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The St. John's University Academic Computing Initiative
St. John's University
New York, NY
USA

Year: 2004
Status: Laureate
Category: Education & Academia
Nominating Company: Cisco Systems

The combination of high-end laptops for every student and ubiquitous wireless networking across three campuses provides challenging education for students at all levels and increases student/faculty interaction.
St. John's University is one of America's leading Catholic universitiesórecognized for its outstanding academic programs, rich student life, vibrant diversity and Big East vitality. Founded in 1870 by the Vincentian Community, St. John's has distinguished itself by helping students gain the knowledge and skills they need to serve others and achieve lasting successópersonally, professionally and spiritually.

St. Johnís was founded with a very specific missionóprovide access to a high quality education for the underserved regardless of race, gender, ethnicity, religion or economic status. Starting with serving the children of the immigrant population in the 1800s to providing the Jewish community with a place to study law, to presenting the 2003 incoming freshmen with a state of the art technology structure, St. Johnís continues to provide people with the necessary tools to get a leading education and better themselves.

St. Johnís is driven by a passion for academic excellence and guided by a simple truth: higher education is about more than getting a job; itís about learning to make a difference in the world. A St. Johnís education is grounded by a comprehensive core of critical thinking and skill building enhanced by technology and linked to contemporary social challenges. Whatís more, students are actively involved in volunteering, mentoring and academic service-learning programs that extend across the entire St. Johnís campus network and around the world.

In 2003, in keeping with its mission, St. Johnís University launched the Academic Computing Initiative (ACI), a broad-reaching program to put leading-edge technology ubiquitously into the hands of students and the faculty that teaches them. The ACIís primary goal is to give all students, irrespective of their background and prior experience with computers, equal opportunity to use leading edge technology in their everyday activities. In addition, the ACI enhances the academic experience, both by providing additional teaching options in and out of the classroom and by allowing students working anywhere to have access to the extensive options of the web and the Universityís on-line resources.

The 2003 St. Johnís Academic Computing Initiative program consists of:

* A laptop computer
óEvery incoming freshman (approximately 3,000 in 2003) received an IBM ThinkPad computer powered by Intel Centrino technology, running Microsoft XP Professional and Office XP. The laptop remains University property until the student graduates, at which point the student keeps the machine and software. High-end laptops were selected to ensure that they would continue to be useful over the studentís four-year career at the University. About 400 faculty members also received laptops at full-day "Faculty Institute" seminars in which ideas were shared about how to use technology to further enhance the academic experience of the students in/outside the classroom.

* A wireless network
óSt. Johnís installed a Cisco Aironet wireless network on three of its five campuses ó Queens, Staten Island, and Manhattan. (In 2004, the University will extend wireless to their other two locations -- Oakdale, NY and Rome, Italy.) The network is designed to cover all areas of the campuses including lounges, cafeterias, public spaces, libraries and academic buildings as well as remote areas like parking lots and garages to support Public Safety initiatives. All University-issued laptops can use the network. In addition, upperclassmen who have their own laptops or who purchased laptops through St. Johnís are encouraged to register their machines on the network.

* St. Johnís Central
óSt. Johnís Central is the Universityís implementation of SCTís Campus Pipeline portal. Every student can use this student/faculty portal, which provides web-based access to a wide array of academic and administrative services, as well as personal tools like e-mail and calendaring. The portal enables students to use resources at any time from any Internet location. This enhances the student experience, but also improves back-office efficiency by making transactions, such as course registration, self-service. The portal also opens ongoing, real-time communication between students and faculty with e-mail and chat groups. As Dr. Jay Zimmerman, Associate Professor of Biological Sciences says, "If the answers are easier to obtain, students tend to ask more questions."

* A Comprehensive Training Program
óTraining and ongoing support are critical to unifying all components of the St. Johnís ACI. Every user received training sessions covering issues ranging from powering on to backing up data. Each laptop was loaded with a customized version of "Access IBM", a tool that provides on-board help about the laptop and University systems. St. Johnís also opened support centers on two of its five locations, to which users can bring their laptops for support or warranty repair.

