Project Agora Offers First Package of Voice, Data and Video to all Students

By Sean Smith
Staff Writer

All Boston College students now have access to voice, data and video services through connections built into their residence hall rooms -- the only students in the country to enjoy such a comprehensive package -- as the University formally unveiled Project Agora at the start of the academic year.

Conceived by the Information Technology staff, Agora offers students Internet access, voice and electronic mail, cable TV and phone services in their residence halls and other areas on campus. While the project was developed with undergraduates' needs in mind, Info Tech administrators say Agora is actually the last phase in a broad reshaping of the University' s communications and technology resources. Although students are most affected by Agora, the refinements will be noticeable to the University community as a whole.

"I think the best way to sum up Agora and its impact on the University community," said Information Technology Executive Director Bernard Gleason, " is to say that there are now abundant opportunities for people to communicate with one another, to send or receive information. The obstacles have been removed. It is now up to the members of the University community to make use of these resources."For example, Gleason noted, faculty will be able to organize and run teleconferences directly betwee n classrooms, both on and off campus. The University can also broadcast special programming to students in their rooms, such as safety awareness seminars or even emergency bulletins.

The purpose of Agora is summed up in its name, which is taken from an ancient Greek word meaning "gathering place," Gleason said. " The goal is to create an electronic community where people can gather to exchange information and ideas, not simply connect to the information highway. The University made a commitment to this goal several years ago with the decision to network the campus and Agora represents the finishing touches."

Over the past year, workers installed the necessary wiring in residence halls, as well as the three-part outlets that bring the video, voice and data services into common areas and individual rooms. These services include personal electronic mail accounts, access to the Internet and a 500-channel interactive cable TV system developed by Continental Cablevision. While the cable package will offer sports and entertainment, it will include educational and international programming from around the world, as well as broadcasts originating from the University.

Students are now able to obtain voice mail services even before they arrive to begin their freshman year and have the option to retain them for up to 120 days after graduation. Faculty members or other Boston College personnel therefore have a more direct way of communicating with students outside the classroom, while undergraduates can stay in contact with prospective employers or graduate programs.

Another important facet of Agora is the Eagle One cards issued last fall. Besides serving as the University identification card, Eagle One now supports a long distance calling system for University employees and students. When the cards were first introduc ed, Gleason said, anyone interested in the long distance service had to sign up; now, a card holder can simply choose to use it when needed and will receive a monthly bill. The card will eventually support other services now being planned, Gleason added.

Coinciding with Agora's electronic mail component, Gleason said, will be a simplification of employee and student user names. It will also be possible to address all campus electronic mail to a central server, "@bc.edu," instead of selecting from among the various University electronic mail systems. Information about these and other enhancements will be made available at a later date, Gleason said.
The conception of Agora reflects the University's foresight in the area of technology, Gleason said.

"About the most frequently asked question I hear from parents about technology at BC is, 'Will my son or daughter have access to the Internet?'" he explained. " We had been planning this project for years, well before the explosion of interest in on-line services. But BC early on realized the significance of making the Internet accessible to students. So the timing of Agora has been perfect; Boston College student s have a great opportunity to utilize the Internet."

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