I.T. recieves mixed reviews

The Mac Minis available to students in the Patterson Technology Center look decrepit.

A quick inspection reveals yellowed plastic covers. Looking at the display and the interface is like going back in a time machine.

The computers are running the now-archaic OS X Tiger version 10.4.7, four updates from being “current.” Apple released v10.4.11 in 2007, before releasing OS X v10.5 Leopard.

The current standard is OS X Lion v10.7.3. The next generation, OS X v10.8 Mountain Lion is set to be released this summer.

Apple doesn’t support the Tiger operating system anymore but our Information Technology department does.

A note on the website from Curtis White, vice president of IT, says, “The five functional areas within IT…are focused on supporting current technologies while always looking forward to see how new and emerging technologies can best benefit the university community.”

However, the help available for Mac computers on campus is minimal.

When asked for advice, White has instructed students to search Google for their problems and remedy them using trial and error.

White has said that his department does not even support OS X Lion, and he acknowledged that the department has limited experience with Apple products. He also said that the department has two people who have been through Mac training in Cupertino, Cali.

A client support specialist position is currently posted for the fall semester. The posting asks that the candidate be experienced with OS X.

At a February Faculty Senate meeting, 13 senators had laptops open, taking notes. Six of them were Macs. There were also several iPads being used in the meeting. Some departments have or are moving entirely to Apple computers and 10 percent of computers on campus are Macs, according to White.

This is one aspect where students and faculty see Ashland behind the curve in regards to IT.

The Collegian interviewed 11 department chairs from the three main colleges and 15 students. We asked them to tell us about their experiences with the IT Department. The Collegian also spoke to IT departments from other universities in Ohio for comparison purposes.

It is clear that various departments and colleges have differing views with regards to IT’s level of service. Those in education and business are largely satisfied, while those in the arts and sciences are less satisfied.

The age of technology in these departments does vary; budget cuts have limited the refresh cycle in the past few years.

A lack of refreshes results in older equipment, and all of that older technology is much more likely to break down than if it were new.

Kettering and the Recreational Center have the oldest technology on campus right now. The College of Business and Economics has the newest technology.

“The college itself paid for the bulk of the upgrades [in Dauch],” White said. “If they had come out of the [IT] budget, Dauch would be running eight-year-old technology.”

Three main areas stood out from these interviews; administrative access, making purchases and the help desk ticket system. These are the areas that many interviewed felt needed improvement.

Administrative Access

Administrative access on a computer allows a user to make changes to the computer, such as removing and installing software and installing updates to previously installed programs. Administrative access is important because it lets the user make changes without having to schedule an appointment with IT.

Administrative access is something that the majority of AU faculty is unfamiliar with.

“We’re born troubleshooters. It is a part of our job,” said Tim McCarty, chair of the journalism and digital media department. “I feel like that issue alone has been a huge hindrance, not having administrative control.”

The biggest complaint among AU faculty is that they cannot get certain things done because they have no installation control. When they want to download an update or install a new piece of software, they have to call IT and have an employee come and do it for them.

Dr. David Vanata, director of dietetics, is frustrated that he cannot do something as simple as loading pictures from his digital camera to his computer because he can’t install the camera driver on his computer.

White said that not giving faculty administrative access by default is a safety concern. Faculty had universal administrative access until a virus outbreak a few years ago.

He will work with faculty who want access.

“Any faculty member that wants administrative access…it is a simple process to request it and they are given it,” he said.

According to White, 30 to 40 of the 240 AU faculty members have administrative rights on their university computers now.

Ohio Dominican University, Baldwin-Wallace College and Ohio Northern University, schools of similar size to AU, each handles administrative access differently.

According to George Gulbis, director of IT at ONU, there are a few faculty with administrative access but most faculty do not have this access; however, Baldwin-Wallace gives full administrative access to faculty and also has a program, called Deep Freeze, that customizes each system to a faculty user’s specific usage scenarios.

If things get too complicated, all the faculty member has to do is reboot the computer; everything will revert to normal.

“The way our policy is currently set up, we really support academic freedom,” Greg Flanik, chief information officer at BWC, said. “In large, our user base does a great job at being careful with spyware and things of that matter.”

The lack of administrative access at AU is thought by some to be an issue of a lack of trust between IT and the Ashland University faculty.

“Not having administrative control of my machine is a trust issue…I am not trusted,” said McCarty.

“I’m 50 years old, [and] I’ve been dealing with computers for a long time in the mission of creating media.”

Making purchases

Another common faculty complaint is with the process of ordering software. All software that is ordered to use on AU computers must be purchased and installed by IT.

Dr. Mason Posner, chair of the biology and toxicology department, is frustrated.

“The ordering process we have found to be very frustrating. It takes forever to get software and computers ordered,” he said.

Posner said that ordering and installing software is the weakest service that IT provides; not only is the software not ordered or installed in a timely manner, it also costs more.

Dr. Mitchell Metzger, chair of the psychology department, expressed that he has found that the costs of software and hardware through IT is well beyond what he could find it for at Walmart or other department stores.

“I don’t need to spend $50 on a wireless mouse when I can go to Wal-Mart and get one for $10,” he said.

Many professors don’t even understand why they should have to go through IT to purchase software when they could easily find it cheaper and more quickly on their own.

“There are a couple issues when departments go out to buy software on their own,” White said. “[They] don’t realize that we’re tax-exempt…and they don’t realize that we have volume pricing and volume licensing agreements with major software providers.”

Still, in some instances, academic departments have found better deals by going around IT. And, for some departments, the length of time it takes to get software ordered and installed hinders the educational process.

