In Case You Missed Me | Streamlining information


Penn’s undergraduate schools should not have separate web sites for course management




I am a student of Penn’s College of Arts and Sciences. I have a SAS e-mail address. I use Blackboard for my courses and study at Van Pelt instead of the Huntsman study rooms.

But, like many students, I have taken many courses outside of the College and am familiar with the ways of Penn’s three other undergraduate schools.

This semester, I am taking my first Wharton class. My professor began his first lecture last week by walking the College students in his class through setting up Wharton e-mail accounts and using Web Cafe.

As he spoke, I was struck by how unnecessary it all felt: Students should not need to manage different e-mail addresses and course-management systems every time they take a course outside of their home school.

Like most things, Penn’s information technology is separately managed by each school. According to Robin Beck, vice president for Information Systems and Computing, separating the information systems “recognizes the unique needs of each school specifically in technologies facilitating instruction and research.”

As a result, the University has both “Local Support” for Penn IT, meaning that the individual schools supply services including e-mail accounts, and “Central Support,” which provides services to the entire University. The University provides Blackboard to all students through Central Support, but individual schools can use other systems.

While it makes sense that each school should tailor their information services to the needs of their disciplines, I shouldn’t have to check multiple e-mail accounts, Web Cafe, Blackboard and a professor’s personal web site everyday just to make sure I haven’t missed announcements.

Wharton and Engineering Sophomore Matt Vogel agrees. “I would love to see the schools try to put everything onto one common site so I wouldn’t have to check all over the place to find information for all my classes,” he wrote in an e-mail.

This complaint is one that the various Penn information service departments have heard before. According to Deirdre Woods, Wharton’s chief information officer, “We’ve been hearing [requests for integration of information] increasingly from students.”

When it comes to e-mail, student advisory boards have expressed the desire to maintain a sense of school identity in their accounts. While I see nothing wrong with that, it doesn’t make sense to ask students to manage an additional account when they take a class outside of their home school. Not only is it inconvenient and unnecessary, it can cause unexpected problems.

College junior Mark Pan enrolled in Computer Science 110 his sophomore year. He had all of his SEAS e-mails forward to his SAS e-mail for that semester. When the course ended, he stopped the forwarding.

What he didn’t know was that Penn had accidentally changed his default e-mail address to the SEAS one. Over the course of the year, Pan missed an e-mail with an internship offer (which he is now too late to accept), important messages from Blackboard (including e-mails about assignment changes) and messages about his student bill.

Pan, who says he’s not alone with this problem, is in the process of working out this problem with SEAS information services. But the entire situation would have been avoided by not asking students to acquire alternative accounts for classes outside of their home school.

When it comes to course management, the University needs to explore ways to streamline the student experience. While professors need to be able to customize their course management, there are ways to do this without having each school use completely different systems.

There is hope that changes will be made in the near future — Woods calls streamlining information across the University the “theme of the year.”

In the meantime, I guess I’m going to have to figure out how to set up my new Wharton e-mail account.

Juliette Mullin is a College senior from Portland, Ore. She is the former Executive Editor of the DP and editor of The Report Card. Her e-mail address is mullin@dailypennsylvanian.com. In Case You Missed Me appears on Tuesdays.

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