Many freshmen enter colleges already equipped and familiar with all the latest technology. Never the less, a significant "digital divide" remains between those students who have experience with computer equipment and those with limited or no experience with current computer technology. With the Academic Computing Initiative, St. Johnís University is "leveling the technological playing field" to ensure that students are fully prepared for the future.

Reverend Donald J. Harrington, C.M., President of St. Johnís University states, "I speak of education as a sacred trust, meaning that when students commit themselves to St. Johnís, they trust that weíre going to provide them with the education they need to go out and live and work in the world and shape the world. Year after year, St. Johnís has been sensitive to that responsibility. This has been manifested by our reading the signs of the timesóWhatís next? Whatís needed for the future? We help people realize their potential, to work hard, and to be good citizens."
St. Johnís has realized many benefits from the ACI. These can be grouped into two primary categories: advancement of the Universityís mission and financial efficiencies.

The Universityís mission is to provide an enriching academic and social experience to a diverse student population. The ACI supports the academic and social aspects of the mission in a number of ways. Professors have been able to revamp their teaching patterns by being able to utilize on-line resources, both internal and external to the University. They can extend student contact times and enrich the student experience through use of e-mail, chat groups and the St. Johnís Central portal. Students can also increase social interaction through e-mail, discussion groups and web sites for social and fraternal organizations. St. Johnís Central brings students and faculty together by providing a common homepage and current events.

The ACI enables St. Johnís to fill the needs of a very diverse student population. The Universityís commitment to leading edge technology attracts and challenges potential students with a significant computer background. Students who have had fewer opportunities to familiarize themselves with computers come to St. Johnís knowing that they will have an equal chance to learn and prepare for their careers.

The ACI also yields financial benefits to the University. Because technology is more accessible, students are more likely to use self-service registration, tuition payment and other online administrative tools. This reduces the Universityís need to add staff to support these services especially during peak demand.
While technology is playing a larger role in society overall, developing a holistic, up-to-date system is particularly critical in higher education because it offers new avenues to exploreóacademically, socially and recreationally. It is becoming increasingly important in at least three distinct areas:

ß Pedagogy
o Volume of data -- The amount of information/resources available online through Internet engines and portals enables users to search through large amounts of materials from library databases around the world. Therefore, time can be spent more productively analyzing and synthesizing data rather than just digging for and retrieving it.

o Immediacy and collaboration -- Technology-enabled pedagogy allows professors and students to interact together in real-time with rapidly changing information. For example, a Constitutional Law class can use online news resources to discuss the outcomes from a current Supreme Court case which is too recent to be included in a textbook.

o Interactive multi-media Ė Students and faculty can access a vast array of online resources, past and present, and can be studied in a dynamic multi-media application by viewing DVDís or online content.

ß Career preparation
o Computer skills are necessary for all careers from technology-based positions to the field of medicine to the fine arts.

ß Administrative
o Student information (financial data, names, addresses, grades, class schedules, etc.) is readily available in a centralized system. The ACI program provides students with around-the-clock, secure access to their personal information. This becomes increasingly important as the need for student data tracking and reporting in such areas as financial aid and federal compliance grows.
St. Johnís University acknowledged the growing digital divide in both the academic arena and around the world. The University recognized that rather than simply distributing laptops, to make the technology valuable, a comprehensive program was needed. To continue to prepare students for their future, the Universityís administrators decided to take a bold step and implement the ACI to provide leading-edge technology for students and faculty in less than six months. The ACI is unique in its scope. It is comprehensive in many dimensions, benefiting a wide audience through the use of many technologies in an integrated and synergistic program.

The first area in which ACI is distinct is its size. It includes the largest laptop distribution program of any private university in the United States. Over 3,400 laptops were distributed, the majority of which were handed out in a three-week period at the end of August 2003. While similar programs involve a series of pilots and trials of increasing size and complexity, the St. Johnís program included freshmen and faculty members simultaneously without a pilot or ramp-up period. The ACIís inclusiveness enabled it to achieve a critical mass immediately.

