Here's an update on the latest in Information Resources and Technologies at St. Thomas

Here's an update on the latest in Information Resources and Technologies at St. Thomas

We in Information Resources and Technologies add our welcome back for fall semester. Multiple construction and infrastructure upgrade projects made for a busy summer, with all sorts of holes (of varying sizes) in our grounds, and the resulting parking and conveyance challenges as IRT’s Client Services staff deployed 1,200 computer replacements. During the same period, IRT’s Information Technology staff provisioned more than 40 new server environments.

Many of the changes that occurred this past summer were the results of the strategic planning of past years. In guiding our work in the coming years, IRT will align with UST’s new mission statement, and the accompanying vision and convictions. Father Dease has emphasized the importance of access and excellence in framing that work in UST’s new strategic plans. As we follow closely the university’s dialogue about those two importance themes, IRT will continue to improve E-Learning options to support increasing access to a variety of blended instructional offerings from traditional delivery to fully online courses and programs. And we must continue to provide excellence in information resources management in support of the teaching, learning, scholarship and conduct of the university’s business.

IRT has continued development of new technologies based on our work with the University Technology Advisory Committee, All College Council and the Academic and Administrative Leadership Team. IRT deployed a number of new technology systems for fall semester. We have much activity and change to report as three new buildings came online this fall. Included among those are systems frequently used by many people in our community.

Here are some new developments:

  • Server migration for messaging: During the summer, IRT migrated UST’s messaging system (e-mail, calendaring, etc.) to new servers. This work increased system performance (and reduced delivery times) and expanded capacity to handle the sustained growth in the volume of e-mail. This included more than 30,000 e-mail accounts for faculty, staff, students, alumni and departments and increased the number of servers from 11 to 15.
  • Voice mail: After a detailed RFP process, Communité was chosen to replace our existing VM system, Centigram, which had been in use for more than a decade. UST exceeded Centigram’s limits and replacement was essential. With that replacement came new routines and protocols. Further information is available on the Information Resources and Technologies Communité Web page.
  • Print management: The university administration has partnered with student leadership to implement a print management program on campus. The program goals are to track campus printing activities, educate everyone who uses printing resources, and implement methods for reducing excessive paper use and printing. Check out the Printing @ UST Web page for more information on the goals and terms of the program.
  • Wireless @ UST: Following a wireless pilot last year, IRT installed Cisco wireless and security systems in all residences and in many public spaces over the summer. Check out the Wireless @ UST FAQs Web page. Based on criteria provided by academic departments, wireless will be expanded over the next two years to meet the academic program needs of the university.
  • New Storage Area Network (SAN): The new SAN provides 10 terabytes of data storage, replacing the previous two-terabyte SAN, as we plan for increased storage needs in the coming years.
  • Upgraded cable system: IRT upgraded the S-Net cable television system for the residence halls. The new system provides more programming options through digital services, including potential for options such as high definition cable channels.
  • Installed test instance of Banner 7: In preparation for the rollout of Banner 7, IT installed the software for testing and training during fall semester. Randy Sauter will provide an article for The Bulletin Today on Banner 7 in the coming weeks.
  • Minneapolis data center: IRT has begun development of a data center in Minneapolis to provide redundancy of services and business continuity. Among the first steps was the creation of a firewall for the data center and an increase in our intercampus link to Gigabit speed and capacity.

New technologies and applications
IRT will begin the use of new applications to support UST’s rapidly growing need for new technologies and services. Several of those new technologies are transforming UST’s Web presence.

Departments have begun to develop and publish Web content this year through the use of content-management software, and self-service applications will provide increased options to meet the needs of faculty, staff, students, alumni and prospective students. The College of Business, for example, reports that nearly 50 percent of its new graduate inquiries from prospective students are coming from the Web. These new Web technologies provide new generation online software applications for Web transactional sites in the College of Business, School of Education and School of Law. Many other new sites will follow. Web and Media Services Director Liz Houle will write articles on these new systems for the Bulletin Today in the coming months.

E-Learning continues to develop at UST. New capabilities in Blackboard and the Instructional Tool Kit offer new options for faculty, students and staff. Web and Media Services also will introduce Macromedia Breeze, a powerful and flexible Web conferencing software with many options for E-Learning.

The School of Education is piloting new E-Learning courses and processes with support from Web and Media Services. Look for Bulletin articles from Web and Media Services’ Rosann Cahill and Elizabeth Smith in the coming weeks on these topics.

Information Commons
The Information Commons at O’Shaughnessy-Frey Library Center and the Charles J. Keffer Library continued to evolve as learning spaces over the last year, and new programs and projects will continue that work in the coming years. The numbers of student users and types of learning activities increased by as much as 100 percent in some categories in the first full year of the Information Commons. Students identified the OSF Library as the “best place to study.” OSF Library hours were extended to 2 a.m. at the request of students. Additional group-study rooms were created over the summer, including a “quiet” computer room and student electronic presentation room on the lower level.

