Customer Spotlight: New River Community & Technical College

Photo of a New River CTC Zoom class

New River’s IT Response to the Pandemic

Like many colleges and universities, since March 2020, New River Community and Technical College has been working and delivering services remotely.  This sudden change required us to quickly identify services not yet available to students and remote workers so we could modify these services to make them available for remote users.  While this sounds simple enough, it required a good deal of effort to modify several services while we were also working remotely and continuing to meet the daily demands of IT support.  When in-house modifications weren’t possible, we had to quickly purchase new service delivery solutions for several areas to fill these gaps. 

A summary of these changes provides an overview of this activity and progress. 

  1. We changed the modality of nearly all courses to use Blackboard Learn and Zoom.  While the infrastructure for this was mostly in place, we did have to significantly expand our licensing for Zoom by purchasing an additional 40 Zoom Pro licenses.  With so many courses now using Zoom, we also had to increase our online storage space from 500MB to 3TB so we could keep at least one term of class recordings in the Cloud. 
  2. Many of our faculty needed training to deliver course information using Blackboard and Zoom.  We relied heavily on WVNET for formal workshops and we greatly expanded our use of Quality Matters training to address this need.  We also improved our own IT knowledgebase and online support resources to answer common “how to” questions and provide step-by-step directions to users, but this effort was only able to occur after we replaced our Spiceworks ticketing system with Zendesk (April 2020).  Our Help Desk Manager was able to quickly make this transition and the change has clearly been an overall improvement for us, even though Spiceworks was free and Zendesk has an annual license we must purchase. 
  3. Initially, our remote-working employees used home phones and cell phones to receive and place calls on behalf of the College.  With some effort, we were able to quickly forward calls from office phone numbers to personal phone numbers so that calls were not missed, but this was only a temporary and partial solution to the problem.  While calls were received through this effort, when employees returned calls from personal phones the Caller ID didn’t identify them as New River employees, so some employees expressed concern about making their private numbers available and some calls went unanswered because students didn’t recognize the caller’s number.  We began evaluating options to allow us to not use these personal phone numbers to make and receive calls and we started with Google Voice.  While this solution was an improvement, it created an entirely different phone number that still was not associated with the College, but that only solved half of the problem.  We then worked with one of our vendors, Alpha Technologies, to implement the Cisco IP Communicator softphones for employees to use at home which allows them to make and receive calls using their assigned office phone numbers.  We’ve implemented more than 60 of these so far and since they require a secure connection to our New River network, we’ve also expanded employee access to our VPN server to make this work. 
  4. When we replaced our Spiceworks ticketing system with Zendesk, we added a virtual chatbot to our web site which provides better 24×7 support (and an easier to manage knowledgebase) to improve real-time support for remote students and employees. 
  5. We purchased a web-based scheduling solution (AppointmentPlus) that integrates with Microsoft Outlook to enable students to schedule appointments more easily with faculty advisors and student support staff.  This effort has allowed remote students to schedule meetings with employees for assistance, since walk-ins were no longer possible. 
  6. With employees working remotely, our on-site fax machines were no longer accessible.  We purchased a solution from XMedius for online faxing and secure file exchange so that prospective students can securely share information needed for admissions and to enable remote employees to continue receiving and sending faxes using their assigned fax numbers.  We ported three of our primary fax numbers to XMedius for this and we may end up porting more soon.  Now, employees can simply login using a web browser (from any location) to send and receive faxes and secure files. 
  7. Our online admissions and course registration services were nearly ready for all users, but we had been limiting access to these resources to ensure that new students were receiving assistance with these tasks.  With significant effort and some minor changes to these processes that use Ellucian Banner, these services are now available to all students. 
  8. One requirement for all newly admitted students is to complete our online orientation.  This information had not been updated for a few years, but we were able to update it using the online interface provided to us by the vendor, Comevo.  While additional improvements are still needed, it is much improved and working for now. 
  9. Prior to the pandemic, many of our employees had been issued desktop computers instead of laptops.  As a result of the pandemic, all new and replacement computer orders were for laptops.  We also pulled laptops from mobile carts and other areas so we could issue these to employees.  We’ve never loaned or issued computers to students, but because of the pandemic, we’ve loaned a few older laptops to students for exceptional situations. 
  10. Since 2009, we’ve hosted our own Microsoft Exchange email services and because storage needs have continued to increase, we’ve grown increasingly concerned about our ability to restore email from backups—which have grown so large that it may take days (if not weeks) to do a restore.  Ironically, despite all the other activity created by the pandemic, we’ve chosen to push forward with our migration to Office 365 in the Cloud and this will be completed in November 2020.  Email quotas will increase from 2GB to 10GB per user and we’re hoping for increased reliability and fewer concerns about backups and security. 

