IRT Tuesday: Dr. Sam Levy updates what's happening with campus technology

IRT Tuesday: Dr. Sam Levy updates what's happening with campus technology

On behalf of my colleagues in IRT, I would like to add our welcome back for fall semester. The computer replacement summer program, software changes, and server and network upgrades provided IRT folks with a busy summer.   It is my hope that what follows will provide our community with an overview of some of the projects and initiatives that IRT will be working on in the coming year to support teaching and learning, scholarly activity, and the university’s business and community life.   Please don’t hesitate to contact us as opportunities or issues arise, and look for our Tech Tuesday features in The Bulletin each week.

Environmental Sustainability

IRT has for some years made environmental sustainability a key criterion in the selection of equipment and in the design of data center facilities. Our three major providers of equipment, Dell, Sun and HP, all rank very high in multiple “green” ratings including lower power consumption and recycling. There are a number of “FAQs” we have received from students, faculty and staff on environmental sustainability as it related to our information technology operations.

  • As a student in a UST residence hall, should I turn off my computer to save energy?   Yes.  Any need to provide updates to Microsoft or Sophos software can be downloaded from IRT’s Web site, or automatically updated during periods when the computer is in use if students have activated those options. 

For faculty and staff?   Not right now. We need to await network electronics upgrades for a permanent solution for receiving critical updates.  There will be some interim solutions that we will announce in the coming year.

  • Will UST be moving to recycled paper for printers? IRT anticipates a conversion to recycled paper over the next year for IRT network printers.  We are still awaiting some recommendations from our current vendors for paper and printers, and discussion with others in the community. Representatives of our current printer vendor, HP, have told us that a 30% recycled content paper from a national brand, such as International Paper or Boise/OfficeMax, that is designed for use in laser printers and copiers will cause no problems for their printers. 
  • Will UST be using printers in the future that allow for duplex (two-sided) printing? Yes.  The MFD copier/printers features already allow for this.  As our network printers cycle off lease, we will begin replacing them with printers that have this capability as an option. We will discuss with members of our community a number of policy and practice issues related to this:   1) it is our understanding that some faculty do not presently allow students to turn in papers that are printed on two sides, and 2) it is important to understand that printing quotas are based on each side printed, not on the number of sheets of paper.  So paper printed on both sides will count as two pages each for that purpose.

O’Shaughnessy-Frey Library Center 50th Anniversary

The University Libraries will commemorate the 50th anniversary of O’Shaughnessy-Frey Library Center. Construction began in fall 1958 and the OSF Library Center opened in fall 1959. The OSF Library Center has a proud tradition of serving the UST community and has seen many changes over the years. Among those is the skillful move to the Information Commons and the dramatic increase in digital resources by our libraries' staff. Our libraries have seen significantly increased gate counts in recent years.

With that anniversary in mind, the University Libraries will focus this year on assessment, recognition of the past and planning for the future.  In the area of assessment, we will conduct the LibQual survey of library service quality in October.  A highly regarded survey designed by the Association of Research Libraries, LibQual has been conducted 1,000 times with 500 different libraries around the country, giving us a good opportunity to benchmark against peers.  Together with our efforts to honor the work done by the libraries over the last fifty years, we hope that this new data will position us to support (and further develop) the proposals we have for the future of the libraries: to create learning spaces that meet the needs of today’s students, to create virtual spaces that incorporate the large collections of digital content and online services that are now available from the libraries and to continue to re-envision the libraries’ organization in ways that allow us to accomplish our goals and support the goals of the university. 

We know that many of the skills that alumni identify as most important to their post-scholastic life and careers fall within the libraries’ sphere of influence:  Locating information needed to make decisions or solve problems; critically analyzing written information; working effectively with technology – in short, working effectively with information in a technology-rich society as employees, citizens, consumers and parents.  We share responsibility with the faculty for producing graduates with skills in those areas.

We also are pleased to welcome John Heintz as the new associate director for Virtual Services. Many in our community know John from his great service in Keffer Library.  

UST Enterprise Portal and Web

For several years, IRT’s Web and Media Services has been working on WebSPACE, a plan to create greater Web capabilities through content management, communication and collaboration tools. That has included a large-scale re-design on many UST Web pages in cooperation with departments across campus, and the use of content management.  

As we move ahead, IRT will begin testing UST’s new Enterprise Portal this fall. The Enterprise Portal combines the data repositories of Banner, Blackboard, Resource25 and other applications into a cohesive, personalized view for students, faculty and staff. From a communication perspective, the Portal will combine Exchange, emergency messaging and Blackboard notifications into a single entity. In future versions, the Portal will take collaboration to the next level through the facilitation of channel-based instant messaging between students, faculty and staff; integration of our events systems; and digital asset management.

