FIT’s Virtual Classroom Builds on IT Success

One of FIT’s many remarkable talents is its ability to reinvent itself. Over its 75 year history, FIT grew from a two program trade school focused exclusively on fashion to a world renowned college offering about 50 degree programs in the related fields of art, design and business. At each step along the way, FIT stayed connected and relevant, reflecting the many new disciplines in the creative industries it served.

But as the year 2020 has demonstrated, the college’s ability to reinvent itself isn’t limited to new academic programming. With the rapid onset of the COVID-19 crisis, FIT transformed almost immediately to remote instruction in March, and then moved quickly into contingency planning for the new academic year. That we were able to do so is testimony to the commitment and diligence of the entire FIT community—and the strategic efforts and creative solutions of our IT and Academic Affairs divisions, including the Office of Online Learning and Academic Technologies and the Center for Excellence in Teaching, each in its own way collaborating to make the new FIT possible for Academic Year 2020-21.

None of this could have happened without the sweeping upgrades to our technology systems over the course of the summer. The IT Division, working with Academic Affairs, Human Resources, and Enrollment Management & Student Success, implemented a total of nine new products, services, or initiatives. I will never forget the pivotal role our stalwart faculty played in all this: they willingly trained for hours to learn new programs or rewrote curriculum to accommodate our new circumstances. Without their positive attitude and hard work, our sophisticated new systems would have lay fallow.

Still, I marvel at what some of these new products can do and sometimes wonder what we would have done had this crisis taken place ten years ago. FIT Remote Labs, for one, unlocks the software that had been ‘trapped’ on-campus in the spring, by creating a virtual classroom that allows students and faculty to ‘remote into’ the actual computers in our classrooms. So a fashion design instructor, for instance, working out of her loft in Dumbo, can teach garment construction using 3D visualization and simulation software accessed from our classrooms. Or a class of fashion business management students learning how to allocate retail inventory can work directly in the software, entering their retail plans, watch the plans being updated and then report back the results.

The launch of FIT Book It, another new service, was critical to our ability to reopen our on-campus studios for those students enrolled in studio-based classes. To ensure the safety of students who reside on campus or are within commuting distance, we needed a process to reserve a ‘socially-distanced’ studio space before a student entered the campus. IT, partnering with the Registrar’s Office, met this critical need with FIT Book It, and in these first weeks of the semester, local students have been eagerly reserving spaces in studios—delighted to be able to use sewing machines and dress forms in draping studios or cameras, light meters and lenses in photography labs.

The IT division also partnered with Human Resources to implement #CampusClear, a mobile app that allows any student or employee to check their health before they come to campus. This ensures that all visits to the college follow established health and safety guidelines—a vitally important safeguard for which we should all be grateful.

These are just a few highlights of a campus-wide collaboration that dramatically reconfigured our information technology offerings—no small task even in ‘ordinary’ times. As a result of these efforts, the new academic year opened with systems and services that make us safer, stronger and more resilient, and will continue to benefit FIT on that happy day when we all return to 27th Street. Indeed, what was achieved goes beyond transforming our ability to facilitate remote instruction and work; it goes beyond responding to the crisis of today. It has reinvented and rebuilt our technological capabilities for FIT’s future.