Tech Tuesday: IRT director gives overview of projects, initiatives, trends for 2009-10

With the support of the campus community, we have over the past year continued our assessments on a broad range of topics, completed many implementation and maintenance projects and sponsored many events. It is my hope that what follows will provide an overview of some of the projects and initiatives that Information Resources and Technology (IRT) will be working on in the coming year as well as some of the trends we will be studying in support of teaching and learning, scholarly activity, and the business and community life at the University of St. Thomas. Please continue as well to look for our Tech Tuesday features in The Bulletin each week.

Celebrating 50 years of the O’Shaughnessy Library

Thursday, Oct. 29, marks the 50th anniversary of the dedication of the O’Shaughnessy Library. You are invited to join the O’Shaughnessy and Frey families on Friday, Oct. 23, for a 3:30 p.m. ceremony in Room 126 (the first-floor auditorium) of the John R. Roach Center for the Liberal Arts, followed by an open house in the O’Shaughnessy-Frey Library Center. For more information, please see the library's 50th anniversary site.

As part of the anniversary events, UST Libraries is pleased to welcome home a former student. Lisa Janicke Hinchliffe, class of 1992, is now a library administrator and professor at the University of Illinois. She also is the president-elect of the Association of College and Research Libraries. UST Libraries is bringing Lisa back to her alma mater on Tuesday, Oct. 20, to meet with students, faculty, administrators and library staff to both celebrate her accomplishment and to learn more from her about her vision for the academic library of the future.

O’Shaughnessy-Frey Library will be partnering with Coffee Bené to build a coffee shop on the first floor of the library. The opening is planned for the beginning of second semester. Director of University Libraries Dan Gjelten has been working to place a coffee shop in the library following many requests from faculty, staff and students over the past five years.

Assessment of Information Resources and Technologies Use

In response to advice from the University Technology Advisory Committee, we will ask faculty to respond to the UST Faculty Technology Survey during the spring semester. The survey is designed to aid in planning and prioritizing technology services and support. The survey will be conducted online, and we will be in contact prior to the release dates. Items in the survey will focus on the following themes:

  • Technology priorities and perceptions
  • Smart classrooms
  • Technology use and barriers
  • Technology support
  • Technology and faculty research

The UST Libraries conducted the LibQual survey in the fall of 2008. LibQual was designed and is conducted by the Association of Research Libraries and has been completed more than 1,000 times at 500 college and university libraries around the world. It is clear from our findings that our three main constituent groups have different expectations and desired services. UST Libraries noted that undergraduate students value the library as a place, that graduate students valued our remote information and service offerings, and that faculty place a great deal of importance on content that supports their work, whether that is teaching or research. UST Libraries has posted the full text of the survey and preliminary analysis at the LibQUAL Survey Results site.

A number of other survey results have assisted IRT in understanding our community and services. Last spring, IRT surveyed all faculty currently using Blackboard to identify the features they find valuable, and their satisfaction with Blackboard version 8. According to the results, about 600 faculty use Blackboard for delivering course materials in nearly 1,100 courses during fall or spring semesters. Of those responding to the survey, 89 percent said they were “very satisfied” or “satisfied” with Blackboard. Thirty-nine percent of respondents also felt we should consider alternative learning management systems (LMS) for the future as systems continue to evolve, and 74 percent of those respondents felt we should examine Moodle, an open-source LMS.

IRT has for some years been a participant in the Educause ECAR Survey of Student and Computing Use, a nationwide study. That participation has yielded important insights into how our students use technologies and how our students are similar or different from their counterparts in many other colleges and universities. We also are guided by responses to a survey of every 10th caller to the IRT Tech Desk for feedback on resolution to their issues.

University Task Forces

Following the recommendations of a working group of the Academic and Administrative Leadership team, Dr. Susan Huber and I recommended to Father Dennis Dease, president of the university, the formation of two university task forces – one on Copyright and Intellectual Property and one on Online Learning. Father Dease’s goal for the 2009-10 year is:

“By Sept. 30, 2009, appoint two separate university task forces: one to define and establish UST’s vision for approaching online learning; the other to discuss copyright, discuss and formulate an intellectual property policy, and discuss associated best practice. By June 1, 2010, review task force reports related to online learning and copyright and intellectual property.”