It is important to realize that all this effort has occurred while we continued to meet daily demands as well as continuing to work on previously planned initiatives.  Although progress was slowed, we have continued to make progress on our Data Governance initiative which includes creating policies and procedures where none yet existed for information security.  This initiative is not yet complete, but major milestones have been completed that we hope will satisfy auditors while also improving our own cybersecurity preparedness.  We’ve implemented KnowBe4 as a cybersecurity training solution for all employees and we use Linkedin Learning for privacy awareness training.  We’ve worked toward compliance for GLBA, GDPR, and PCI as part of this initiative.  Creating a framework of accountability for information security, has certainly been timely since the pandemic has resulted in increased threats to the personal information of our users as well as our College-owned data. 

In many ways, I feel New River was better prepared for this unexpected need to provide all services to remote users because of a few recently completed projects in some key areas.  In January 2020, we implemented a new single sign-on portal with PortalGuard (now BIO-key).  This solution replaced our portal that had been previously hosted by Unifyed and is now much easier for us to manage and far less expensive while also being simpler and easier for our users.  As part of this portal replacement project, our emergency alert system was much improved.  The alert system included with the Unifyed portal was never really an “emergency” alert system.  Instead, it relied on our own email server to deliver SMS messages and they were never prioritized.  As a result, an “emergency alert” could take hours to be delivered.  So, in January 2020 as we replaced the portal, we purchased a true emergency alert messaging system from Regroup.  This solution delivers messages within minutes since they are prioritized and do not use our own email system for delivery. 

One very good thing we’ve experienced from this pandemic has been the overwhelming support and unity we’ve seen from our vendors and partners.  Some have offered free or enhanced services, and all have been quick to respond to our needs by helping us to pilot and then implement new services. 

One “next step” for us is to join the Online Learning Consortium (OLC) to gain access to resources and information to support remote teaching and learning.  While we struggle with limited in-house resources for faculty development, we feel fortunate to gain so much in resources and information from WVNET, Quality Matters, and hopefully soon, the OLC membership and participation. 

Overall, our response to the pandemic has resulted in improved services in some areas and entirely new online services in others.  We feel this extraordinary effort to get courses and services quickly ready for remote users will be time well spent and a great investment for the College well into the future.  One of our strategic goals is to be more accessible to our students and nearly all the efforts I’ve described have moved us closer to achieving this goal. 

Customer Spotlight: WVROCKS


The Fall 2020 semester marks West Virginia’s Remote Online Collaborative Knowledge System (WVROCKS) ninth year of service to institutions of higher education in the State.

The WVROCKS portal delivers quality online courses to Regents Bachelor of Arts (RBA) and Board of Governor’s (BOG) degree students from eight different institutions: Bluefield State College, Concord University, Fairmont State University, Marshall University, Shepherd University, BridgeValley Community & Technical College, Southern Community & Technical College, and West Virginia Northern Community & Technical College. Their winning formula of accelerated, affordable, and accessible courses covering a range of subjects from the humanities to mathematics and sciences has been well received by adult students who have some college education but were never able to complete their degrees.

Despite the unusual circumstances brought on by Covid-19, enrollments remained steady at 2,713 and retention rates increased from 91% during the 2018/19 Academic Year to 96% in the 2019/20 Academic Year, and pass rates remained constant from the mid- to high-eightieth percentile. Translated, that means that more working adults have the opportunity to successfully obtain a college degree by taking online courses that work with their busy schedules.  

The close working relationships that WVROCKS administrators and staff have with the West Virginia Higher Education Policy Commission as well as the hosting services provided by West Virginia Network have greatly contributed to their success.  

