As we move full force into 2014 it’s important to take the opportunity to step back and reflect on the achievements Information and Communications Technology (ICT) at the University of Saskatchewan had in 2013. It was a busy and productive year and ICT worked to continually support the university community with evolving technologies and reliable digital infrastructure. Here are some of the highlights from 2013.
Research computing enhances university research productivity
Designed to enhance university research productivity, we created the Research Computing unit in ICT, which provides advanced computing services for researchers across all disciplines, as well as supporting specialized high-priority research areas. The unit consolidated ICT’s existing commitments to research support, including advanced computing and WestGrid, research software, grant consultation, and departmental research. The unit also hired a new team member to help address the data-centric challenges that researchers currently face.
The launch of Research Computing will help to bolster the university’s position as a member of the U15, the country’s 15 leading research-intensive universities. Strengthening the university’s overall research culture through this initiative also supports the university’s priorities as stated in the Third Integrated Plan, particularly that of fostering knowledge creation.
New PAWS interface enhances the ease of accessing information
In July, the university’s web portal launched a dramatically different layout that has changed how the U of S community accesses information and completes online tasks. Not only is the new user interface cleaner and less cluttered, it’s a much more intuitive site and presents a completely different approach to how we deliver content.
All content is accessible from the new PAWS homepage. Task-based channels such as registration and employee vacation time reporting are a click away. Timely content appears in a prominent centre column, making it easier to see announcements, bulletins and news feeds. One-time tasks like voting or Aboriginal self-declaration show up at the top of that centre column and remain there until either completed or dismissed.
The changes were largely the result of a survey response from PAWS users in 2012. Common themes that came from staff and students were that they wanted things easier to find; cleaner and more streamlined. The PAWS team within ICT succeeded in delivering relevant, timely and useful content that works on a variety of different formats, from desktop to hand-held devices. The team effort, along with help from ICT Help Desk and ICT Training Services was a success both aesthetically and functionally.
iUsask named top app in Canada for navigating universities
In the fall we received the exciting news that our very own mobile app, iUsask had been given top honours by Connected Rogers, a Canadian technology and lifestyle digital magazine.
Named as the number one app for navigating Canadian universities, the digital magazine said, “If schools were ranked based on the quality of their mobile apps, the University of Saskatchewan would hold top slot. It’s clear that iUsask is still leading the pack when it comes to cutting-edge mobile technology.” The iUsask app was ranked number one over apps from the University of Toronto, Carleton University, UBC and Athabasca University.
iUsask offers an easy-to-use interface that enables students to get more information, quickly and easily and in real-time. The app that is available on iOS devices and Android is interactive and features library hours, class locations, school-related news and options such as viewing grades confidentially, checking available computers in a lab and viewing live webcam feeds of the campus.
Having iUsask ranked as the top app proved that mobile development has and continues to be a top priority area of ICT and an area that we are exceling in.
Significant enhancements to services in support of teaching and learning
The enhancements to services made in 2013 include the expanded use of web conferencing, in particular to provide better support for the School of Public Health’s Masters of Health Program. ICT also supported the use of Collaborate, which greatly enhanced the productivity of research team meetings within the Global Institute for Water Security, the Global Institute for Food Security, Fibromyalgia and Systemic Research. Both areas contribute support for distributed learning and research activities.
Improvements were made to the Optical Mark Recognition software including replacing old optical scanners with new digital scanners, which now sees 98% of clients on the new system. This has allowed ICT to introduce remote scanning of exams/evaluations, which is well suited to distributed-learning programs.
Throughout the summer, ICT was busy implementing a cross-campus service upgrade to the TurningPoint Clicker infrastructure, to accommodate upgrading to the latest release of the TurningPoint software suite. The result of this is ResponseWare for smartphones now being used (currently piloted in the College of Pharmacy and Nutrition).
To coincide with the upgrade and implementation of new infrastructure, ICT – in partnership with Turning Technologies Canada – hosted a successful learning forum for faculty on clickers with Dr. Melinda Micheletto, Turning Technologies distinguished educator, as the guest speaker.
Improving overall cyber security practices
ICT continued to improve overall cyber security practices and put rigour into raising awareness in the area of cyber security. As part of this awareness we developed a month-long campaign that coincided with Cyber Security Awareness Month.
Throughout October we:
Cyber-crime continues to become more sophisticated, especially at post-secondary institutions and ICT took leaps and bounds in 2013 improving our overall security practices and further developing processes for security incident responses.
Free and unlimited access to Lynda.com
To round out the year nicely, Lynda.com – a valuable online training resource – was negotiated to be free and unlimited to the U of S community. Faculty, staff and students now have the opportunity to fully access thousands of unlimited, free tutorials, seven days a week, day and night.
Lynda.com is an online training library that contains thousands of professional grade Windows and Mac tutorials accessed through streaming video. In these videos members of the university community can find information that covers many software titles, scripting languages, design and web development platforms as well as popular online sites.
Having the use of this incredible training service allows members of the community to fully embrace learning new software that supports their professional and personal goals.
The future looks bright
These, among other achievements all serve as a reminder that ICT continues to deliver quality and enormously beneficial services and resources to the U of S community.
ICT is well positioned to support the university community’s continued success as a proud member of the U15, Canada’s top research universities, and we will continue to work to support its larger goal of being one of the most distinguished universities in Canada.