Archive for Saturday, August 10, 2002

College continues to invest in upgrades

Improving network infrastructure remains priority for KU chancellor

August 10, 2002


The technological landscape at Kansas University has changed dramatically since 1995.

That's when Chancellor Robert Hemenway took the captain's seat at KU and declared upgrading campus technology one of his missions.

MANUEL PEREZ-TEJADA, a KU doctoral student in film, works in a
computer lab on the fourth floor of the Kansas Union.

MANUEL PEREZ-TEJADA, a KU doctoral student in film, works in a computer lab on the fourth floor of the Kansas Union.

Seven years and millions of dollars later, the building blocks are in place to "prepare students for the technological workplace," Hemenway said.

"We have to make sure that our use of technology is comparable to what students will encounter when they enter that workplace," he said. "I just think universities have to make major investments in information technology, especially if we are to have access to the things we need to prepare students for the 2lst century."

Hemenway helped the university move forward in two ways, said Marilu Goodyear, vice chancellor for information services and chief information officer.

First, Hemenway reorganized, bringing the libraries and information technology sectors together, she said. Second, Hemenway has come through with funds for technology.

"He's put his money where his mouth is," Goodyear said. "He's made it a priority, and he's invested money in information technology. ... And he doesn't just give us a blank check. He's been very tough on making sure that we're spending that money effectively and we're really delivering services for what he gives us."

Bigger and faster

One of the biggest investments the university has made in recent years involved improving the campus's technological infrastructure. The university's network is 100 times faster than it was in 1995, and the places students can access that network have multiplied as well.

Hoch Auditorium, which was destroyed in a 1991 fire, was rebuilt in 1997 as Budig Hall with a fully-equipped online classroom and a new 118-unit student computer lab.

Having access to a computer and the university's network has never been so crucial. KU's new Blackboard system allows instructors to place virtually an entire course on the Web. Students can read the class syllabus, get assignments, submit completed work and receive grades in return all online.

A new software system called Peoplesoft is allowing the university to integrate all of its functions, including human resources payroll, financial accounting, admissions and financial aid.

Coming soon: online enrollment. It's scheduled to be in place by spring 2003, and it's one area KU students have been waiting on for years as their friends at peer institutions enjoyed the convenience of picking classes from their home computers. But Goodyear said doing it right the first time, making online enrollment part of an integrated, university-wide software system, made it worth the wait.

"By going that direction, the long-term payoff will be that those systems are integrated across each other," she said.

For example, in the near future, a student will be able to enroll online. Peoplesoft will calculate how much tuition that student owes and feed that information into the university's budget program. The program consolidates a lot of work that would have been spread across several offices and several employees in the past.

Implementation of Peoplesoft over the past five years has cost about $6.5 million, associate provost Lindy Eakin said.

Other improvements

Here's a look at a few other areas that have seen improvement since 1995.

l Network infrastructure upgraded. Most of a congressional appropriation of just under $1.4 million, which KU received in 2000 from the Fund for the Improvement of Postsecondary Education, went toward upgrading campus networking infrastructure to expand Internet2 capabilities. Internet2, a high-speed network created to support advanced educational and research applications, is a consortium led by more than 170 universities working with industry and government. Internet2 supports advanced applications that allow collaboration and remote learning among researchers around the world.

l Improved student computing facilities. In addition to the new Budig Hall lab, resources in both training and student labs were expanded. The university created a multi-media teaching lab, made hardware and software upgrades to better accommodate people with disabilities, and the 24-hour-access lab was relocated to the Kansas Union for easier student access.

l Training programs for faculty, staff and students, as well as information technology professionals statewide. KU trains all campus information technology professionals to make Web pages accessible to people with disabilities. University staff has provided similar training to information technology professionals across Kansas.

l Participation in national electronic publishing efforts. KU in 1999 became one of the founding organizations in BioOne, a new venture to address scholarly publication issues. The database provides access to 47 interrelated journals in the biological, ecological and environmental sciences.

What the future holds

As the 2002-2003 academic year unfolds, students will notice more changes. They'll be able to check out laptop computers at campus libraries, take them anywhere in the building and have access through wireless technology to the university's online resources and the Internet. Online enrollment should put an end to waiting in long lines in Strong Hall.

Revenue generated by the 25 percent tuition increase the Kansas Board of Regents approved in June will add to the pot KU already spends on improving technology. In fiscal years 2000 and 2001, the university dedicated $1 per credit hour toward improving campus technology, and the state matched each dollar with $2, Eakin said. The state reduced that match amount by $1 in fiscal year 2002.

But funds from the tuition increase will add a $4-per-credit-hour boost, a great deal of which the university hopes to funnel into individual schools so that administrators can decide how best to spend the money, Eakin said.

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