'm their student. I would never have gotten my CTS if it weren't for them. We have that special kind of collaboration where we're all learning and teaching each other. I'm very proud of that. I knew when I was first starting to do this work, nobody really knew the incredible potential of AV. Now, there really are no limits.”
Collaboration With AVIXA
“We are committed to offering CTS prep classes and certification exams for our entire team as an investment in their professional development. Each year, BU hosts regional AVIXA classes that are open to the public. It’s a great way for me to bring the training resource to my team, and the first year, 10 of us went through the class and took the exam. We have two classes planned for January 2020 and they have those advertised on the AVIXA website. It’s been an amazing partnership and helpful when we are recruiting. I’m very grateful to Megan Hershey at AXIVA. The success of that involvement also led me to my co-chair spot on the AVIXA Women’s Council – Boston group with Hope Roth and with great support and encouragement from Gina Sansivero.”—Linda Jerrett
Margot Douaihy is a writer and editor based in Northampton, MA.