The ACI was also far-reaching. While many programs involve implementing a portal, installing a network, or distributing computers, ACI accomplished all three concurrently. While this approach challenged the project team to manage the training and logistical issues that arose, it accomplished the Universityís objective of making technology accessible to freshmen from their first contact with the University.

The ACI included a wide audience. Three thousand laptops were distributed to freshmen, but 400 more were distributed to faculty members, and hundreds more were distributed to various administrators. Each constituent was given a specialized software load and customized training to optimize their use of the laptop, network and portal. For example, University Admission Counselors received laptops preloaded with presentation materials to enable them to effectively demonstrate the commitment of St. Johnís to technology when they visited high schools. Upper classmen were given an opportunity to buy the same laptop the freshmen received at a significant discount, and then to take advantage of the on-campus network and warranty support. Members of the University community with laptops can also register them on the wireless network, creating a truly inclusive technology community within the University.

Because of the projectís scope, it was critical to automate as much of the support process as possible and to leverage existing information assets. The St. Johnís application development group created custom add-ons to their implementation of SCTís Banner Administrative System. By using scanners linked in real-time to Banner, the St. Johnís staff could determine a studentís eligibility to receive a laptop; link a specific laptop to a student at distribution; register the laptop on the wireless network; and provide the student with their log-in and password to St. Johnís Central all within minutes. Over 3,400 students, faculty and administrators joined the ACI without the need to re-key one name or serial number.

Moreover, a program like ACI required contributions from the entire University community and each administrative department. For example, the Office of General Counsel drafted agreements for vendors and students, and the Facilities Services department managed the recycling of over 60,000 square feet (larger than a soccer field) of cardboard packing materials. Student Life coordinated training and orientation for 3,000 freshmen, and the Center for Teaching and Learning developed and orchestrated the Faculty Institutes.

Any university considering distributing millions of dollars in equipment to its student body has to consider how to ensure the safety and security of the equipment and of the students carrying it. St. Johnís partnered with the New York Police Department to develop a customized protection and education program. Based on input from the NYPD, St. Johnís developed and filmed a video presentation on laptop theft prevention, which was delivered to every freshman by an NYPD officer (this video will continue to be used by the NYPD at other area universities). In addition, each laptop is registered with the NYPD and is marked with a large, damage-resistant sticker as well as unique bar code and system security device to prevent theft and to aid in the recovery of lost or stolen machines. The University supplemented the NYPD program by providing each user with a cable lock and insurance coverage as well as lockable charging stations around the campuses.
"What surprised and excited me the most was walking around campus the first week of classes and seeing so many students with their laptops open. We knew it was going to revolutionize things, but students and faculty were doing more than we expected." - James Benson, CIO and Dean, University Libraries

The success for a multi-dimensional program like this can be measured in many ways:

ß Logistics
o The project team was able to successfully install and launch the network and portal and distribute over 3,400 laptops to students and faculty members across three campuses. In every instance, the total process for laptop distribution (including two informational seminars) was completed in less than 90 minutes. Starting at an original appointment rate of 50 students per hour, by the time the distribution was completed three weeks later, the team had achieved a distribution rate of 200 laptops per hour, without waiting lines.

ß Media coverage
o As the largest private university roll out of its kind, the St. Johnís ACI received significant media attention. Major national public and private outlets reported the story via television news broadcasts; radio; and magazine and newspaper articles.

