The Classroom Software (or, IST Screws Up Again)

In late May, I got into a snit over IST’s decision to revoke University licensing for Adobe software, including Acrobat DC, which I constantly use on a daily basis. (Brief summary: the decision was done without consulting end users, gave 4 days’ notice, and was announced in the middle of term at the end of a Friday; I had to shell out several hundred dollars to buy software again that I had just bought.) I complained loudly and bitterly. (This led to an discussion with the VPIT--well, until he ignored the email I sent him on May 30th. Am I that big of a pain in the butt?) My hope in raising a fuss was that IST wouldn’t make a blunder like this again.

Guess what?

With 8 days to go before Fall term starts, a message from IST was included in an Employees-digest email that everyone gets. It announced some relatively minor updates, but ended with this:
-All centrally managed university lab and classroom computers were updated to Microsoft Office 2016, except when teaching requirements prohibit the ability to upgrade.
In other words, basically all classroom computers have already been upgraded from Office 2010 to Office 2016. No warnings, no announcements, nothing. IST has a listserv, called ITpulse. This lists just about every IT-related update on campus, from UWS to servers to front-end systems. I went back through it to see if I missed any announcement on this. Nope, nada.

What’s the big deal? Let’s go back a few years, to August 27, 2009. Here’s an announcement made by AICT (Academic Information and Communication Technologies, the precursor to IST):
This is a notice that we will be installing Microsoft Office 2007 on all
the Smart Classroom computers effective Friday, August 28.
Sound familiar? With less than a week before classes started, they foisted an unannounced upgrade on end users. Worse, PowerPoint 2007 broke almost all of the media embeds in my presentations, which were created in PowerPoint 2003. I only discovered this breakage in class, trying to get my slides to work. I must’ve seemed like a clueless newbie, futzing with the computer, trying to get things to work. On at least one occasion, I had to end class early because things were so broken. I had to go through every single one of my slides, testing to ensure they worked. That’s thousands of slides, and many hours of work. Thanks for nothing, AICT.

Why did I have such problems? Here’s the thing. The software installed on my computers is exactly the same as that running on classroom computers. That’s why I currently run Windows 7 with Microsoft Office 2010. If something works on my computer, it should also work on the classroom computers. If anything breaks, I figure out how to fix it on my computers first, so that I can also fix it in class as quickly as possible. This way, I minimize disruptions and wasted time in class.

This exact situation happened in September, 2015. An update to Adobe Flash (19.0.0.185) broke PowerPoint presentations with embedded Flash. I reported this problem to Adobe, but I couldn’t wait for them to bring out a fix. Fortunately, I was able to find an independent way to fix the problem and the impacts on my classes were minimal.

When I’m up to my eyebrows prepping for the extremely busy Fall term at the end of August I don’t have time to buy and install new software on all my computers, and check all of my (thousands and thousands of) slides again. Some advance warning would have been nice. Not 8 days warning, mind you. Maybe, “We’re going to upgrade Office. Here is the timeline so you can prepare.” Or even asking opinions in the first place, like, “We’re thinking about doing this. What do instructors think?”

Maybe I should be more proactive? How’s this: on April 29, 2015, I sent the IST helpdesk an email asking if they were planning on updating classroom computers to Windows 10 and/or Office 2016 (support ticket RITM0065916). The result? No plans to upgrade Windows or Office. Maybe I should send that request every year?

“IST” stands for Information Services and Technology. Once again, they’ve shown that they are having difficulty with the “information” aspect of their name. Open? No. Transparent? No. Responsive? No. More than anything, they--once again--remind me of Mordac, the Preventer of Information Services.

I'm not, by nature, a cranky person. Or an inveterate complainer. I work hard--really hard--and spend a lot of time creating a certain level of in-class experience. I like using technology, but I don't ever want it to get in the way. IST, perhaps despite their best intentions, is getting in the way. When there's a technical glitch in the classroom, they don't have a face a class of 300 students--staring at them, disengaging, losing interest--I do.

Just to prove I'm not all about the complaining, I have a constructive solution. Maybe IST could set up some kind of committee or consulting group about these kinds of classroom issues. I'm assuming they don't have one now, if they do, they need to work on consultation and communication. I make a lot of use of classrooms, typically teaching eight courses per academic year. I'd be the first to apply for a position on such a committee.

Update: 8/25/2016 @2:53
IST has responded. This was part of the response:
In regarding to the timing of the communication, efforts were initiated earlier this summer to develop a communication plan and inform campus of the upcoming changes. The intent was to communicate the changes in early July to allow professors to test and adjust course material accordingly. Clearly, IST did not effectively communicate these changes in a timely manner. Please accept our sincere apologies.

3 comments:

Anonymous said...
on

So basically, their response was...

Oh yeah, we meant to tell you... OOPS!! ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

C Mitchy said...
on

Well here's what they've been doing instead...

https://ist.ualberta.ca/blog/news/updates-find-person-coming-soon

Anonymous said...
on

IST and AICT before it have always been too insular. They don't understand that most of their clients operate on the cyclical rhythm of the academic calendar.

They are also terrible at communication. Their blog and ITpulse are jokes. There have been major outages caused by them changing things in the middle of the semester that were never made public.

These are deep rooted cultural problems that date at least as far back as the early days of AICT.

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