New Initiatives Supporting Academia

CUNY Deploys MATLAB and Simulink for all Faculty and Students

CUNY recently purchased a University-wide site license for MathWorks’ computing software – the largest license among universities worldwide. The system-wide license includes MATLAB, Simulink, and 49 companion toolboxes.

This mathematical computing software will be useful for faculty and staff in an array of disciplines, including engineering, physics and other sciences, math, computer science, and statistics. MATLAB is a programming environment for algorithm development, data analysis, visualization, and numeric computation. Simulink provides a block diagram environment integrated with MATLAB, which enables users to move from concept to code by creating models from MATLAB algorithms and exporting simulation for further analysis.

The CUNY license covers on-campus and home software use for all CUNY faculty, staff, and researchers, as well as classroom and lab installations. Students are also covered by the University-wide site license and can install software on their home or laptop computers.

Contact your college site license coordinator to obtain this software or ask questions. Information on all existing site licenses and contact information for your coordinator can be found by visiting the CUNY Site Licenses website. MathWorks also offers faculty a comprehensive collection of resources for integrating MATLAB and Simulink into your courses and research.

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CUNY Virtual Desktop – Initial Rollout

Beginning in March 2016, faculty and students at four CUNY colleges (Baruch College, Hunter College, Bronx Community College, and LaGuardia Community College) were able to access costly software using the CUNY Virtual Desktop. Access to software will be available from any device at any location, including a home or library computer, a laptop, or any mobile device. No longer will it be necessary to visit a campus lab.

The Virtual Desktop offers SAS, SPSS, Mathematica and Maplesoft to the four pilot colleges. After the initial rollout, the CUNY Virtual Desktop will expand to include additional software and to accommodate additional colleges.

If you teach at one of the four colleges in the initial rollout, and your class or research involves SAS, SPSS, Mathematica or Maplesoft, be sure to visit the CUNY Virtual Desktop at and encourage your students to do the same. Log in using your CUNYfirst username followed by and your CUNYfirst password. You can spend up to 8 hours per session, but be sure to frequently save your work to your local drive. Your campus Help Desk can answer questions and provide first tier support on the CUNY Virtual Desktop.

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Latest Blackboard Upgrade

Based on faculty feedback as to the best timing, CIS has established a practice of annually upgrading Blackboard during the holiday break in December. In keeping with this schedule, CIS upgraded the Blackboard Learn environment on December 27-28, 2015 to the version 9.1 October release. This upgrade addressed issues with backend processes, bugs and security fixes, which are necessary to Blackboard’s performance. In addition, Blackboard discontinued Virtual Chat and Classroom Tools with this latest version; these services are now available via Blackboard Collaborate. For further information on Blackboard and its services, contact your campus Blackboard administrator or visit

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Don’t forget to brush up on good cyber-security practices and ways to avoid information theft! CIS has a brief 30 minute training program on tips to secure integrity, accuracy and privacy of personal and professional information at The site also contains CUNY’s IT security policies, procedures and security advisories.

Turnitin Building Block Now Available on Blackboard

CUNY recently purchased the Turnitin building block for Blackboard for use by all CUNY faculty in reviewing students’ papers. The new building block will be available in summer 2016.

The Turnitin building block has three features (OriginalityCheck, GradeMark, and PeerReview) that will enhance faculty’s review and evaluation of student submissions. OriginalityCheck allows faculty to instantly see if student work is original by comparing it to the other papers in the Turnitin database, which contains 45+ billion web pages, 337+ million student papers and 130+ million articles from academic books, publications, and databases such as Emerald, Sage, Gale Cengage, Crossref, Acumen, Ebsco. Color-coded and percentage-tagged highlights provide immediate insight into matched content and filter options allow for drilling in to the root source easily or for exclusion of certain content.

In addition, GradeMark allows faculty to give personalized feedback with drag-and-drop comments, associate paper comments with rubric criteria, and use voice comments to reach students. Finally, PeerReview allows for student evaluations of work while facilitating instructor review of comments. With the advanced options in PeerMark, faculty can choose whether the reviews are anonymous or attributed, decide if students should be excluded from reviews, or pair students to assign students specific papers to review.

For more information on the Turnitin building block, you can contact your Blackboard Administrator, visit, or find the Turnitin building block on Blackboard.

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Finding Information on Third-Party Blackboard Building Blocks

The CUNY Blackboard Help Site now contains information on third-party applications or tools (i.e., Building Blocks) that extend Blackboard’s usability and functionality, provide customization, or help with administration. The site contains a list of all third-party tools currently in use at CUNY, along with links to manuals or instructions for their use are provided where available. It also contains a list of third-party tools that are currently being reviewed and tested; this section is updated monthly to reflect the status.

Faculty members who want a new Blackboard third party tool must submit a request form. All requested tools or applications are then reviewed and tested carefully through a pre-defined process (Building Block Procedure) and must receive approval before being installed in the Blackboard production environment. Please contact your Blackboard administrator with any questions.

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Office Pro Plus for Faculty

Microsoft Office 365 Pro Plus Microsoft Office 365 Pro Plus is now available to active faculty and staff at all CUNY campuses at The Office 365 Pro Plus benefit allows faculty and staff to download up to 15 free copies of the Microsoft Office Productivity Suite on their desktops, laptops, tablets, and/or smart phones. Applications include MS Word, Excel and PowerPoint. Most students at CUNY (those with a Microsoft Office 365 account) currently have access to Office 365 Pro Plus, and CIS is working with the remaining campuses to deploy Microsoft email accounts to their students.

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CUNY continues to provide faculty, students and staff with free access to Gartner IT research. Use Gartner for insights into technology trends, vendors and analytics. You can access Gartner research on the CUNY portal.

IT Accessibility

Among its many activities, CUNY’s Technology Accessibility Task Force launched in April a new Accessibility site to provide resources and information on technology accessibility for students, faculty, and staff. This is the first time CUNY has centralized University-wide technology accessibility resources in one place. The site includes information on assistive tools, accessibility in system-wide applications, relevant CUNY policies, best practices for procuring accessible technology, guidance on making documents and websites accessible, and links to offices at CUNY colleges that handle accessibility issues. The new site can be found by clicking on the Accessibility link in the header and footer of any page or at

In addition, the Task Force has also recommended Campus pilots, such as the development of a new Blackboard course to teach faculty about making online courses accessible, for funding through the Strategic Technology Initiative. It has also engaged in surveys to assess the availability of accessible technology at every campus and is conducting procurements to attain training for web developers on accessibility, closed captioning for all video and audio online, and consultants to review online web practices at every campus.

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Virtual Bookstore

More than a year ago, John Jay converted from its bricks-and-mortar bookstore to a virtual bookstore, giving faculty and students the ability to find the books and course materials needed for every class in a variety of formats (new, used, digital, rental, etc.) at a discounted price.

Four other colleges piggy-backed on that contract, and additional colleges have expressed interest in moving to a virtual bookstore. CUNY’s Central Office is now issuing a Request for Proposals for a virtual bookstore that would be available to all colleges when their bookstore operations contracts expire or are terminated. The bookstore would integrate with CUNY's online registration function so that students can find and purchase all required books and course materials when they register for a course. The goal is to have the solution in place by Spring 2017.

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We welcome your comments and ideas for new initiatives at