ß Academic
o The target audience of freshmen students and faculty members embraced the innovation immediately. Follow-up studies indicate that 95% of freshmen (vs. 83% of other students) have logged on to St. Johnís Central with 40% logging on five or more times per week.

o Faculty reports class participation far exceeding requirements. "Students are no longer interested in doing the minimum. I require two 200-word web postings a week in my class. But what I usually get is eight to 10 postings. Students are eager to get online and share in the discussion." - Barbara Signer, Professor of Early Childhood and Adolescent Education

o "What I see in the classroom is a lot more seriousness, a lot more students integrating their outside lives with their academic lives."- Sharon Norton, Associate Professor of Criminal Justice and Legal Studies

ß Administrative:
o Public safety/security: The measures taken to provide education about system safety and damage control have been a success. The Universityís laptop theft rate has been significantly lower than industry norms. (Norms average 2-3% while St. Johnís experienced an annualized rate of less than 1% in just the first four months of the program.)

o St. Johnís enhanced its operations through the ACI by offering students an enormous number of online functions. Students can register for classes, pay bills, look up course information, get their gradesóalmost every function they need, they can do online 24 / 7. The student survey reports the following portal usage:
* 80% of students use the portal for administrative transactions (ie. bill payment, class registration, etc.).
* 77% of students use it to obtain course information.


The St. Johnís ACI is an integral program for the Universityís future. Incoming freshmen will receive laptops and upperclassmen are encouraged to participate in the program and may purchase the same fully-equipped laptops at steep discounts. By 2006, St. Johnís will have achieved a level playing field with 100% student participation.
Because of the ACIís all-encompassing scope, the team faced a wide array of challenges. Some are the obvious technical issues: for example, getting a new portal to integrate seamlessly with the existing systems. Some were less obvious, less technical, but no less daunting. For example, how does one dispose of the packing material that came with over 3,400 laptops? In general, the difficulties fell into three categories: Preparing the backend network; managing delivery logistics; and training users and gaining their acceptance.

St. Johnís foresaw the need to upgrade its backbone network to improve performance, reliability and manageability. Working with strategic partners Cisco and BearingPoint (with Contemporary Computer Services Inc. managing the physical details), St. Johnís installed a completely new network, upgrading the campus to gigabit switched Ethernet. The backbone network is now fast enough to handle the additional load of a wireless network add-on. The network is standards based, so there is no concern that wireless access points would not be able to interact with the backbone network. Finally, the network is physically distributed but centrally manageable, so wireless nodes can be added where needed but configuration can be managed from the central command center. Additional domain controllers, software update and virus scanning servers were installed to handle the anticipated load of more than 12,000 new computers over four years.

The logistics of distributing over 3,400 laptops were very complex, especially when the immovable deadline for distribution was less than five months from project approval. Deliveries were tracked closely to ensure that laptops would arrive when staff was assembled to prepare them. Mountains of packing materials had to be removed. Millions of dollars of equipment needed to be inventoried and secured. An auditable process was designed and documented to ensure up to 200 students per hour could receive a laptop, peripherals and training. Fifty staff members were trained on various aspects of preparing and distributing laptops.

It was clear that training and education would be key to user acceptance. Separate education tracks were designed for students and faculty members. Students received an hour-long orientation session before the laptops arrived, and then participated in Public Safety and "care and feeding" sessions on distribution day. In addition, every student received handouts and the laptops were equipped with an on-board help system.

The team anticipated some difficulty with faculty acceptance and integration of the ACI into their existing curriculum due to the short time period. Thus, daylong Faculty Institutes that focused on techniques for incorporating technology into pedagogy as well as on the mechanical aspects of using the laptops were scheduled. However, the team initially anticipated a modest response and planned only a few of these sessions during the summer of 2003. Instead, over two-thirds of the full-time faculty requested laptops and training over the summer; more than tripling the need for the Faculty Institute sessions. James Pellow, Executive Vice President and Treasurer, notes, "One of the most impressive things to see was how the faculty accepted the ACI. We thought it would be difficult training and encouraging faculty to introduce the technology into the classrooms in such an aggressive timeframe. Through very strong leadership and the sheer excitement, we found that faculty overwhelmingly embraced the program. They lined up in numbers."

In addition to the challenges above, the team was hit by a significant setback when the Northeast suffered a multi-day power outage just three days before distribution began. Because the entire distribution process was automated and depended on network access to the St. Johnís student records database, the team had to restore the University back-end network while distribution preparations continued. All of this was achieved while phone, cell and e-mail networks across the region remained unavailable.