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By Barbara Black
Andrew McAusland wants your feedback on the performance of Instructional and Information Technology Services. But make that constructive feedback, please, not just grumbling.
As always, IITS has several major projects on the go. The most important is WISE, which stands for Web-Integrated Services for Education.
WISE is a package of services designed to make students’ work easier and more fulfilling. It creates a virtual work environment, because it isn’t dependent on the student’s own computer; WISE is accessible from any computer connected to the Internet.
Access depends on a wireless “mesh” of access points. There are two networks at Concordia, one indoor, which comprises 300 access points for the two campuses, and one outdoor, which comprises 13 access points downtown and another 36 at Loyola. All students have free access to the indoor mesh network, but only students subscribed to WISE will have access to the outdoor network.
IITS will try to expand the downtown core mesh network to one square kilometer by the end of 2008. A core mesh network that will blanket the whole campus will be established at Loyola. Eventually, the mesh will extend along the 7-km corridor between the campuses. It will make Concordia a potential Internet service provider (ISP) to roughly 16,000 people in the university and the neighbourhood.
“The idea is to become as global a service provider as possible to all the students,” McAusland said. “We’ve had preliminary discussions with other universities, and we want to establish bilateral sharing. If we got two other universities involved, we’d be able to cover 90 per cent of the city. You’d be able to access our network from theirs, and vice versa. Within two or three years, it’ll be there.”
WISE was introduced free in September, and students who choose to use the outdoor network will pay for it as of Jan. 1. For $8.99 a month, they will get software, file storage, and access to services like translation software and turnitin.com. Many more services will be added. The service will be offered to faculty in January, and staff in March. It will mean, for better or worse, that you can access your work desktop from home.
McAusland says the rapid pace of technological growth at Concordia is being set by the demands of its clients.
“You can’t work or study here now without a computer and a network service, and the demographic is huge, so we’ve got a wide array of services. In five years, students coming in here will have been born in 1994 or 1995. They’re so young they think email is for old people. That’s why we introduced text messaging way ahead of any other university in Canada.”
The average age of faculty is dropping fast, and their demands are increasing. “Their complaint is, I can’t get to the technology fast enough; not, I don’t want to use it. But it’s all being driven by the students.”
All this technology requires efficient access. Right now, access to the wireless podiums in the classrooms is based on keys that need to be tracked and signed for. However, McAusland hopes the university will adopt a one-card system for all services and all users. When it is clear what card system will be adopted, swipe cards will be introduced to replace the keys, likely in September 2008.
IITS is offering a SIP phone — a standard Internet protocol phone — to students, faculty and staff. For $17.99 a month, which includes WISE, you can get a real phone with a phone number that will work anywhere your computer works. It has various functions, including click-to-talk, which will enable users to phone the university from their computer should they need administrative help.
Online course evaluations have proven to be very reliable and well used. This is an academic issue, as is the anti-plagiarism site turnitin.com, McAusland said. “We released it for students to assess their own work, but no professor is using the university license.”
IITS will soon have a regular interface with the academic faculties though an advisory committee. “We’re asking the deans for two representatives each, and we’ll meet once a term,” he said.
“We constantly go out and solicit feedback. I like to hear positive comments, and I particularly like complaints with a conceptual resolution. We react to them, too.”
General questions can be directed to IITS.firstname.lastname@example.org. Specific questions should be addressed to the help line at ext. 7613.