UMass Boston



Supporting Student Success

What happens when you combine technology and innovation at UMass Boston with an earnest interest in helping students, faculty, and staff be as successful as possible? The answer is “Technovation”—a unique approach to leveraging technology in innovative ways to address complex, real-world student success challenges.

Technovation was born at Bridgewater State University in 2017 under the leadership of Ray Lefebvre, BSU’s Chief Information Officer at the time. It came to life at UMass Boston in 2019 when Lefebvre became Vice Chancellor for Information Technology & Chief Information Officer, introducing the concept and formally launching the program shortly after his arrival.

While few people at UMass Boston are likely aware that there is such a thing as Technovation, Academic Technology Specialist Zack Ronald has already come up with some remarkable technological innovations (technovations, get it?) since the Technovation lab opened on the third floor of the Wheatley Building in September 2021. “Technovation at its core is a fail-forward process,” Ronald said elaborating on the concept. “There’s no real stress when you come together as a team and try things out.”

It works like this. When someone at the university has an idea for an innovative way to leverage technology to improve the student experience, and they don’t know if the technology they need can be used in the way they envision or if it even exists, they contact Zack at the Technovation lab and he and PACE apprentice David Martinez get to work.

The team has completed a lot of amazing work in the short time the Technovation lab has been open, but if there’s one project they’ve done which is positively jaw-dropping (and seems to be Zack’s favorite), it is one that began with an inspiring idea by history professor Maryann Brink, whom Zack has known since his freshman year at UMass Boston 18 years ago. Maryann asked Zack if it was possible to create a virtual reality tour of the Old North Church for her History of Boston class. Zack was intrigued with the idea and when Maryann added there were pedagogical innovation grants to fund it, there was no way he could say no.

The project is 60-75% complete as of this writing and Zack thinks it should be finished by December 2022, but what’s already been accomplished is nothing short of spectacular. Using a 360-degree camera, the team was able to get pictures and video of virtually every inch of the Old North Church’s interior, from the crypts in the basement to the belfry. This is especially significant, because the tour shows sections of the church that have been off-limits to the public for years. Some of these include the balcony, where African Americans who were members of the church in the 1700s sat for Sunday services. Zack was also able to get a shot of a section of ceiling, which was painted white some previous century. The paint was peeled back to reveal a beautiful painting of an angel, which had been painted over for some inexplicable reason lost to history. Finally, the virtual tour continues until it reaches the steeple, where it shows its view of Boston from all four sides. Incredibly, virtual tourists can see what that patriot saw at the dawn of the American Revolution, when he hung the lanterns, “one if by land, two if by sea,” to report the path of incoming British forces. The virtual tour also includes hotspots, which are places in the tour that when the video gets to, there is accompanying audio and an informational blurb that explains what the tourist is seeing in greater detail.

Meanwhile, Technovation at UMass Boston keeps moving ahead. In Fall 2022 the Technovation lab will have office hours for the first time, as it had previously been open only by appointment. As far as projects still in the early planning stages, Zack said, “One that I’m proud of is the Nursing Clinical Center, the CCR Center for Education and Research. We’re doing a study on virtual reality for nursing education. Students can come and put on the virtual reality headset and do a practice run of what they’re going to have to do when they do the full test.”

As Zack described Technovation and the Old North Church project it was easy to hear and see the passion he has for what he does. He loves the technology part of Technovation but is just as happy that he’s making valuable contributions to the education of UMass Boston students. It’s great to know that with Zack Ronald at the helm of Technovation at UMass Boston, those contributions should continue for many years to come.

Information Technology Services
Healey Library, 3rd Floor