All Hands on Deck >>

All Hands on Deck: The Zoom experts

By Mary Loftus | Emory Report | May 26, 2020

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A team of five tech specialists has served as Emory’s go-to Zoom experts during the COVID-19 pandemic, helping ensure that lines of communication stay strong as the Emory community continues to work, teach, learn and provide patient care.

If there has been a tech success story in the midst of the pandemic, it’s the videoconferencing service Zoom.

With millions of families self-quarantining and working and educating at home, the Zoom platform, with its Brady-Bunch-style squares of interactive faces, has become a way of life for many. In December 2019, Zoom had about 10 million meeting participants per day. By the end of April, there were more than 300 million people on the platform, around the globe.  

At Emory, a small band of five tech specialists has been providing Zoom expertise to the explosion of staff, faculty, students and health care providers who have been using the service to work, teach, learn and provide patient care remotely. The Zoom administrator team operates through Emory’s Libraries and Information Technology Services (LITS). 

“Throughout this pandemic, communication methods have been our avenues to staying in touch and conducting business the best way possible,” says Jose Holguin-Cruz, academic technology specialist. “The members of our team have accomplished incredible production and user success while working long hours for weeks on end. This contribution to the Emory community may be something that will echo for years to come.”

These contributions include virtual Zoom classes, training sessions, leadership meetings, student/faculty/staff communications, business operations, tele-medicine, tele-counseling and much more, Holguin-Cruz says. “Our numbers at Emory have gone up nearly 300 percent, going from 8,000 to 21,000 accounts in a matter of eight weeks,” he says. 

The Zoom team members include Holguin-Cruz, team leader Brenda Rockswold, Geoff Huitt, Mark Hogstrom and Marvin Bailey.

The team was there to assist when more than 500 Emory faculty members from a broad array of disciplines had less than two weeks to move from a classroom setting to remote learning for 6,000 undergraduates, now scattered across the country and around the world. 

And they helped Emory Healthcare providers add tele-health, tele-medicine and tele-mental health options for patients, keeping in mind the heightened privacy issues required. 

“It has just been nonstop,” says Rockswold. “Our team worked with the college IT folks to help give them the information they needed, put faculty sessions together and assisted when the university moved to a fully online scenario for classes after spring break. We helped IT folks in professional schools, so they could do their own outreach to faculty based on their specific curricula. 

“And then, the telehealth side started ramping up,” she adds. “There were a lot of one-on-one phone calls, doing on-the-spot training sessions, getting doctors and care coordinators up and running. Everyone really appreciates the help, so that’s been a boost for us.” 

“We have a tendency to not toot our own horns, it’s our nature,” Rockswold says, “but the team members, some of whom transitioned from other areas, really stepped up and exceled, and have done an awesome job. We keep each other in good spirits, make jokes and try to help people. A lot of people. We thought it was going to slow down but it really hasn’t.”

With the decommissioning of the Avaya conference bridge lines across the university, there has been even more demand for Zoom conferences.

A slight problem occurred with the rise of Zoom bombings — where uninvited strangers disrupt Zoom conferences — until Zoom upped its security. The team reached out to let the Emory community know what was happening and how to make their meetings more secure with passwords and other safeguards. The team gets training and general support from Zoom corporate and Emory’s Zoom representative.

“The tool has performed extremely well,” says Holguin-Cruz. “We used Zoom prior to this, of course, helping classes connect with people in other parts of the country or world, from Mozambique to Chile, hosting Shakespearean plays, etc. But this is on a whole different level. And people are very appreciative — we even get thank you notes.”