Computing committee OKs accessibility policy; hears about new cloud services


Voting unanimously to accept the University’s policy on electronic information technology accessibility at its Oct. 25 meeting, the University Senate Computing and Information Technology Committee announced its intention to invite a yearly presentation on the plan’s progress from Pitt officials.

The vote followed lengthy debate at last month’s meeting, after the committee’s input had been initially bypassed for this new policy, which is still working its way toward official approvals. The committee had sought assurances that decisions concerning implementation of changes to online materials, as well as software, in aid of those with disabilities would be sensibly managed.

New cloud services

Jay Graham, of the Computing Services and Systems Development’s (CSSD) employee information staff, announced that two cloud services, Azure and AWS (Amazon Web Services), are now available. They will allow Pitt staff to work virtually on more powerful computers or store masses of information remotely.

If researchers, for instance, need access to a more powerful server, but just for a few months, using Azure or AWS is much more efficient and less expensive than acquiring and installing new hardware or software. Cloud services also are useful for storing important material that is not often accessed, Graham said.

His office is now piloting, with the School of Dental Medicine, the creation of virtual workstations that can run specialty programs on faculty members’ tablets or phones, where today such software must be used on machines inside the school building.

CSSD will help faculty get up and running with Azure or AWS, Graham said; descriptions of services and a form for contacting CSSD are on his office’s website.

Upgrade to newer Windows program

Graham also noted that Microsoft is phasing out several products from support in January: Windows 7 and Windows Server 2008. No more upgrades or technical support will be available for these products.

Personal machines using Pitt software may get a free upgrade to Windows 10, noted Adam Hobaugh, CSSD’s director of support services. He strongly recommended that everyone switch to a more recent Windows program, since, once Windows 7 is no longer being updated against security threats, “you will be the target of bad actors at that point.”

“Call us and we’ll help” with an update, assured Graham.

Hobaugh also noted that the residence hall WiFi network had been upgraded over the summer. “On average, students are registering seven devices” each, he reported, but with the new network there has been a 40 percent decrease in help tickets being placed, and that “at this point there are almost no tickets coming in.”

Future of IT on campus

Chief Information Officer Mark Henderson added new details to his evolving vision for the future of information technology on Pitt’s campuses, which will solidify into a plan as he continues to consult with everyone from students to the council of deans, he said.

Henderson said he wants to create an IT project management office and include business analysts in the mix of advisors for his department. He also plans to add an advising committee of outside professionals to supplement the campus IT governance committee he wants to organize. While the plan is still in draft stage, he hopes to hold a series of town hall discussions on campus concerning the future of IT here.

“The key here is getting feedback — and that we have alignment with the University’s strategic plan,” Henderson said.

Speaking about his vision a week later at a brown bag lunch talk sponsored by Staff Council, he acknowledged that “we have more work in the IT space than we have people to do the work,” and that when speaking to campus groups he hears that “many of our systems are just hard to use.”

When a staff member complained that the purchasing system Panther Express was “user-unfriendly,” Henderson said simply “Agreed,” and said he had plans for “better tools to enhance productivity.”

He also noted that faculty have very little introduction to Pitt’s technology when hired, following an audience member’s suggestion that tech be a bigger part of faculty orientation.

Asked by a student whether virtual logins to lab software was coming, he said “The simple answer is yes,” adding that “accessing software is just one of the elements” of expanding IT services in classrooms. He envisioned that students may one day be able to virtually attend a class that is officially full, which could both reduce students’ years until graduation and open up more places for incoming students at Pitt.

“We’re going to have to work with Cynthia (Golden, head of the University Center for Teaching and Learning) and her team on how best to improve student experiences in the classroom,” he said.

Marty Levine is a staff writer for the University Times. Reach him at or 412-758-4859.


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