University Forges Ahead on Technology Front

University Forges Ahead on Technology Front

Boston College undertakes technology projects in academic and student services, even as the search for a new vice president for IT gathers steam

By Sean Smith
Chronicle Editor

The 21st century is barely a year old, and the technology-aided future envisioned by pundits and prognosticators of the last century has arrived at Boston College. Undergraduates on campus can now use a single card to make purchases in the Bookstore and do their laundry, for example, while faculty are making course materials and related content accessible via the Internet to students.


By the end of the current academic year, University administrators say, the University should be seeing the results of more technology initiatives and the beginning of other longer-term projects, involving such areas as the campus e-mail and financial systems.

These tech-related initiatives are taking place even as BC continues a nationwide search for a vice president to head its Information Technology division, a post that has been vacant since July of 2000 but is expected to be filled this summer.

Taking on such projects in the absence of a full-time, top-level manager is necessary, BC administrators say, because of the University's commitment to technology as in academics, research and most every other facet of campus services.

"We're in the early phase of the VP search, and I'm encouraged by the responses we've been getting," said Executive Vice President Patrick Keating, who is serving as acting vice president for Information Technology. "In the meantime, Boston College has found it necessary to move ahead with these technology-related projects. The nature of higher education, and technology itself, is such that we literally cannot afford to wait until a new vice president is on board.

"That person will, we expect, bring a strong, comprehensive vision for technology and its use at Boston College. But these recent and forthcoming initiatives will not restrict or dictate what he or she will be able to do. On the contrary, a few of these projects could almost be regarded as 'deferred maintenance,' necessary and logical steps for a university to take given the size and scope of its technology.

"Putting these projects in motion demonstrates that BC is an organization unafraid to take action and go forward, and that we have confidence in the ability of our Information Technology personnel to work with other administrators and faculty to successfully implement our plans."


Patrick Keating: "The nature of higher education, and technology itself, is such that we literally cannot afford to wait until a new vice president is on board."
Information Technology Executive Director Jack Spang said, "The operating principles we've devised with [Keating] offer a solid structure to ensure that we will effectively address our short-term needs while keeping longer-term goals well in sight."

Spang and IT Director Mary Corcoran point to significant IT initiatives that took shape during the recent holiday break, beginning with an upgrade of the mainframe system. Updating the system helps to permit the continuation of existing services, say Spang and Corcoran, and enable applications and data to stay running until such time as they are replaced.

One of the most conspicuous, and popular, innovations is the series of new functions added to the University's Eagle One cards through the "Eagle Bucks" program. All members of the BC community can create an Eagle One account and use the card to pay for campus meals and Boston College Bookstore items, operate on-campus vending machines and residence hall laundry machines, and even order pizza from Domino's [see separate story].

Users must have a credit card, which is charged for the amount of Eagle Bucks requested by the cardholder for his or her account.

Later on in the semester, administrators say, Eagle Bucks will be available to pay for goods and services at selected off-campus vendors. Other prospective future uses include payment for tickets to BC theater and athletic events.

"What we've done is to look at the complete student experience at BC," said Financial Systems Director James Newman, "and figure out what kinds of services and needs we can bundle into the Eagle One card. We're close to a time when a student can go through a whole day, from eating breakfast to doing laundry to finding entertainment, without having to use cash or a credit card - just the Eagle One."

Newman praised the spirit of collaboration for the success of Eagle One, which encompasses the Information Technology, Student Services and University Controller's offices, among others. As the card's off-campus applications grow, he noted, so do the prospects for BC to broaden its presence within the Greater Boston community.


Jack Spang: "The operating principles we've devised...ensure that we will effectively address our short-term needs while keeping longer-term goals well in sight."
"The Eagle One is a signature for the institution," said Newman. "When you hand an Eagle One card to a merchant in Kenmore Square or Faneuil Hall, it helps to further the impression of Boston College as a major part of the community."

Eagle One: It's No Longer Just Another ID Card

The Eagle One card, with its ever-increasing array of "Eagle Bucks" functions and services, is a boon for Boston College students.

But for many Boston College faculty and staff, it's an undiscovered secret.

Buy lunch in McElroy Commons or the Eagle's Nest?

Get a bottle of soda or a snack from a vending machine?

Buy a shirt from the Bookstore?

Yes, it does all that for employees, too, says Financial Systems Director James Newman, who cites more features on the way. By next fall, he says, you'll be able to pick up a newspaper and a cup of coffee at convenience stores near campus, and you won't have to fish in your pockets for change.

"Obviously, the Eagle One is directed at students and their needs," said Newman. "But BC employees should know about its uses, too. I'd say it's quite underutilized by faculty and staff."

More information on Eagle One cards and the Eagle Bucks program is available at www.bc.edu/bc_org/avp/enmgt/stserv/aux/id1.html.

Another project with considerable promise, administrators say, is the University's work with WebCT, a course management program through which faculty can make available class materials such as syllabi, lecture notes and readings to students - and even hold on-line discussions - through password-protected World Wide Web sites.

Faculty in the Graduate School of Social Work, Law School and, more recently, the History Department are using the program to serve approximately 3,000 students. To illustrate the concept of fair use under copyright for her Legal Reasoning and Research Writing class, Adj. Assoc. Prof. Joan Blum (Law) produced a short film parodying the MasterCard "priceless" commercials, and then put it on her WebCT site so students could log in and watch at their convenience.

Faculty and student users of WebCT say it reduces the need to reserve materials at the library, and all but eliminates paperwork - students can even submit their homework on-line. Discussions are easy to set up via WebCT and offer a forum through which students may become more comfortable in expressing themselves.

"The great thing about a program like WebCT is how easy it can make the process," said Assoc. Prof. Michael Connolly (Slavic and Eastern Languages), coordinator of the Faculty Microcomputing Resource Center and a key proponent of technology's use in academics at BC. "There's usually a lot of tasks involved in putting class materials up on the Web and restricting them to students. This is a far more centralized approach."

Connolly cites the role of the newly formed Academic Technology Services division and its director, Associate Vice President for Student Information Services Rita Owens, as critical to supporting and expanding initiatives such as WebCT.

"WebCT is just one of many course management tools we'll be seeing in the future, and all are part of a much bigger envelope called 'e-learning,'" said Connolly, who helped design the ATS division. "That's an area rife with possibilities, and represents another reason why ATS is a welcome addition. It serves as an important link between the University's strategic planning for technology in academics, and the way those resources are used day-in, week-out, in instruction and research."

In the weeks and months ahead, administrators say, will be news of more technology-aided enhancements to BC's academic, administrative and support services. These will include improvements and refinements to the campus e-mail system and World Wide Web site; the debut of a high-speed network to aid faculty research collaboration; continuation of the University-wide desktop replacement project; and the first phase of the installation of a new financial management system.

"Above all," Spang said, "Information Technology strives to deliver excellent service to faculty, staff and students, and to work in collaboration with them. It is a partnership in every sense of the word, and critical to support the University's mission."

 

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