• September 20, 2023

How Linn-Benton Is Overcoming Technology Constraints

  • by Tim Rager

When I started as the Chief Information Officer at Linn-Benton about a year ago, I began researching new technologies to support our students in reaching the positive outcomes that we all envision.

At LBCC, one of 17 community colleges in Oregon, we want to help students access the resources they need and stay engaged. And from a business standpoint, delivering the right technology increases enrollments and student retention. But staying ahead can be difficult among budgetary constraints and technological hurdles.

To reach our goals, I identified two main must-haves for replacing our technology. The solutions had to scale to meet the needs of all our students, and the tools had to be accessible for everyone.

Serve more students without breaking the bank — it was going to be an interesting endeavor, to say the least.

Overcoming tech hurdles with the cloud

In community colleges, offices and departments tend to run on lean budgets, and LBCC is no exception. This makes it difficult to implement a robust replacement plan for technology.

Then there’s our current technology itself. It’s often outdated, which became abundantly clear when we recently discovered that much of our legacy hardware will become unusable as is — Microsoft will be outmoding Windows 10 in October 2025, meaning no more support or updates.

On our campus, we have over 3,000 computers, but only 20% of them are equipped to handle Windows 10 becoming obsolete.

That’s a huge problem, right? Because that makes us vulnerable to cyberattack and malware on 80% of our computers if we don’t upgrade. But replacing that many computers at once is more than a little difficult when you consider the cost.

So, it became imperative to figure out a replacement plan that mitigated the impact of Microsoft’s upcoming deadline. We considered our budget limitations, our students’ need for accessibility, and our staff’s ability to leverage the technology.

When we added it all up, we decided that, instead of investing in hardware, it made more sense to invest in cloud technology. Enter Amazon Web Services (AWS).

Approaching implementation with AWS

We knew that AWS was a possible solution for LBCC, but we weren’t quite sure how to implement it effectively and efficiently.

When we started building the infrastructure, we struggled. The solution was solid, but between creating the virtual machines and the virtual labs, our team just didn’t have the right skill set to make it manageable. I knew we could learn it. But it was taking us months, investing a lot of time without the traction we needed.

Finally, I reached out to AWS. Our contact there said, “Hey, maybe we could help find you a partner to get you up to speed much quicker.”

That’s how we found Propeller. And they weren’t kidding. I’m not overselling it when I say that Propeller has been a godsend in terms of taking the burden off our staff and making the process so much easier.

Partnering with Propeller

What was taking us months, Propeller handled in a matter of weeks. It really was that fast. And they’ve been very responsive in terms of personalized care.

Did I mention that building infrastructure is a specialized skill set? Every school is different, and we were having weird technical issues that we couldn’t figure out. It wasn’t a problem for Propeller. Their team was fantastic, not just in setting us up but in seeing to all the specific details.

Beta testing our new endeavor

Setting up Propeller’s virtual infrastructure was such a success that we started looking at ways to use it more in our classrooms.

It comes down to students’ needs. At LBCC, like most community colleges, many of the students have full-time jobs, families, and other life considerations. The traditional model of having set lab hours where they can access the school’s technology isn’t ideal.

Then Craig Munsee, a faculty member in our Department of Engineering, indicated that several of his students had trouble with accessibility. They didn’t have the right technology, for instance, or devices powerful enough for the applications they need to do the coursework outside of the computer lab.

Propeller offers a great solution for those students. They can access courses and even complicated engineering software, right on the devices they already have.

Craig beta tested over the summer. The beta worked so well that he’ll be putting Propeller’s virtual technology into practice in his classes this fall. We’re already looking to expand this to other instructors.

Removing the barriers for better outcomes

When we think about our students at LBCC, so many obstacles make accessing the right technology difficult. Propeller’s solutions help us remove those barriers.

Not only that, from a budget standpoint we’re actually saving money while delivering better functionality.

Looking ahead, I can see Propeller’s virtual, cloud-based solutions changing the game in so many ways. For faculty and administrators, I’m interested in getting them excited about modernizing instruction. This makes it easier to find advocates, and buy-in, allowing faculty to be more creative and students more productive.

This could grow very quickly, so much so that the deadline for Windows 10 won’t matter. But it was a good catalyst to get us to develop strategies that take us into the future. Now we have a clear end goal in mind: going completely virtual. After all, it’s about re-envisioning what student success means.

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