Volume 11, Number 13 March 5, 2004

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Celebration marks official launch of PAWS & Student Central

During the week of March 15-19 there’ll be a celebration on campus.

It’s launch week for two major new services for U of S students – the PAWS (Personalized Access to Web Services) portal and Student Central, the single place for students to get all types of information and help in their various dealings with the University.

And it’s fitting that the two initiatives are being officially introduced together and that their launch is cause for noon-hour displays in the Arts Tunnel and Admin Building, balloons, giveaway prizes, visits by Howler the Huskies’ mascot, with assistance available from computer lab staff and Help Desk staff across campus.

That’s because project leaders say the two services are inextricably linked and both hold the promise of radically improving the quality of students’ interaction with the University.

PAWS was unveiled last September, using new software from the major student information project to create a web portal accessible to all U of S students, faculty and staff by logging in with their network services ID number and password.

PAWS project manager Jonathan Moore-Wright says this state-of-the-art technology provided a lot of new online services right away, such as an electronic calendar and customizable pages containing “channels”, or specialized areas of displayed text or graphic information on each page.

PAWS & Student Central a powerful team.

But the power of PAWS has been shown as, in its first six months, Moore-Wright’s team has worked with people across campus to adapt and develop its content, tailoring it to the needs of students, faculty and staff. And this is just the beginning, he says.

“ We had a pilot with about a dozen faculty, to see how they could use it in their courses. We got a lot of useful feedback and used it to make some adjustments,” Moore-Wright says.

“And students are asking for groups to be created.” Groups are subject-specific areas for online messaging, file sharing and other exchanges of information.

The U of S tweaking of the PAWS portal has been extensive. Moore-Wright says it includes adding a library patron data application, a customized exam schedule, personalized grade reporting, personalized fee reporting, an application allowing students to request transcripts, and at least half a dozen more.

The PAWS training team has trained more than 200 students and staff members in seven training sessions offered in recent months on various aspects of the portal.

The result of all this has been that the number of campus people using PAWS is rising fast.

With a potential total of 37,000 U of S users (all students, staff, faculty and some alumni), about 12,000 have now used it, which Moore-Wright says is a great response for the initial “soft launch” period.

When other applications like financial transactions, the full student information package, and possibly more for the library and human resources, the usage will likely climb to high levels.

Rick Bunt, Associate Vice-President of Information & Communications Technology, says it’s appropriate that Student Central will offer much of its service not just in its physical location in the Admin Building atrium, but also through the PAWS portal with links into a student-friendly reorganization of online information for U of S students.

“It’s a nice fit. Both offer a common place where students can access wide-ranging services,” he says. But while PAWS currently has a student focus, it will increasingly have applications for faculty and staff, too.

“It’s going to be transformative technology, changing the way we do things,” Bunt says.

David Hannah, Associate Vice-President of Student & Enrolment Services, says “the formal launch of PAWS and the physical and virtual faces of Student Central represents an important step forward in our efforts to transform the ways in which we provide information and services to our students.

“These new initiatives will enable us to take major strides as we seek to deliver more web-based services, and to better serve students in ways that make sense to them, rather than to us.”

Student Central staff member Robin Mueller says the University’s new current-students website will make a lot of Student Central services and information readily accessible to students, including a new AskUS! area, containing “a huge database” of answers to common questions students ask, put together in an “intuitive” way to make it easy to use for students.

“And I think the transcript ordering service is going to be huge for students. It will be so convenient for them; they won’t have to stand in line like they have until now,” Mueller says.

She says from 11:30 a.m.–2:00 p.m. March 15-19 staff and student volunteers will welcome students to Student Central, located in the atrium of the Administration Building – helping them to log in to PAWS and discover the University’s new in-person and online information and services.

For more information, contact communications.office@usask.ca

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