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OIT Matters: Technology upgrades moving forward at OHIO

A modern, integrated e-mail and online calendar system. Simplified and enhanced voicemail.  A smarter, more sophisticated Blackboard.  Better network security, speed, service and efficiency.  A Student Information System that consolidates key academic and administrative tasks, and a personalized university portal that ties it all together.  In the coming months, OHIO faculty, students and staff will see big changes in how they teach, learn, work and communicate.

Exchange e-mail and calendar

Look for the Office of Information Technology to begin rolling out a new Microsoft Exchange-based integrated e-mail and calendar system for faculty, staff and graduate students in May, with Alden Library among the first units to join.

The heaviest calendar users – primarily Ohio University's senior leadership and their direct reports will follow starting in July. After that group's migration has been completed, OIT will make self-service migration tools available to all faculty, staff and graduate students. 

Currently, OIT staff members are piloting the new system and refining the migration schedule. The goal is to have all users migrated to Exchange by the end of fall quarter 2010. The new system will replace Oak e-mail and Oracle Calendar, both of which are nearing the end of their useful life.

Once migrated, users will find that Exchange offers a number of improvements, including seamless integration of e-mail and calendaring. It also works well on most mobile devices.  Finally, Exchange will cost less to maintain than the current Oak environment.

Of course, a project of this size poses challenges. Because the migration is occurring in stages, Ohio University will need to maintain two calendar systems -- Exchange and Oracle Calendar.  Oracle users also will no longer be able to see calendar availability of those individuals who have been migrated to Exchange. For tips on working in a two-calendar environment, please click here.

To keep the university community informed about the project, the OIT staff has developed a website packed with updates, documentation, videos, and tips for working in a two-calendar environment:  http://www.ohio.edu/technology/exchange


Ohio University is preparing to launch a new voicemail system offering a host of advanced features and services for Athens campus faculty and staff.

Upgrading or continuing with the existing voicemail system, which was installed in 1986, wasn't an option, said Rick Manderick, interim director of Network and Infrastructure for the Office of Information Technology.

Because of the system's age, replacement parts are difficult, if not impossible, to find. Storage and call processing resources also are near capacity, limiting the university's ability to fulfill new service requests.

OIT selected the new system earlier this year after evaluating proposals from about a dozen vendors. Applied Voice & Speech Technologies' CallXpress system stood out because of its industry reputation, competitive price and advanced features. The system also allows Ohio University to build toward a unified communications platform.

Among other features, the new system offers:

•    Simplified dialing prompts
•    Speech-enabled auto attendants
•    Unified messaging
•    An online interface that allows subscribers to manage their voicemail through a preferred Web browser such as Firefox or Internet Explorer
•    Advanced reporting capabilities, allowing better call tracking

Manderick added that there are no plans at this time to raise the monthly cost of the service.

To help users become familiar with the new system, OIT will offer weekly training sessions as the rollout progresses. For more information about the project, including a list of frequently asked questions and video tutorials, visit www.ohio.edu/oit/voicemail.

Blackboard 9.0

Coming soon to a classroom near you: Blackboard 9.0. When summer quarter starts on June 21, 2010 faculty and students will be logging in to the latest version of the online teaching and learning tool.  The upgrade ensures Blackboard remains compatible with the latest browsers and operating systems. Vendor support for OHIO’s current version – Blackboard 7.3 – also has become limited.

Users will notice a number of improvements right away, including a system that requires fewer clicks to navigate, a drag and drop feature, and tools to facilitate group projects.  Students as well as faculty will benefit from a new notifications dashboard that keeps track of upcoming or past due assignments.

"To be sure, faculty members will need to spend some time with the new version because the upgrade is so extensive," said David Matthews, director of Academic Technology.  According to Matthews, Blackboard has replaced the grade book with a more sophisticated offering called the Grade Center. Featuring Excel-like entries, the Grade Center offers a host of user options, including the ability to drop the lowest grade and a grade change history.

To get a sense of the new Blackboard interface and to decide whether training is necessary, Matthews recommends that faculty experiment with a test course in the new environment.  Test course shells already have been created for all spring quarter instructors, and instructions will be available for others who wish to create a test course.   

To facilitate a smooth transition, the Blackboard support team plans to hold weekly training sessions now through fall quarter. To ease the impact on faculty members who will be teaching in the summer, support staff also will import course content, if requested, for summer courses from Blackboard 7.3.

Matthews stressed that the Blackboard team is counting on faculty feedback about the new version to improve service and suggest modifications to upcoming Blackboard versions. To learn more about Blackboard 9.0 – including how to create a test course – visit http://bbsupport.ohio.edu .

NextGen Network Upgrade

Progress continues on the university's first comprehensive wired and wireless network upgrade since 1998, with 16 Athens campus buildings completed, three under way, and an additional five slated to begin in May 2010. Work on the Chillicothe campus wired network also is under way.