Customer Spotlight: First2 Network

First2 Network (First2) is an expanding group of people and organizations across West Virginia that seek to improve Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) persistence among rural, first-generation, and other underrepresented STEM students. As many as 7 in 10 first-generation students leave a STEM major within two years. First2 is working to change that.

What started out as a pilot project in 2016 to provide rising college freshmen with early exposure to STEM research, has turned into a National Science Foundation (NSF) Inclusion Across Communities of Learners of Underrepresented Discoverers in Engineering and Science (INCLUDES) grant funded initiative. In September 2018, First2 received an NSF INCLUDES award of $7.15 million for the next five years to double the rate of STEM graduates in the state of West Virginia from 30% to 60%. This funding, coordinated through the Higher Education Policy Commission (HEPC) allows us to develop a statewide network of innovative stakeholders who will collaborate to solve the STEM persistence problem and grow our economy. 

At our core, we believe that students should be co-creators of the solutions to STEM persistence. Therefore, in addition to building research skills, First2 programming is centered around transferring student agency and developing students’ leadership capacity along the way to graduation. If you or your company is interested in partnering with First2 to help the STEM students of West Virginia succeed, please reach out to the First2 Program Coordinator, Jade Irving, at For more information about First2, please visit our website at and follow us on social media!

Customer Spotlight: Morgantown Area Meals on Wheels

The service that the Morgantown Area Meals on Wheels provides is vitally important year-round, but especially during this period of social distancing. Their network of volunteers prepares and delivers an average of 115 fresh and healthy meals each day to clients throughout Morgantown and the organization has experienced an increase in meal requests due to Covid-19. Thankfully they have had 20 new volunteers  help out with the daily deliveries. In addition, a number of community partners have stepped forward with donations of food and funding. 

“The new volunteers have been a blessing, as many of our regular volunteers fall in the more vulnerable populations and this allowed them to suspend their volunteering, knowing the clients will still be cared for,” said Sara Bishop, manager of MAMOW. “The assistance we have received from our community partners has been wonderful.  The financial support eases the worries of the extra expenses when we already knew we needed to raise additional monies to fill our budget gap.“

How you can help: While volunteers do the delivery, donations, grants and foundations cover the costs of preparation and food. All meals are subsidized by at least $4 and as much as $9 per meal.  The organization does not receive state or federal funding and faces a $15,000 budget shortfall this year. 

To support the MOW mission please go to   

Tech Tip: How to Prevent “Zoom-Bombing”

Zoom-bombing is the term for when individuals “gate-crash” Zoom meetings. These uninvited guests share their screens to bombard real attendees with disturbing pornographic and/or violent imagery. Most of these are perpetrated via publicly available Zoom links; however, not all depending on your settings. Here are ways to protect you and your guests from falling victim.

Read more about what you can do to protect yourself here:

Tips courtesy of Zoom and UC Berkeley

Customer Spotlight: E-Learning at Blue Ridge CTC

The E-Learning department at Blue Ridge Community and
Technical College hosted its tenth successful Welcome Back Week in January
2020. The department’s e-learning support awareness program was started in the
fall of 2016 to educate students about the support options for Blackboard and
online learning while on campus.

During the first week of classes each semester, E-Learning
sets up a table in the café area on campus to serve as a one-stop shop for
login assistance and Blackboard support.

In addition to offering on-demand support at a convenient
location for students, E-Learning chooses a campaign theme for each Welcome
Back Week. Campaign themes highlight a specific technology tool or service. The
campaign topic for spring 2020 was Office 365. Campaign themes are a great way
to highlight the features of a particular technology tool. Office 365 was the
campaign theme for 2020 and was wildly successful. Many students successfully
logged in to and downloaded free Microsoft products directly to his or her
laptop before the end of the first week of classes.

In addition to providing a fun and engaging theme, The Help
Desk distributes informational handouts, offers free earbuds for use in the
computer lab and conducts a drawing each semester for a technology giveaway.
The E-Learning Help Desk has donated eight laptops and two e-readers as a part
of the Welcome Back Week student outreach campaign.

Blue Ridge CTC’s E-Learning Department is proud of the
technology support awareness that has developed on campus over the last five years
and hopes to continue to reach more students with improved programs and support
services in the future.