PAWS launched as powerful portal to web services
Gives faculty, staff & students personalized links to mass of campus information
The U of S website just went on steroids, and it's already flexing its big new muscles.
Last week a powerful and handy new web gateway to information for faculty, staff and students was unveiled, with hints it may revolutionize the way campus folks do business.
On Sept. 8, the Information Technology Services (ITS) Division launched PAWS - Personalized Access to Web Services - the University's new internal, password-protected web area. PAWS is designed to be the one-stop portal linking the U of S community to everything from student marks and course information to group chatrooms, current weather, news headlines, and announcements from campus Security Services.
PAWS Project Manager Jonathan Moore-Wright says ITS worked jointly with the Student and Enrolment Services Division (SESD) in recent months to create the new portal website, using the latest technology and some of the best initial content the University can put online.
"It's very fortunate that through the purchases of software we're making for the new Student Information system, Banner, we're getting the latest Luminis (portal) software. We're probably the first Canadian institution and possibly the first in North America to be implementing it," Moore-Wright says.
"This is something a lot of people have wanted on campus for a long time," he says, adding a number of other universities provide similar intranet web services.
Rick Bunt, the University's Associate Vice-President of Information & Communications Technology, who is overseeing the project, says PAWS gives campus people "access to personalized, customizable and interactive services and information".
But he notes that "PAWS is a work in progress. New services and information will become available through new channels ... on an ongoing basis."
Members of the campus community get to a PAWS log-in page through a link on the University website's homepage. They then log in using their Network Services ID number and a personal password.
That brings the student, faculty member or staff member to his or her own PAWS homepage, which has tabs across the top, allowing the user to flip among their own personalized pages called "Home", "Campus Life", "Library" and others. The user can add other main pages and can customize each page, adding or deleting the "channels", which are areas of displayed text or graphic information on each page.
Some of the 32 channels already available to on PAWS include: academic services; campus announcements; campus arts scene; campus rec; campus security; career and employment; e-mail; financial services; health; Huskie game schedules; Library account; Library research resources; maps, locations & hours; my calendar; my courses; my headlines; personal announcements; Saskatoon weather; U of S news; and U of S webcam.
Moore-Wright says PAWS will work closely with the new student information (Si) system that will be introduced over the next year or two. "Access to Si will be delivered through PAWS, and it will be seamless," he says.
In fact, eventually access to all online campus information - including financial data, course records, admission and registration materials, and countless other records - will be through PAWS.
In this early stage, much of the information in the new web service centres around students. For that reason, Sharon Scott, SESD's Co-ordinator of Promotion & Communications, is in charge of PAWS content. Todd Trann, a Programmer Analyst in SESD, is the technical lead on the project.
Moore-Wright says much of the power and appeal of PAWS is the interaction it provides between academic, financial, student-record, and other databases. So, for instance, he says a student's PAWS site will automatically have an "Academics" tab and page that lists all the courses they're in, and provides them with a lot of ways of linking to related information.
And PAWS also gives every instructor an "Academics" tab and the option of creating a PAWS-based website for each of the courses they are teaching, with provision for carrying out e-mail with the students in the class, transmitting messages, sharing files back-and-forth, and other functions.
Many professors already host webpages for their courses, and they're free to keep those, but Moore-Wright says PAWS offers them "a fairly rich set of tools" for the job.
He says "we're targeting December for the full roll-out" of PAWS.
Moore-Wright adds ITS recognizes that campus people will need some time to get to know what is on PAWS and how to use it. There is a lot of information in the "About PAWS" link in each person's homepage, and training sessions will be offered in the coming months. In the meantime, those with problems logging in or using the system can call the ITS Help Desk at 966-4817 or contact Moore-Wright at 966-1837 or e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Bunt encourages campus people to give feedback about the new system to ITS - and to use it - saying, "Get your PAWS on this technology - at paws.usask.ca".