Along with updating network infrastructure, the project will offer improved services to network users. For example, many individuals on campus currently use a variety of Virtual Private Network (VPN) clients when they need to connect remotely to resources that are restricted to campus-only access. OIT currently is in the process of migrating these users onto a new, Web-based VPN that will provide simpler, more efficient access to campus-only resources. For the majority of faculty and staff, this new tool will be most useful for accessing files stored on university-provided network folders from home or while traveling.

NextGen SIS – The Rufus Initiative

OHIO’s Rufus Initiative remains on schedule to completely replace the university's aging Student Information System (SIS) with PeopleSoft by summer 2011. 

To meet this target, parts of the new SIS will need to come online as much as a year in advance.  For example, the university begins processing 2011 applications during summer 2010, so admissions-related components of the new system must be in production by then.  Financial Aid will follow in late fall of the 2010-11 academic year, with Student Financials and Student Records coming online closer to the start of 2011-12.

Individuals involved in the admissions process will begin learning how to use PeopleSoft's Admissions module in the coming months.  Specific training schedules will be based on each area’s summer 2011 admissions timeline.

Changes are in the works on a broader scale as well.  On April 19, 2010, an SIS-related course retake/repeat policy change received its first reading in Faculty Senate.  Faculty advisory groups also are working on recommendations relating to academic probation and the number of hours required for full time student status.

According to Rufus Initiative program director Shelley Ruff, continued faculty involvement is essential to the project’s success. "We are especially grateful to Joe McLaughlin, Allyn Reilly, David Thomas, David Matthews, and Phyllis Bernt for their insight and guidance," Ruff said.  McLaughlin chairs Faculty Senate, while Reilly and Thomas head the Educational Policy and Student Affairs committee (EPSA) and the University Curriculum Council (UCC) respectively.  Matthews and Bernt co-chair the Faculty Technology Advisory Group (FTAG).

University portal   

In their day-to-day lives at the university, OHIO faculty, staff and students all need to access multiple online information sources including Blackboard, e-mail, class registration, e-Bills, financial aid, and SIS.  Currently, these services all reside in separate locations, require separate logins, and do not provide any way to know if new information is available without logging into each of those sites.

An online portal can make it easier to stay on top of this sort of information overload by providing a personalized page for every student, faculty and staff that places common online resources at their fingertips.  A full featured portal not only acts as a navigation aid, but also displays personalized content.

OHIO’s portal will tackle this challenge in phases, with a basic portal for students coming online in summer 2010 that will focus primarily on helping students navigate to existing online services.  This version also may include some basic university news feeds.  Future releases will expand to include faculty/staff and will add features like an e-mail inbox summary, a Blackboard announcements & assignments section, and access to the new PeopleSoft SIS Student and Faculty Centers. 

According to project manager Jay Beam, how quickly the portal expands will depend on how individual online services integrate behind the scenes.  Some applications might only need a few weeks’ development and testing, while others could require months of intensive, custom programming.

Information Technology Realignment

Work is progressing on pace to meet President Roderick McDavis’ directive to consolidate all university-wide servers, enterprise applications, data networks and security under the Office of Information Technology as well as joining university-owned computers to the university's main Active Directory.

Both projects aim to develop a unified IT approach at Ohio University to ensure optimal security and services as well as improve efficiencies. As part of the realignment, OIT is developing service objectives with individual planning units to address, for example, response times, escalation policies and key contacts when a service issue arises, said Duane Starkey, assistant chief information officer.

Currently, about half of the university's 440 IT services running on distributed servers have been consolidated under OIT and the rest are on schedule for migration by the end of June. Eventually, the realignment will bring distributed IT staff under the OIT umbrella.

Meanwhile, work is moving ahead on the Active Directory project. At its most basic level, Active Directory aims to connect university computers to shared resources such as network drives, shared printers or applications.

While it's not required, joining the university's main Active Directory offers a number of advantages.  According to Marty Barnes, OIT's executive director for systems and operations, users will receive a minimum of 2 GB of backed up personal storage space on the university’s secure network, and security patches and program updates will be automatically delivered. Troubleshooting also will be faster when calling the Service Desk, because users will have the option of allowing the technician they are speaking with to view their computer’s desktop remotely.

For more information about Active Directory and IT realignment, visit http://www.ohio.edu/oit/realignment/index.cfm.

Great change leads to great improvement

According to Chief Information Officer Brice Bible, these seven major IT projects will help achieve the university's goal of providing modern, robust and secure online services to all faculty, staff and students.

"Think of this as an IT benefits package," Bible says. "When new faculty join our community, they will have access to a consistent set of communication tools, collaboration resources, and network access to support their teaching, research and creative work."