Expanded WiFi, loaner devices, updated Canvas part of Pitt IT’s busy year


Pitt IT’s busy year has included everything from extending WiFi to six major spots on the Pittsburgh campus to planning for holographic surgery demonstrations in a new lecture space within Scaife Hall’s expansion.

Mark Henderson, chief information officer, led a town hall meeting for staff to voice their IT concerns on May 12. It drew 75 participants and was dominated by a review of tech developments across campus, in town and in the future.

Henderson reported that Pitt IT’s loaner program provided 1,665 devices to 1,292 students, 128 faculty and 235 staff members during the past year of remote work and learning. He said he was surprised “how many staff, faculty and students did not have the right technology to be successful working remotely.”

Among other COVID-19 adaptations, his office also enabled touchless printing for students via their smartphones and upgraded WiFi in several of the hotels being used temporarily as campus housing. WiFi also was extended this past year to Nordenberg Hall as well as six outdoor areas across campus: Petersen Events Center, Benedum Hall plaza, Soldiers and Sailors’ lawn, the Cathedral of Learning lawn, the William Pitt Union grounds, and the Hillman Library/Posvar Hall corridor.

The IT office also is currently working on a new consolidated website/landing page promoting advanced research computing services available from various units at Pitt. “We're going to have a single place where researchers can go,” said Adam Hobaugh, Pitt IT’s deputy chief information officer.

University employees also may get new online security training in the future, which is now under development, he said.

Canvas has recently gained a new content editor and YouTube integration — in fact “we are adding new integrations to Canvas every day,” said Dwight Helfrich, Pitt IT's director of enterprise initiatives. A new application system for Pitt graduate students is now up and running, which allows students to apply to more than one school at once — a new trend in college admissions, he said.

Pitt IT is looking to extend Eduroam capabilities, which allows Pitt network access more broadly, to the Carnegie museums and library, and eventually farther into Oakland.

Hobaugh also announced that the migration from Skype phones to Microsoft Teams is 99 percent completed for the 3,000 campus users of this technology.

Sandra Brandon, strategic research liaison at Pitt IT, said there is the potential for the first full-sized holographic lecture hall in the world to be constructed in the School of Medicine’s Scaife Hall, allowing 3D demonstrations of surgeries, replacing live, harder-to-view demonstrations.

“This is really going to be a groundbreaking technology for our medical school,” she said, adding the caution that Scaife Hall’s addition and renovation may still take another year to complete.

“This isn't just designed for the medical school,” she added — lower campus classes should be able to take advantage of the new technology as well.

“It has the potential to change the way we think about teaching students and the way we immerse students in these environments,” Henderson said.

Cindy Wertz, Pitt IT’s chief of staff, noted that a new Women in IT group was recently formed on campus to create mentoring, networking and programming opportunities for women in IT across campus.

Overall, Pitt IT is still working to create “one IT” on campus, Henderson said, and is in the process of working to integrate IT in athletics, business and the Dietrich School of Arts & Sciences with the central Pitt IT office.

Among the few questions Pitt IT staffers received came a query about when 5G mobile data technology might come to campus. Hobaugh noted that there are three or four different competing implementations of 5G currently, and Pitt is waiting to see which wins out. “We may be at 6G before 5G is useful to the University of Pittsburgh,” he said.

Asked about the future of working remotely for Pitt employees, Wertz replied that, in Pitt IT at least, “a lot of us will remain remote — but we are working on shared spaces," and the technology needed to make such spaces successful, for those employees returning to campus.”

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


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