Pandemic Update - University of Houston
Skip to main content

Pandemic Update

Thanks to a robust and healthy infrastructure and extensive Continuity of Operations planning, UIT was ready for the COVID-19 pandemic. UIT built from a solid foundation of technology infrastructure, well established purchasing channels with capable vendors, a cooperative relationship with departmental IT staff, and an experienced and dedicated UIT staff to rapidly support the needs of a remote population.

Continuity of Operations Planning

Long-Range Planning: A Pandemic Example

In 2012, a telephone was a separate desktop appliance. It made calls and took voicemail. A “soft phone” that integrated with the entire network was unimaginable. In a nine-year migration that ultimately led to MS Teams, we evolved to truly unified communications. Formerly separate functions work together: calls, voicemail, instant messages, email, meeting invitations (attend from anywhere using any device), call center support operations. We were ready for the pandemic’s sudden disruption. Faculty and staff became a remote workforce that continued to teach and conduct University business. Students adapted quickly to a new learning experience and medium. A distributed call center workforce helped our Coog community remotely with conventional needs and entirely new ones.

Preparation years in the making. UIT’s Continuity of Operations plan is an all-hazards plan with contingencies for social distancing and remote instruction.

  • Blackboard was engineered to support 100% of classes and 100% of students in fully online instruction.
  • Classroom Technology was designed to support the use of Zoom and Teams for HyFlex instruction.
  • The UH network and Computing Center were optimized to support shifting data traffic.
  • Technology of the UH website and mobile application was selected for its ability to deploy content rapidly.
  • Purchasing processes allowed for rapid procurement of resources even during pandemic-related shortages.
  • Staff were prepared and equipped to work remotely with no reduction in service levels.

Identifying and Building Solutions

Agile, talented and action-oriented IT staff quickly developed solutions to unexpected problems.

Assisted with President and Provost town halls (streaming). The Streaming team rapidly created a system to deliver leadership meetings to a large audience and to facilitate remote and on-premises meetings of the Board of Regents.

Upgraded our VPN (secure, Virtual Private Network). With the sudden increase of faculty, staff and students working and taking classes from home, UIT upgraded the VPN infrastructure from 500 simultaneous connections to 2,500 to allow more people to connect to our campus network at once.

Transitioned to a Virtual Environment using MS Teams. The adoption of MS Teams exploded in 2020, with 67% of faculty, 84% of students and 71% of staff using MS Teams to collaborate in academic and administrative settings.    

Deployed the Laptop Check-out Program. UIT developed a contactless laptop checkout program for students with 100 computers contributed by the library and 240 newly purchased laptops. The UH vendor supply network was able to acquire laptops despite a severe international shortage.

Deployed UH Go: Coog Strong module. UIT developed innovative solutions to ease the transition from learning remotely to being back on campus. One example is density mapping that enables the UH community to make proactive, healthy decisions on where to study, relax and eat on campus.

Supported Contact Tracing program for internal (Blackboard) and external (Coursera) audiences. UIT helped the College of Medicine create courses in Blackboard and Coursera, created the registration process, assisted hundreds of students who needed access and produced 27 video segments for Coursera courses. This program gained national accolades for UH as we were one of the first Universities to provide this type of training at the earliest stages of the pandemic.

Deployed basic HyFlex classrooms. UIT coordinated its efforts with departmental IT staff to deploy webcams and microphones to over 200 classrooms to enable basic HyFlex instruction and support students at a distance. Today, 335 classrooms on campus support the use of Zoom or Teams. 

Created HyFlex classrooms website. Provided data for over 200 classrooms and created an easy-to-use site for faculty to familiarize themselves with the technology in each.