Unlike web pages maintained by University offices and departments, these pages are intended for private, non-official use by members of the BC community. The server [http://www2.bc.edu/] has over 1,360 active accounts and, since it became operational last August, has logged over 1.8 million "hits," according to the Information Technology office.
Using the personal web server, faculty can update colleagues at other institutions on their research, for instance, while students can post an electronic version of their resumes to aid their job-hunting. But employees and students also post family photos, describe their hobbies or indulge in a little frivolity.
Administrators say the personal web server reflects Boston College's commitment to provide the means for easy communication, on campus and world wide. While they acknowledge that offering this service has meant confronting issues that have accompanied the web's increasing popularity, such as privacy, they feel the potential benefits make it a worthwhile venture.
"One major goal Boston College has stressed is for more information to be readily available to the University community," said Institutional Information Resources Director James O'Neill. "For an individual, up until now there has been no easy way to do that. Technology makes it possible in a practical, efficient way.
"The personal web server is personal in the sense that you control what you put on your home page," he continued, "but the presumption is that most of the material is related to BC in some way, or is relevant to one's professional life. Ultimately, though, the web lets people share many sides of their lives in a way they couldn't before."
Pages currently on the server represent a range of experience and familiarity with web-related technology, some elaborately written and designed, others displaying little more than names and addresses. Faculty often list the courses they teach as well as their research, while administrators and staff describe their projects and areas of responsibilities. Some employees also have included material on topics of personal interest such as adoption, crotcheting and science fiction.
"I use it because I want to update information on the astronomy course I teach; the alternative is to use hundreds of sheets of paper," said Weston Observatory Professional Researcher Andrew Lazarewicz, who also provides links to other astronomy-related web sites. "But I also try to present more material than might be usual for students - or anyone interested in astronomy - to peruse at their leisure. I've found it to be a great tool."
Many students have eagerly embraced web technology and can be quite creative with their home pages. Some contents are whimsical - such as tributes to pig paraphernalia, low-fat food and something called "the troll of Billerica." But others are more purposeful: one student's page includes images and information concerning her native Ecuador; another solicits tips and advice for her upcoming trip across Europe; and another undergraduate puts his residence hall's monthly newsletter on-line.
Administrators note that the University carefully weighed the potential risks in making web pages available for personal use. A committee of BC community members discussed ethical, legal and other issues which could arise, such as the publication of material that might be offensive or jeopardize individual privacy. While continually monitoring and regulating web page activity is all but impossible, O'Neill said, the University maintains its expectations and standards for employee and student conduct.
O'Neill points out that when an employee or student requests an account - which can be done directly and immediately through the web site - a list of basic guidelines on usage appears on the page before they submit the request form. The page also contains links to other BC web sites which elaborate on University policy and procedures concerning information technology.
"This is new territory and we as a community will need to reflect on and discuss how we will navigate through it," O'Neill said. "But it's also very exciting. It's an appealing notion to think that there will be some highly useful ideas in the web pages employees and students create, that people will pull together documents or links in a way no one has thought of before. This is another way technology can help BC further its mission."
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