SOU Streamlines IT

Big changes are inbound for Southern Oregon students as the IT and Marketing departments team up to renovate much of the university’s web based tech.

Teri O’Rourke is the director of Information Technology at SOU. O’Rourke has overseen various changes to SOU technology and computers in her time directing IT. O’Rourke started working with SOU in 1996; she now manages SOU computer labs, smart classrooms, telecommunications, the “MySOU” student site, and IT budget.

There have been many improvements and innovations in technology since O’Rourke began as director, but one seeming constant has been Blackboard—the online classroom.  Blackboard has been used at SOU so long few faculty can recall when the university implemented it.

SOU web manager Jeremy Speer noted that Blackboard is a kind of staple for online classroom management among public colleges. Blackboard software has been available since 2004, but even six years in this technological age is enough time to become outdated.

Every student and professor at SOU is aware of the frequent issues with Blackboard. Just last week my professor delayed an assignment because “blackboard was down.” These words have a familiar ring? Speer and O’Rourke said that the problem with Blackboard has been a long time in coming. The initial software purchased was “an entry level version” said O’Rourke, and an update has been long overdue—at least according to t Blackboard support. However, rather than spend a substantial amount of the IT budget to update an old system, SOU officials, including O’Rourke, are to invest in a new and cheaper online classroom, known as Moodle.

Moodle provides similar services to Blackboard at a much lower cost. It is an open source site that costs nothing except for servicing and initial installation. By comparison, to update Blackboard to the current efficiency of Moodle would cost in the neighborhood of four times as much, said O’Rourke.

“Moodle is popular and a good platform for courseware,” O’Rourke said. It is also far cheaper.

But Moodle is only the start of SOU’s plan for IT renovation. Recent budget cuts have forced the IT department to cut costs. One way they’re doing that is by possibly eliminating Blackboard—something that is technically still being considered, even though more than 15% of classes at SOU are using a pilot version of Moodle.

Currently on the drawing board is a new version of the official SOU website. The website once controlled by IT is now under the direction of a few tech experts within the Marketing department.

The new site is “one step away from signing off on the final design” said Jeremy Speer, who is spearheading the project. Then a general “rollout plan” will be implemented in which departments will start updating their own sections. Speer says he hopes to get the ball rolling by December. The focus behind the new site is to be more usable for students and staff and more attractive for prospective students searching the web, said Speer. Speer has also recently finalized the new website for the SOU newspaper, the Siskiyou.

This week SOU struck a deal with media giant Google to become the school’s new email provider. Currently SOU uses provisions its students with a system known as Net Mail.

SOU was waiting for their lawyers to finalize the contract with Google representatives, “Just this week we got the final word that they had come to terms,” said O’Rourke. The IT department hopes to have the new Google email service ready for students by after winter break.

Similar to the Moodle initiative, Google is a very cheap option, providing free email service, even after graduation, without ads, and only charging the university for product service and a few other fees. Google’s primary revenue is from advertising and one way they are promoting now is by providing services like email free for educational institutions.

While Google will be providing the means for SOU’s email, SOU will still have jurisdiction over the system, “they provide the highway but we still have the car,” O’Rourke clarified.

You can follow this coverage of the SOU IT department upgrade at the Siskiyou Online.

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