Campus Computing: University IT Recap

By Philip Baczewski, senior director, University IT

This is the time of year that we wrap up the summer terms, bring the previous academic year to a close, and look forward to welcoming a new class of students for the fall semester. It seems like a good time to look back at some of UIT's accomplishments over the last year while also providing a reminder of some of these features and services that will be useful in the coming course of study. While the activities of the UIT staff are many and diverse, the commonality in those activities is that they are primarily in support of research, student learning, and student success. UIT connects information technology to learning by providing services to faculty, students, and academic support staff. This article explores some of the newer developments of the last year, both in service and technology and will hopefully help focus attention on some of these IT resources.

Research Roundup

UNT's commitment to computationally-based science was renewed with the acquisition of Talon 3, UNT's third generation of large-scale high-performance computing, HPC. As first announced in February of 2017, 208 new servers along with additional networking hardware were added to over 150 existing compute servers to more than triple the computational capacity of the Talon 3 system. Talon 3 became fully operational in April of this year and the upgrade was achieved with minimal down time for computational researchers. Talon 3 is ready to tackle the next generation of scientific computation and data research.

In other research news, UIT's long-standing Research and Statistical Support service moved to the General Academic Building, Room 535 in the spring of 2017, sharing what previously was space dedicated to HPC operations and support. R&SS staff now can utilize the training resources of the GAB 535 research studio and are available to consult on research methodologies applicable to many disciplines. In addition, partnering R&SS with HPC positions UNT to take on computationally-intensive data research by leveraging the expertise of the R&SS staff with the hardware available as part of Talon 3. This synergy serves to strengthen the research support for UNT faculty as the supporting technology continues to gain capacity and capability.

User Services

After spending several years in Sage Hall, Room 130, the UIT Help Desk moved to Room 233. UNT's Microcomputer Maintenance Service, MMS, also moved to the second floor of Sage Hall in Room 233 as a follow-on to its operation being consolidated under the Help Desk management. But the second floor is only a temporary home for the Help Desk and MMS. By the end of the fall 2017 semester, we hope to be operating a combined Help Desk, Student Computing Lab, and MMS service in a newly remodeled space in Sage Hall, Room 330. This will provide "one-stop-shopping" for student IT support, whether the need is a technical question answered or access to adaptive IT. Look for the UIT Adaptive Lab and IT Learning Center to open sometime in the fall.

Instructional IT

UIT's popular computer-based testing center continues to develop its resources after a complete upgrade of computers last year. This year, the center's surveillance system was enhanced to encourage and support a high degree of academic integrity during what are often high-stakes assessment activities. The testing center had over 27,000 student interactions (mostly exams) over the fall 2016 and spring 2017 semesters and continues to see a growth in usage.

The group formerly known as Data Management Services has a new name more descriptive of their primary activity. Exam and Research Data Services, ERDS, is still located in Sage Hall, Room 336 and provides research data entry and Scantron optical mark reader, OMR, scanning primarily for academic test administration. ERDS now also provides enhanced reporting services for most of the forms they support, including many item-based analyses useful to professors to evaluate their class's test performance.

Student Success Technology

UIT's Student Success Technology, SST, continues to develop services around the Salesforce cloud IT platform. Originally used to support student academic advising at UNT, Salesforce capabilities have been expanded to support a number of student recruitment and admissions efforts. One of the latest projects of the SST team is the deployment of an appointment manager system that will allow students to schedule appointments easily with their academic advisor or other UNT student-support offices and to receive reminders via email or text message. This new system is already in use in several colleges and should be rolled out to all colleges by the middle of the fall 2017 semester.

Do you know Lynda?

One of the exciting new services offered over the past year has been providing access to Lynda.com for all UNT students, faculty, and staff. LyndaCampus offers more than 4,700 video tutorials on multimedia production, design, professional skills and more – for UNT System faculty, staff and currently enrolled students. As of Sept. 1, the Lynda service will be available system-wide to all campuses and UNT system offices. Lynda has proven to be popular at UNT with about 5,000 users visiting the service in the 2016-2017 academic year. Lynda.com is easily accessible via login with a UNT EUID and password. Professors also can create custom playlists for their courses and publish those directly in a Blackboard Learn course.

Also last fall, UIT created an IT Idea Center to help foster development of new academic IT services and systems. The Idea Center allows for the investigation and incubation of the simplest suggestions as well as support for proposing formal projects that require UNT or ITSS development resources. Now, whether it's the latest app seen at a conference or a cutting-edge application, the IT Idea Center can help good ideas grow into innovative ways to pursue the University mission.

UIT also helped establish a Drupal training series for more than 130 people on campus who maintain departmental web pages in the University's Drupal content management system. UIT sponsored a kick-off event in April that brought together more than 75 of the people on campus who are tasked with keeping the University's web content accurate and up to date. Eighteen Drupal training sessions with an average of 19 people in each class were conducted from April 20-Aug. 8. UIT maintains a "Drupal Help Desk" website to help coordinate support and knowledge around the University's web platform.

Moving forward

It has been a busy year for UIT, but we will continue to develop these and other services into the new academic year. "Stay tuned" to Benchmarks for the latest news and information about University IT.