Networking in the time of COVID-19 challenged all of us over the course of the past year. The sudden transition from working in-person to being collaborative and productive remotely while staying safe and socially distanced was a major adjustment—and we in research and education (R&E) networking have had to tackle a slew of unique and unprecedented hurdles as each unfolded.
For the I-Light network team, our focus throughout the pandemic has been on member engagement and support. We’ve worked tirelessly to ensure our community’s needs are met and that our services remain top quality.
First and foremost, I-Light’s duty was to get connectivity out to our 40-plus member institutions’ students, staff, and faculty as the coronavirus forced everyone to learn and work remotely. I-Light staff assisted in the acquisition, inventory, and distribution of more than 260 Wi-Fi hotspots throughout the State of Indiana. A second avenue for supporting connectivity was expansion of the Eduroam world-wide wireless access service to more of our members. Eduroam allows our members to use the network infrastructure of participating institutions so that their students, faculty, staff, and researchers can work remotely without the need for guest credentials. I-Light is fortunate to have resources within our staff who manage our EBS, eduroam, and wireless connectivity for our members—and that has helped us be nimble in a time when our world has been challenged in rapidly changing ways.
I-Light also has supported our members in public media by enabling EduCast datacasting, which allows K-12 students in Indiana who lack reliable internet access to learn at home through their local public broadcasting station. The datacasting technology sends computer-based files over a television broadcasting signal. Through this project, I-Light has helped bridge the digital divide among Hoosier families.
To create more opportunities for collaboration within our community, we formed a Network Advisory Council (NAC). This group is made up of volunteers from our member institutions and I-Light’s network leadership. The goal of the NAC is to help identify the needs of our members and to allow our members to have a voice in regard to the direction the network grows. The NAC represents each vertical our network supports across its private, public, community colleges and universities and provides a conduit for members to help our leaders steer the network in a direction that best supports each of our member institutions.
I-Light also recently started holding monthly town halls to connect to our members on a regular, ongoing basis. The town halls provide members with further opportunities to collaborate with each other and to let the I-Light leadership in on what they need from us.
Finally, after health and safety risks drove us to cancel our 14th annual Member Meeting in the spring, I-Light decided to bring our community together in a virtual realm. Over two consecutive half-day sessions in November 2020, I-Light members met via Zoom for panels and discussions about issues, trends, and COVID-19 responses—as well as to reconnect and catch-up.
The challenges that we have all faced during the pandemic have been nothing short of trying. As has been reinforced for all of us at I-Light, community is the essential key to both how and why we persevere in what we do within R&E networking.