University meets to brainstorm CSUN IT masterplan

Samantha Tata

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During the IT@2015 forum, Engineering and Computer Science Senator Peter Beal (LEFT) and CTVA major Michael Trombley (CENTER) were among a group of students making suggestions to Hilary Baker, vice president of Information Technology of how to improve student access to campus services through technology. Photo Credit: Misael Virgen / Photo Editor

Students expressed a desire for increased technology that incorporates their smart phones and other portable information devices, commenting on the kinds of tools they’d like to see available for students in a forum organized by CSUN’s Information Technology (IT) department.

IT has been developing a 5-year plan to transform CSUN into a campus reliant less on paper and more on the personal technology devices of its members.

The small but participatory group of about 10 attendees expanded on the results of IT’s annual survey, supplementing the responses of 1,687 students with concrete examples of how the university can increase its technological prowess.

“Eighty-eight percent of students surveyed responded they thought it was likely or highly like that nearly all students will own a mobile device in the next three to five years,” said IT Vice President Hilary Baker. “Seventy percent said they would prefer to use that mobile device to access student services.”

Audience members suggested using their mobile devices as substitutes for  meal cards and creating applications for the MyNorthridge portal and an app that would provide estimated wait times for students using the tram or visiting administrative departments on campus, such as cash services or financial aid.

The latter would allow students to schedule their time more efficiently, said A.S. President Conor Lansdale, who participated in the forum.

Two other A.S. senators joined Lansdale in brainstorming ways for CSUN to advance technologically and serve students’ changing needs.

Peter Beal, engineering and computer science senator, suggested the creation of video lectures that could supplement classroom time and serve as a resource for non-CSUN students. He specified videos should be short to maintain the viewer’s interest, comparing the attention span of a student to that of a fly.

“This is fascinating,” said William Watkins, vice president of student affairs and dean of students. “We would never have been able to make that observation.”

Suggested methods of delivery included inserting QR codes, a barcode that can be scanned by smart phones, into professors’ syllabi to direct students to informative videos and downloadable .pdf versions of class materials.

Digital content in the form of e-books and course software were criticized for the limitations they impose on the user.

Students supported Baker’s idea that course software, such as those programs located solely in on-campus computer labs, should be made more easily accessible to students, particularly commuter students who have lengthy drives to campus.

Social and Behavioral Science Senator Klementina Pavlova said her political science term paper depends entirely on a research program that is only available in one classroom. She expressed concern that when grades hang in the balance, software should be accessible from multiple sources, including a student’s personal device.

The cost of e-books was also discussed. Prices of e-books have been consistent with those of their physical counterparts, deterring students from purchasing the electronic version, said Michael Trombley, a graduating senior in cinema and television arts.

“You can’t resell (e-books), but they’re often just as expensive,” said Trombley.  “I’ve been using text books through the library’s (online reserve program).  I’d prefer digital as everything is on my laptop.”

Some students said they use e-books and print out only the information they are studying in an effort to save money.  Beal said he has saved about $200 using this method.

He suggested that the Matador bookstore streamline its sale of electronic texts by creating a way for students to download e-books directly to their device.

“You’d go from 30 pounds of papers to a 17-ounce e-reader,” Beal said.

Technology was discussed as a viable medium with which students can collaborate.

Audience members suggested specific examples for the creation of multipurpose spaces, such as white boards, laptop ports, projectors and flexible room layouts that could be rearranged according to the users’ needs.

Baker said this forum discussion would allow her department to prioritize suggestions and finalize the campus’ digital master plan by the end of this summer.