With the launch of the Enterprise Portal, students will have their entire UST online experience organized for them in one location.   They will be able to communicate with instructors, classmates and friends through an integrated platform. Academically, students will have access to assignments, assessment, grades and other scholarly resources based on affiliation derived from program, major and either courses in progress or courses completed. The large array of systems in our data center will be integrated into a single experience for the end user.  

Web and Media Services director Liz Houle will address these and other developments in a future Bulletin Today article.

New instructional technologies and applicatio

We congratulate our colleagues in Academic Affairs and our students in their success with the Collegiate Learning Assessment. This tangible evidence supports what we all have known for a long time – a St. Thomas education produces more learning gains, relative to other institutions, for our students.  As a part of that good work, we applaud and support the successful application of a variety of active learning strategies, including those that involve technology and contribute to student engagement.

Incorporating technologies into instructional methods often requires distinct collaboration among faculty in many disciplines and IRT staff. These collaborations between IRT’s Academic Technology Consultants,  Web and Media Services staff and faculty and have resulted in a number of innovations for UST, such as the STAT application for NCATE assessment for the School of Education, the use of electronic portfolios, and interactive clickers.

The inaugural year of the Faculty Center for eLearning (FCL) has supported these collaborations and has been proven to be very successful and well received. Over the year we have offered five workshops with 80 attendees, and written and delivered a monthly electronic newsletter. Workshop topics have included:

  • Understanding the Net Generation Student
  • Podcasting: Instructional Flexibility and Learner Engagement
  • Creating Narrated Tutorials w/ Adobe Presenter
  • Videoconferencing as a Classroom Tool
  • Learning Together with Wikis and Portfolios
  • Copyright in the Academic Environment

Feedback has been positive, and we especially appreciate faculty who have taken the time to share their knowledge with their colleagues through presentations in the FCL.

Over the coming academic year, our goals are to engage in analysis and evaluation of the instructional technologies and services we offer. We will seek input directly from faculty to give us insights into instructional applications and emerging research interests.  This investigation will increase our understanding of the needs of our faculty with the goal of increasing the cooperation and collaboration among faculty and IRT staff. Look for Bulletin articles in the future from Web and Media Services’ Rosann Cahill and Elizabeth Smith on these topics.

We have completed significant upgrades to UST’s Video Studio and Control Room over the last year. The facility is now completely digital. We also worked to complete a remodeling of KUST radio facilities. These enhancements have been undertaken in close cooperation with the Communications and Journalism Department.

Digital Convergence Initiative

This summer, we began a four-year upgrade of UST’s network.   The Digital Convergence Initiative project will provide for the upgrade of network wiring in some of our older buildings over the next two years, followed by a commensurate upgrade to the electronic components that run our network.  

These upgrades are the building blocks for convergence of voice, data and video on a single Internet Protocol network, the creation of a 10-gigabit backbone for the network and support of Voice-over-IP services in the coming years. Work began during the summer on the wiring upgrades to Terrence Murphy Hall in Minneapolis and O’Shaughnessy Education Center and the O’Shaughnessy-Frey Library Center in St. Paul, and will continue this fall.

Banner and business intelligence

We look forward to a year of continuous improvement in supporting the university’s business functions efficiently and enhancing our abilities to analyze institutional data.

Earlier this month, with the support of Academic Affairs and working with many departments across the university, we completed the implementation of SunGard’s Electronic Data Warehouse software.  EDW is a data-analysis tool that is configured and loaded using the current enterprise databases.  The primary benefit of EDW is that it captures and allows users to analyze slices of longitudinal data.  The project was timed to be completed by the start of school so that this critical point-in-time data could be captured for this year.  As EDW is populated with more data slices it will provide department heads, deans and other decision-makers with secure, self-service access to reliable historical university data.

During this year, we will launch a project to migrate to Banner 8, ODS 8 and EDW 8, the newest updates of our enterprise systems.  Banner 8 includes a number of new features, including larger field sizes to accommodate international standards, mass importing of student registrations, flexibility for adding additional fields and additional security options.  Migrating to the newest version will be a major project, but it ensures that we continue to receive support from our vendor, SunGard Higher Education, and helps us to maximize the use of our enterprise systems.  In September we will meet with the community to discuss the new features and agree on a general timeline for the implementation.

Consistent with our focus on security, we are planning Security Roadmap sessions with UST departments across campus later this year.

Chris Gregg was named director of IT this past spring. Chris was previously director of IRT Client Services and IRT Information Security. He has served UST ably for ten years, and now brings his leadership skills and knowledge of information resources and technologies to his new role.