Campus web experience improved for fall

Over the last several months, plans have been put in place for the future services provided by Wilfrid Laurier University’s information technology services (ITS) and some changes have already occurred.

By the fall, the computer interfaces that students interact with as well as the network foundation of those services will be revamped in an effort to increase utility as well as performance.

“We’re looking at complex and multi-year projects to rebuild our network,” assistant VP of academics Tom Buckley explained. “We’re looking at some pretty complex fundamental changes and heavy investment; we want to make sure we get it right.”

The entire network, including Laurier’s wireless network offerings, will be redeveloped with an emphasis on security, he added.

Laurier’s online learning management system WebCT is being replaced. Multiple internet-based services will be incorporated into a central MyLaurier portal with a single password and there will be changes to Laurier’s email system.

Buckley has been involved with the planning and development of changes to the IT system since last fall, including the co-ordination of a student advisory group that met with students to discuss possible modifications to ITS services.

“It was about looking forward and what we need to do to address some challenges that people face and really bring the network services up to where they need to be,” Buckley said of the planning process and changes that have been made as a result thus far.

While he would not provide specifics on the cost of the overhaul, Buckley said, “We’re still planning but it will be measured in the million [dollar]-plus range for the network [changes] alone.”

Laurier’s administration approved a one-time budget allocation for the project last year. Students are also directly contributing funding to some of the work through an allocation of $54,200 from last year’s student life levy that has been directed at developing the new MyLaurier portal.

Online Learning

Laurier’s current online learning management system, WebCT, will be replaced with a new system for the fall term. The Desire2Learn learning environment, which has already been used in Laurier graduate business programs, will take over as the interface for online components of classroom courses and online-only offerings.

“We felt that in terms of where Laurier is going with our [online learning] needs it was a really good fit,” remarked director of teaching support services Sandy Hughes, who added that she feels the system is more flexible and accessible than WebCT. “We think it’s more intuitive in terms of the controls for all the users, especially students.”

Hundreds of courses at Laurier have already been converted to the Desire2Learn system, which was developed by a local Kitchener firm.

Programs at the Universities of Guelph and Waterloo already utilize this platform, as do many American institutions.

MyLaurier

Students will be able to access all the online services they use at Laurier through a single site in September when a new mylaurier.ca is set to launch.

“All the things that students have to access on a regular basis are being centralized through this central gateway,” explained director of student services Dan Dawson.

Currently, students at the university may require up to eleven different logins and passwords for various required services from course registration to checking the balance on their OneCard.

The new site will allow students to log in once and access all of these services through a single point of entry.

“It’s going to be a one-stop shop for students,” WLUSU president Kyle Walker said. “I think a lot of students will set that as their homepage.”

Email

Replacing Laurier’s current Novell email system with one from a third-party provider is being examined.

“We’re in the final stages of negotiating and finalizing plans for a new web-based email solution for students,” Buckley said, adding that as well as being more cost-effective, the new service “will greatly increase service, storage availability, the whole nine yards.”

Negotiations are underway with one of the two main web-based email providers, and while Buckley would not discuss specific service providers, Walker indicated that Google and Microsoft had been considered.

“Gmail was brought up,” he said, pointing out the popularity of Google’s offering. “Now more research has been done and Microsoft is another player in that.”

“Storage space will increase by a factor of close to three hundred,” Buckley said, adding that the new system will be as functional and responsive on par with a service like Hotmail or Gmail.

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