Dal tries to adapt to changing technology

Campus tech strategy focuses on affordable cloud-based services

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Dwight Fischer discusses tech issues with King's administrative staff. (Photo: Bianca Müller)

Dalhousie University plans to refocus its IT dollars on internet-based services to help stretch costs.

According to Dwight Fischer, the assistant vice-president of information technology at Dalhousie, many students are already using smartphones and iPads to connect with cloud-based services.

Fischer says those options are easier to use "than the tools we're providing" for students and staff.

The vice-president for IT at Dal spoke about the upcoming changes during an information session for students and faculty at the University of King's College Tuesday afternoon.

Fischer says there is an industry shift from on-site hardware to cloud-based services that can be accessed using devices such as mobile phones or iPads.

The overhead costs will be lesser with cloud-based services, he says.

"From an IT standpoint, there's still insatiable demand for technology," Fisher told the group during the information session. "We're having to increase the value that we provide while driving the cost down." He says that's not possible to do without utilizing corporate services such as Microsoft.

Some of the changes students can expect in the near future:

  • Microsoft Office 365 (Microsoft's answer to Google Docs)
  • An upgraded Blackboard system
  • Mobility services such as tour apps

Cloud-based services call privacy into question

Gabe Hoogers, president of King's Student Union, is more cautious.

"It represents an unfortunate trend where universities are more and more forced to outsource their services," he says. Hoogers also points out that changes should be made easier to access, as students are "sort of in the dark on these things."

Fischer says that while privacy is a concern, blocking access to the cloud is not the answer. He says the university has to adapt to the way people are using technology. While the university plans to use more vendor services where possible, sensitive data will continue to be stored here at the university.

However, "the timeframe is slow," Fischer says. The university is bogged down in legal concerns regarding new tech directions so a new system will take a few more years.

Students' more practical concerns

"I don't really think (classroom tech) is necessary," Madeleine Wilson, a third-year student at King's says. "I'm a bit of a Luddite and I don't think hi-tech is as important in the classroom."

Wilson says she would prefer to see different issues addressed, such as getting wireless Internet access in the dorms.

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