I’ve hit out at my college once already and that’s because things just aren’t right. Rather than just submit my opinion and my thoughts on things to whoever it is that manages all of this stuff, i’m gathering evidence and hard facts, then i’ll submit it all and continue to blog and gather evidence until things get done or until i’m stopped 😉
I’m an IT student and rely almost 100% on equipment and computers to work – if they’re not working – i’m not learning… if equipment is broke or not working properly, am i at fault for that? No. However, if i know about these things but let them slide, i’m partly to blame… who ultimately gains from all of that? Nobody.
I hear students complain about the college all the time, i see things broken all the time and the vast majority of these complaints aren’t unreasonable – they don’t cost millions of €€€€ to implement. All we’re talking about is new bulbs in projectors as soon as they blow, mice with scroll wheels, scrapping the windows 2000 PC’s and CRT monitors for up to date ones…. better and stable wireless coverage across campus, more of an effort to bring students together via social networking…. upgrading, maintaining and expanding the college website/s.
I’ve set up a twitter account called dkitdown to track and log downtime and problems with the websites and networks/IT within the college – anything that effects or could potentially effect or impact on my education. And i have to say, we’re off to a great start so far – dcam.dkit.ie is the only place online where students in the computing department can access their timetables.
It has been down now for 60 hours and counting. It has been down for longer before, only i never bothered timing it. From now on, the minute it goes down i’ll know about it and so will the world.
The twitter account will be updated daily by myself – the ways things should be done. If i have a problem or notice a problem, it’ll be posted there for all to see.
This not only acts as a log of all known problems, it also informs other students of downtime – so they’ll know it’s not just them that has the problem. They’ll know to avoid certain computers or rooms or wireless hotspots – this is useful stuff.
On certain days, i have up to 4 or 5 hour gaps between classes. Now overlooking the fact that my timetable isn’t too friendly, that means i need internet access for those 4 or 5 hours. I say ‘need’ – it’s not like oxygen or water but unlike the college i’m in, i want to become the best at what i do…. i want to stay up to date with IT constantly and the only way i can do that is with reliable internet access.
Here’s a typical scenario – i’m in the canteen with my own netbook & mouse – bypassing the usual problems of slow login times, maybe CRT monitors, mice with no scroll wheels, problems with usb devices etc… the canteen is nice and bright, it’s casual and nobody can have a class on there 😉 smemon 1-0 dkit
There’s only a few sockets scattered about the canteen so if you have an old laptop with poor battery life, you’ll have to fight for a space near a power socket. But i don’t have that problem – i was one step ahead – i knew i’d be using this netbook in college… i knew i’d be in the canteen quite a bit… so getting myself a netbook that could last a full day without needing charging wasn’t just coincidence. smemon 2-0 dkit.
So i’m eliminating problems here, and although it cost me €330 to do so – it’s well worth it. Nice peace of mind. But recently, the college is fighting back just when i thought i’d escaped the problems… up until now, i’ve never really used wireless much within the college. But now that i am using it – disaster.
It’s constantly dropping connections, asking me to repeatedly login to the network, poor signal strength in most labs / lecture rooms… it’s all just too unreliable. So unreliable that the ONLY way i can guarantee myself uptime would be to buy mobile broadband at about €15/month.
So, in order for a student to work online or have reliable equipment and internet access, they have to buy a laptop and their own mobile broadband. Sad, but that’s the way it is. Can anything be done about it? Yes. Will anything be done about it? No – and that’s blatently obvious just looking at dcam.dkit.ie‘s downtime which now stands at over 60 hours. It’s an attitude problem because if this was one of my sites, i’d be paying out of my own pocket to get it back online ASAP. I’d be hurt, i’d be working at it and i’d be letting everyone know what’s happening and what i’ll do to prevent it happening again.
Maximum time this blog has been down for, in it’s 2 and half year history, has been 48 hours and that was following my shared server getting hammered unexpectedly (20,000 unique visits in the space of 24 hours). Even then i redirected traffic to a plain html page on another server just to tell people i knew the site was down and to tell them why. One lost visitor, could be one lost friend, one lost contact, one lost business partner – that’s the attitude you have to have in order to keep things running smoothly.
IT moves quickly and it’s moving too quickly for DKIT to keep up. I may have mentioned some of these before on this blog, but what i’d like to see is this;
Recorded lectures available online 24/7
All lectures should be video recorded and why not throw in podcasts too. Available for download and streaming online. It means that if i’m sick, snowed in or just too lazy to turn up, i don’t get left behind – i have no excuses. Lecturers often complain about people not turning up – if students pass and gets results – it doesn’t matter what they do. Recorded lectures will help people pass and get better results – i guarantee you.
All lecturers should have twitter accounts or internal dkit ‘twitter-like’ accounts – larconica (opensource) would do the job nicely – to update students on where they are and if they won’t make it to class etc… privacy isn’t a problem, you can protect updates and only allow students read them. Also, lecturers and students could use this to report problems to each other or to the college. Bulb gone in projecter? Twitter it. Problem with a PC? Twitter it.
My rationale for making these problems public though is (a) it puts pressure on IT staff to fix the problem (b) it informs other students that things aren’t working. That way, you can avoid time wasting and reduce stress levels.
This isn’t even up for discussion… gmail is the king of email providers and all college email should be upgraded to gmail university (i hear that’s actually a possibility next year). It reduces load on college servers, increases user experience and it’s reliable. You can even use it offline now too which is the final nail in the coffin for outlook express.