IRT is pleased to have the Faculty Development Office located in its new suite on the fourth floor of OSF Library, and we look forward to many collaborative undertakings.

The university libraries have acquired numerous new electronic resources, including a comprehensive historical database of The New York Times (1850-2001) and RefWorks software for faculty and student citation and bibliography management. The university libraries also serve as a beta test site for Google Scholar. University Libraries Director Dan Gjelten will write articles for Bulletin Today about these and many other activities during fall semester.

Room 102, O’Shaughnessy-Frey Library Center, is host to UST’s new IP-based videoconferencing system. UST became a member of Internet2 last spring, and we held our first Internet2 international videoconference in July. Special thanks to Randy Herman in the School of Social Work for “hosting” his colleagues from Australian Catholic University for a discussion about a student exchange program. We were joined by UST faculty and staff and representatives from the Associated Colleges of the Twin Cities and the Minnesota Private College Council colleges. We look forward to conversations this year in Room 102, O’Shaughnessy-Frey Library Center, on the best features for a faculty center for e-learning.

Videoconferencing is one feature that marks a rapid growth in the use of video for a variety of instructional and institutional uses and that can be produced and distributed in a variety of ways. Digital video will rapidly become the norm for production and distribution, and we are seeing increased use of video streaming on the Web in various formats. As you will have read recently in Bulletin Today, feature video pieces now are available online through the University Libraries’ Media Resources Collection. IRT also has joined with the Communication Studies Department for a proposal to update O’Shaughnessy Educational Center auditorium and upgrade the OEC Video Studio to use the many changes in video and presentation technologies and improve student experiences.  

Schulze Hall technologies
As Dean Christopher Puto and the College of Business planned for the construction of Schulze Hall and the new Schulze School of Entrepreneurship, opportunities and challenges presented themselves. While it was fundamental to put innovative information technologies in the hands of faculty and students for teaching, learning and scholarship, it was central to the program to create the right technology environment to promote new research and development in business and entrepreneurship education, stimulate the development of technologies that help create or support new business ventures, and address real-life business challenges.

UST found partners who shared these goals in Sun Microsystems and Cisco Systems, and together we created the Sun Center of Excellence for Entrepreneurial Application of Innovative Information Technologies (see Bulletin Today story published July 25). The center makes UST part of a worldwide program of recognition and distinction from Sun Microsystems that includes 45 other universities worldwide. Other partners also will support the center, including local technology companies Ncell and Enventis, and Cisco partner IPcelerate.

Among the features of the technological environment at the Schulze School of Entrepreneurship and its Sun Center of Excellence are:

  • An integrated, open source environment – the Schulze School will deploy Sun “thin client” technology, the SunRays. SunRays will allow students, faculty and staff to use Sun’s Java Desktop System.
  • Stateless computing – SunRays plus Sun Java SmartCards will allow give students access to a stateless computing environment, one that allows them to have their work follow them wherever they go, able to capture their current desktop simply by pulling removing their SmartCard out of from one workstation and putting inserting it into another and providing along with their password. Cisco wireless access is available throughout the building as well.
  • VoIP capabilities – The Schulze School Hall also will be the first building in which St. Thomas will provide desktop phones that function as network devices, using the same network as the computers rather than traditional phones. This Voice-over-IP ( VoIP) system, in addition to reducing the cost of building constructing and maintaining the building, will allow the phones to be much more active and intelligent desktop tools through integration of voice and data. The VoIP system, as well as other network gear, is from the Center of Excellence ’s partner Cisco Systems.

The rooms in Schulze Hall were designed with teaching, learning and innovation in mind. Utilizing a full media-control system, the classrooms systems are able to project several computer and video inputs, reproduce program audio, and allow for simple operation. The standard classroom is equipped with a 16:9 projection screen that will display two different program sources simultaneously. Sources for the system include a permanent computer, a SunRay computer, laptop computer input, a high resolution digital document camera, and a DVD-VCR combination player. All equipment is mounted in a custom-designed teaching station.  

To simplify operation for the end user, a media control system was incorporated with a large touch panel screen at the teaching station. The presenter will have the ability to access media source selection directly on the touch panel. When this is done, the control system will power-up the equipment, switch all components to the correct inputs and pre-set the audio system.

The new systems in Schulze Hall provide a number of important prototypes to assist UST in planning for the future. We appreciate the work of College of Business leadership, faculty and staff in testing and employing these new technologies. I would especially like to thank Jenn Haas, Nate Shuff and the Client Services team in Minneapolis and John Burke and Peter Downs of IT for their outstanding work in making these new systems a part of the UST environment.