The task forces’ representation is drawn evenly from faculty and staff. We look forward to our deliberations in the coming months.

The University Technology Advisory Committee begins its work this year with a broad agenda of topics. Among those are the previously mentioned UST Faculty Technology Survey, a review of competing products for e-mail and productivity suites (Microsoft and Google), a review of issues around the continuing evolution of learning-management systems (Blackboard and Moodle), a discussion of emerging research computing at UST, a review of an IRT report on Video at UST, and a discussion of institutional-repository planning.

UST Enterprise Portal and Web

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 redesign on many UST Web pages in cooperation with departments across campus and the use of content management. 

UST’s new Enterprise Portal launched last fall for students. The Enterprise Portal combines the data repositories of Banner, Blackboard, Resource25 and other applications into a cohesive, personalized view for students, faculty and staff. With the launch of the Enterprise Portal, students have their UST services online organized for their use in one location.

Most recent data indicate that the Enterprise Portal averages 60,000 visits monthly, with 250,000 page views resulting. In an average day, there are 3,500 visits and 14,000 page views. Student feedback continues to be positive, and enhancements to the portal are planned in the coming year.

Other important projects for the Web include the Graduate Application Module (GAM), upgrades to the the Standards Accountability Tool (STAT), and marketing and design projects for the graduate programs.

Digital Convergence Initiative

This summer, we completed a major wiring upgrade of UST’s network as part of the Digital Convergence Initiative (DCI). In the coming years, we are planning for upgrades to network switching and routing. These upgrades are the key components for convergence of voice, data and video on a single Internet Protocol (IP) network, the creation of a 10 gigabit backbone for the network, and support of Voice-over-IP services in the coming years. Convergence planning is an important element of preparations for the new Anderson Athletic and Recreation Complex as well as the Anderson Student Center planning.

The DCI also provides a key set of standards and functions for UST’s sustainability agenda. The new network will provide key functionality for turning computers on and off on the network, as well as providing capacity for increasing the “greening” of our data center operations. UST’s desktop providers, Dell and Apple, already meet the gold level of the EPEAT environmental model.

Banner 8

This summer, IRT completed an upgrade to Banner, our enterprise academic and business system, to version 8. This was a major system upgrade to Internet Native Banner (INB), Self Service/Murphy Online (SS/MO), Operational Data Store (ODS), and Enterprise Data Warehouse (EDW). The upgrade included:

  • Support for internationalization, including a new character set and enhanced field lengths.
  • Option to set up custom-defined fields, partial-character masking, and enhanced PIN maintenance.
  • Module specific enhancements.

The project was completed over the weekend of Aug. 1, and required extensive coordination and testing on the part of IRT and client community to complete the project on time as planned. In addition to adding new functionality, moving to Banner 8 will help the university stay in sync with support from SunGard Higher Education, and help ensure that we receive timely updates and fixes in the future.

 VPN and Consolidated Remote Access

IRT is actively working on a project to implement a new virtual private network (VPN) solution as well as consolidating our existing remote access solutions. The outcome of the project will be an improved set of remote access tools that are flexible and secure. Specifically, the VPN will enhance our options for mobile clients needing to access UST systems, and provide additional security for our high security systems such as Banner. 

 Windows 7

IRT Client Services plans to test Microsoft’s new operating system, Windows 7, throughout this school year witha goal of implementation with the computers that will be replaced as part of next summer’s rollout. IRT made the decision to hold off on implementing Microsoft Vista due to reported issues with the operating system. Windows 7 has been reported to be a much more stable operating system. We plan to contact both administrative and academic departments throughout the year to participate in training.

Tech Desk Too

This summer, we opened Tech Desk Too in the cyber café area of O'Shaughnessy-Frey Library Center in St. Paul to mirror our walk-up space in Scholars in Minneapolis. All UST faculty, staff and students are welcome to take advantage of the walk-up counters for assistance with common computing questions and configuration issues, even on personally owned computers.

In addition to a walk-up support presence, Tech Desk Too and Scholars feature access to the UST wireless and wired networks, literature for assistance with topics ranging from general PC maintenance to phishing questions and installing software available for checkout from the library.

IRT’s Alerts Page

IRT continues to keep the community updated on computing outages, issues, and announcements on the Alerts section of our Web site. Alerts provide very quick information regarding technology outages and issues on campus.