Last winter, McCarty asked IT to purchase and install Adobe Photoshop for the producer’s station in the TV studio. He placed the order in December with hopes of using the program to teach his students how to build graphics for basketball game broadcasts.

By the time the order was placed and the software was received and installed at the end of February, every January home basketball game had long since been played.

Fred Lassiter, head of IT at ODU, says that his department does not need to purchase software for faculty members.

“As long as they charge it to their department account, they can order it,” he said. “They just have to ask us to log in for them as an administrator so they can install it.”

Help Desk Tickets

In comparison to the other institutions, a help desk system is a standard way of dealing with issues that students, staff and faculty have with technology.

Of the schools we reached for this story, all had some sort of help desk system in place.

According to Flanik, the only difference between help desks at AU and BWC is that the BWC desk is open 24 hours per day, 7 days per week.

“We manage it with professional staff during the day and then in the off hours, we have a call center,” said Flanik. “Of course if there is a direct issue, they are always welcome to contact me.”

McCarty believes that our help desk should operate 24/7 as well.

“IT doesn’t work on that [24-hour] clock,” he said. “There are times when I need help and IT isn’t there to provide it.”

In general, a help desk system is a suitable solution because it allows problems to be efficiently analyzed and redirected to find an appropriate solution.

“I think they do a good job,” said Dr. David Kommer, chair of curriculum and instruction in the College of Education. “But it’s clearly anecdotal.”

That is, there is great variability in opinions about how competent the help desk is here at AU, among both students and staff.

Senior Sean Brown has a very favorable opinion of the IT help desk.

“I’ve only been there a few times,” Brown said, “but when I’ve had to leave my computer with them, they have gotten it back to me in a timely manner.”

Sophomore Sara Reis had a different experience last time she brought her computer to IT.

Reis broke the screen on her laptop. When she brought her computer to IT, it was returned as is, with recommendations on what needed to be fixed, to be sent to the insurance company.

“[The IT employees] were really annoying…they made everything sound a lot more complicated than it was,” said Reis. “I yelled at people almost every single time I called or went there.”

Junior Tyler Bailey hasn’t dealt with IT extensively but has a more intermediate stance on the effectiveness of the help desk.

“They usually…eventually get the problem solved. Sometime,” he said.

That opinion was one more like what seems to be the consensus among faculty on campus. English Department Chair Dr. Deborah Fleming has received mixed results on her help desk ticket requests. She doesn’t think that a ticket system is an effective solution for immediate things.

“You’re never sure if someone is going to show up to help you,” Fleming said. “When I get somebody good, it gets done right away…and the problem is solved.”

There have been instances where Fleming has submitted help desk tickets that have never been resolved. In those cases, Fleming either depends on her administrative assistant for help, or the problem will just go unsolved.

Dr. Mary Rycik, chair of the early childhood education department, has had more favorable experiences.

“In the past, [IT] had students that didn’t always understand the situation and may have had a hard time communicating, but I think that’s gotten better,” Rycik said. “I think they prioritize very nicely and I think, by large, it’s always in a timely fashion.”

Metzger has also been pleased with IT’s service. He has noticed something that is completely detrimental in itself: an idea that faculty, staff and students feel a sense of sympathy for the people working at the help desk.

“If there would be one complaint that I would have, it would be the perceived lack of help you get from the help desk,” said Metzger. “But then again, I understand that students man the telephone and they can only do so many things without being cleared by their supervisor.”

Among faculty, it seems that the average help desk ticket is resolved anytime between a few days after submission and a week.

White said that scheduling conflicts could cause these delays. Some tickets are also hard to characterize, passing through a few help desk personnel before the ticket reaches the best person to resolve it.

Both Gulbis (ONU) and Flanik (BWC) say that their departments resolve help desk tickets within 24 hours, on average.

Student Issues

For some students at AU, the idea of getting onto the Internet without a struggle is sometimes only a dream.

Over the past few years, IT’s reputation has improved on certain services. At first, the main issues that students experienced were password resets and program updates at the beginning of each academic year.

“The one time I needed an update for my computer security, they gave me a disc right away to go reinstall it, which was great,” junior Cory Lamar said.

Sophomore Levi Rex has also had favorable experiences dealing with IT.

“At the beginning of the year the computers on campus kept telling me my password was invalid,” Rex said. “I called IT, and in one minute my problem had been resolved.”

Although many problems are easy to solve, there are situations for which IT has no solution. Without a great deal of activities to do in town, students resort to other things to keep them busy.

Many students pass the time playing video games, but when one Ethernet port and a virtual Rubik’s cube of passwords gets in your way, the only thing some students have to show is a broken controller they have thrown to the ground in anger.

Even though IT has made strides in improving the student side of their services, one gripe that still exists within the minds of students is the handling of video game consoles.

The IT website says, “Game systems that have a wired network connection must use the wired connection to connect to the network. The wired connection is required because most consoles do not support the advanced wireless encryption protocols our network requires. In addition, the wired network has less latency, translating to better response in online gameplay. Currently, there is no authentication for the wired network. Due to this, Information Technology will not support the use of a wireless connection for a game console when there is a wired option.”

This policy has been an issue to some students because IT reduced the number of Ethernet ports in dorm rooms at the start of the 2011-12 academic year. For students with multiple devices connected, like an Xbox, PlayStation, Apple TV or computer, this can be a hassle.

“Its pretty inconvenient,” said sophomore Radley Stahl. “We have four computers, one Xbox, one PS3, and only three Ethernet ports…. Not being able to register our game consoles sucks because anytime anyone wants to use the Ethernet because they don’t trust the wireless or it isn’t working, wires have to be rearranged and moved around and everything ends up getting way more complicated than it should be.”