All staff and students should be signed up on linkedin or some sort of formal, businessy type of social network. It would mean contacts aren’t just lost after college… lecturers / students / past students can act as references and if you have a huge network of contacts on linkedIn, your chances of getting a job in IT have just increased. When it comes to business, innovation etc… online, linkedin is where it’s at.
We need a forum within the college, moderated by students. I’m not talking about integrated moodle stuff, i’m talking about a proper forum powered by vbulletin or something. The DKIT forum on boards.ie isn’t used much, but there are plenty of ‘lurkers’ logging on daily to see if anything new has been posted. If we had a dedicated DKIT forum, which was private, only viewable by staff and students – there would be much more activity.
If you’re looking at going to DKIT, the website isn’t much use. You’ll find better info on the boards.ie forum as it’s more casual and from a students perspective – i know that’s how i did my homework on the college anyway. In fact, before i even started, i’d made 2 or 3 contacts within the college purely by using the DKIT boards.ie forum.
Break down the formal barriers that currently exist on the website and have a place where potential and current / past students can talk in public about DKIT. It’s no good throwing information at people in the hope it’s the right information. People will have questions and the people who are most equipped to answer those questions are us, the students.
It’s risky tactics, it’s a bold and attacking move (opening up a public forum), but feck it… tell it as it is – people appreciate honesty and you’ll gain major kudos from both current and potential students for doing so. A close eye would need to be kept on it though to weed out the traitors 🙂
Naturally enough, with me being a blogging enthusiast, i’m going to want a blog. A public college blog – used to document everything happening in dkit. Students could compose posts and an editor could approve / reject them. WordPress does the job nicely (again open source). It’s a much better way of communicating than a newsletter and it would also take much less time to put together. You’d also have a much wider audience than just the DKIT students – you’re opening up to the world.
An internal/private college wiki site which can be edited by anyone would be extremely useful. It could be used to give a brief bio of lecturers / staff all their contact details (well, maybe not all!). The current set up is all over the place – a mess. If i want to find a lecturer’s email address or what room they’re in it’s a struggle.
A wiki site would allow everyone to update their own info so it takes the workload off IT staff. It would also be useful to know the history of the place and all the buildings… past presidents, famous students etc… get as much info as possible about the college on it.
Wiki would be the best way to that. Again it can be open source, so free to set up e.g. twiki
We need and open, internal ‘suggestions’ type site where any member of staff or any student can add their 2 cents… kinda like dell’s ideastorm. The likes of pligg (opensource) could do the job with a few modifications. Basically, people could suggest ideas or add problems and other people could then rate them. The major problems or best ideas get prioritized automatically by the system and provided the best suggestions are actually acted upon, it would be a great, free way for the college to improve and satisfy it’s staff and students. It would also offer some degree of power and voice to all students.
This is like a wildcard entry in to the list, but a 3D walkthrough of all college buildings using photosynth would blow people away – i cannot tell you how useful this would be to 1st years or when it comes to exams etc… it would be a hell of a lot of work, but imagine being able to walk through the college and find room numbers online… imagine how impressive that would look to visitors and new students. I’d take my hat off to any college or business who created something that like – a complete walk through of all buildings.
Webcams set up in the canteen, coffee docks, car parks and anywhere else that would prove useful for students and staff. Being able to monitor the parking situation for ourselves would prove useful. Over time we’d get a better picture of what times are busy, what times are not. A camera in the canteen would tell us how busy it is… if we’ve two hours off and it’s busy now, we can go later – no rush – we’ll wait ’til the queues die down and seats free up. That’s the small detail that makes something world class.
College needs to social network
The college needs to set up accounts on facebook, bebo, twitter… any major social network and get themselves out there and adding friends and alumni if they want to attract potential students in particular. It takes 5 minutes to set up an account and a simple announcement or mass email around the college will probably get you hundreds of ‘friends’ on these networks. Now, the college can communicate to us at a level we’re comfortable at if they want to. Again it’s this idea of breaking down barriers and establishing and maintaining connections between current and past students. It’s such a waste if college connections just die as soon as people leave college.
Knock it down, build it up
A major revamp of all sites and department websites is needed to incorporate all those above features and to bring a fresh and funky design to everything. Be attacking, be bold and break the rules of traditional college website design – it will get the place noticed and get people talking.
WOW this is a long post!
Do all that and things are starting to go places – we now start to compete on a world stage. At the minute, everything is internal – it’s bland and it doesn’t work. There’s not enough spark and energy there…. nothing to get me excited. The most exciting thing i now do is keep an eye on failures and report them via twitter But guess what? That shows a number of things;
- i’m prepared to essentially ‘work’ for the college for nothing – pointing out flaws is what a lot of people do for a living (proved this point by starting up dkitdown).
- other students support these ideas and the idea of more communication between college and students (proven by boards.ie thread).
- other students are not happy, yet won’t bother saying anything unless given the opportunity to do so on a casual level (proven by followers on twitter and responses in boards.ie thread).
- there’s an untapped goldmine within the college – these are all just my ideas and my suggestions – im just one head and one voice – imagine having a few thousand people suggesting improvements or new ideas. You’ll get that if people are given the opportunity to talk in their own time, at their own pace, in the comfort of their own home.
Massive blog post (2500 words) and i could write a lot more. There’s a lot of hard hitting content in it but college is a huge part of my life right now and it’s only right that i blog about it if it’s playing on my mind and if i feel i can improve things, generate ideas or show how not to do things – that’s what this blog is all about.