IT Departments Makes Summertime Improvements
Issue   |   Tue, 09/10/2013 - 23:53

While students spent the summer interning at various organizations, exploring foreign countries or relaxing at home or on the beach, the IT Department spent countless hours making improvements around campus. From the new mobile printing and printing release stations to the package notification system, the IT Department has made all different facets of our campus more technologically and environmentally friendly.

Printing at Amherst College usually involved logging into a public computer, pressing print, entering your username and password and then searching for your printed documents from a fairly large stack of papers. This summer, however, the IT Department, configured primarily by Eloy Shepard, a desktop computing specialist, created a new printing system that allows students to send documents to these printers via public and private computers and from apps on mobile devices.

Students then scan their ID cards to the card reader at the printing release stations, can see their printing job, job cost and balance display on the touchscreen and can delete unwanted jobs, print one job at a time or print all documents at once.

Last year, Amherst College experimented with eliminating green sheets of paper at printing stations, after receiving many student requests. However, according to student responses, it appeared that this experiment lead to more problems and inconveniences. The new printing system and release stations eliminate the use of green sheets of paper without leading to confusion or lost printed jobs.

And in case your schoolwork is focused on audio recordings rather than written documents, Marcus DeMaio, a video production specialist, and Josh Baum, a classroom technology specialist, have helped to design, purchase and install audio recording booths, the video recording studio and the renovated multimedia teaching lab in Seeley Mudd first floor.

“We hope people will use these facilities for curricular as well as co-curricular projects,” said Chief Information Officer Gayle Barton. “For example, if you want to practice a presentation, you may record yourself to see how well prepared you are. Or, if you want to create an audition tape or record an interview, we now have a good place for you to do that.”

New developments have also expanded into how students receive packages.

“When [the Post Office staff] checks the package in, the student receives an email message and/or a text message alerting them that they have a package,” said Rob Ansaldo, a systems/network administrator and programmer for the IT department. “If there is a photo, that is included in the email. When the student visits the post office, the staff can scan their ID card or type in a name to get a list of the packages waiting and give them to the student.”

As a result, students no longer have to go to the Post Office to check for a slip in their mailboxes alerting them of a package. So far, over 6,000 packages have been processed through the system and about 250 students have signed up for text message alerts.

Want to know what Val is serving for dinner without having to go to the Amherst webpage? A new mobile “app” (m.amherst.edu), updated this summer by the Web Services team, led by Director of Web Services David Hamilton, allows students to find frequently used information — such as Val menus and the course catalog — from their phones.

“We’ve watched the traffic from mobile devices to our websites roughly double each year for the last 3 years,” Hamilton said. “m.amherst.edu came into being in part as a reaction to that, and this will be the third academic year it’s been running.”

Over the past two summers, the IT Department has made significant changes and improvements.

“The general goal is to give folks a way that they can quickly get at the things they need when they’re on campus,” Hamilton said. “In part by letting them skip having to wade through our very large website (125k pages as of this week) and instead have at their fingertips just the things they frequently need.”

Although not an “app,” it is a mobile-friendly webpage that makes the program not limited to iPhones or Android devices. According to Hamilton, m.amherst.edu is part of a three-pronged mobile strategy that Amherst College is trying to accomplish that is both cost effective and useful.

The three prongs include a short, curated collection of devices that the IT Department, from feedback by students, believes users on campus want quick access to; a “responsive design” approach to the app that allows all users — regardless of what technology they use — to access the web content; and lastly an app that has features designed to appeal to both Amherst alumni and current Amherst students.
According to the IT Department, most feedback so far regarding the technological changes has been positive. They are now concentrating on further changes to come.

“This time of year, our focus is on ensuring that all existing services are working reliably and well so students can study, faculty can teach and do research, and staff can manage the business processes of the college,” Barton said. “The student-focused projects currently in the works are to finish the AC Dollars/credit card process, and to add a student printer in Keefe Student Center.”

Many of the changes were spurred from suggestions on the “Tell the C.I.O.” forum.

“I hope students will continue to use that service to suggest improvements, as we want things to work smoothly and well,” Barton said.

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