By MARTY LEVINE
The University is just beginning to determine what technology is needed in which classrooms to make possible this fall’s move to HyFlex teaching, an instructional model that offers live classes for simultaneous in-person and remote attendance, Adam Hobaugh, Pitt IT's deputy chief information officer, told the University Senate’s Computing and Information Technology Committee.
Committee members expressed much concern at the June 10 meeting for faculty readiness for fall courses in Canvas, the learning management system replacing Blackboard fully by 2021, and for the June 4 announcement that computers using University resources must replace Symantec Endpoint Protection anti-virus software with Microsoft Defender ATP by June 13.
“It’s my suspicion that the active faculty are going to be hit right between the eyes with making (the HyFlex model) happen,” said committee chairman Michael Spring, retired School of Computing and Information faculty member. “I can’t find any precise statement of what that means faculty are going to need to do between now and Aug. 19.”
Hobaugh told the committee: “We are working in a partnership with the Center for Teaching and Learning to determine exactly what technology is available out there and how it can be used in this HyFlex model … (and) which rooms in terms of tiering should get a certain kind of technology” to handle the HyFlex classes.
Asked whether the new HyFlex model would tax the University’s bandwidth, Hobaugh said: “It’s one of the first considerations. At this point, we don’t see any problem with it,” considering that, during a normal semester “we don’t come close to leveraging half of our bandwidth,” even with all students and faculty on campus using Pitt’s network.
Dwight Helfrich, director of enterprise initiatives in Pitt IT, reported that 80 percent of summer instructors, encompassing 85 percent of summer courses, were employing Canvas. He also noted that all courses from the last six semesters had been transferred to Canvas by Pitt IT, for full conversion by instructors where desired, including all 4,200 courses that will be offered this fall. But his office could not tell how many faculty members had finalized the adaptation of older courses, or finished constructing new courses, until each course was released for student use.
Committee member Susan Sereika, a School of Nursing faculty member, said she recently took a look at her fall class’s conversion from Blackboard to Canvas and discovered “it’s a mess. If someone is a new adopter … it may take more time than you think to adopt Canvas.”
“We’re kind of recommending that people start from scratch, because there’s such a new tool set” in Canvas, even when placing old classes into the new learning management system, Helfrich said.
Given all this, Spring said, faculty need to be told that their fall courses are available today for completion before Aug. 19, and that they should begin now to finalize them for students. Some faculty will have “significant” conversion tasks from Blackboard to Canvas, he stressed — although an entire course does not have to be ready on the first day of the semester.
Committee member Kenny Doty, a Swanson School of Engineering staff member who has been aiding school faculty with technology since the spring pivot to remote-only courses, was confident that Canvas’s ability to integrate Zoom, Panopto and other central classroom software would make the switch ultimately worthwhile. “Once we get over these hurdles, we’re going to be a lot better off than we were before,” he said.
The sudden switch of cybersecurity software from Symantec to Defender ATP may put even more strain on faculty, Spring added.
The decision to move to Defender, explained Joel Garmon, Pitt IT’s chief information security officer, was based on Symantec’s new owner, Broadcom, being too difficult to contact, and an increase of $200,000 in cost for the same protection as Defender, which he called “one of the high-rated security platforms.”
About 55 percent of Windows machines and 45 percent of Apple computers under Pitt IT control had been converted to Defender in the few days since the announcement, reported John Duska, executive director of technical services with the department. And even though Pitt’s Symantec license ends on June 13, he expects University computers to have a two-week grace period where the software will still work during the transition to Defender.
Hobaugh said Pitt employees had filed 114 help desk tickets about the transition up until now. Nearly half requested assistance uninstalling Symantec or installing Defender, while another 20 percent merely had questions about those same processes.
“We potentially haven’t seen the spike in problems yet,” cautioned Spring, and should be on the lookout for increased faculty and student issues as fall approaches.
Marty Levine is a staff writer for the University Times. Reach him at email@example.com or 412-758-4859.
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