Technology shouldn’t be an afterthought at the university

“Why isn’t it loading?”, “How long do I have to wait now?”, “My inbox is full, again!”, “You need to delete some files before you log off.” — no, it’s not a nightmare, it’s just a mundane day in the newsrooms at the University of Lincoln.

Having to deal with an army of slow, unresponsive PCs, struggle with your university email, or encounter problems when trying to actually get work done on university computers isn’t something you should come across when at university.

Over the years as a student at the University of Lincoln I’ve learnt (the hard way) that if you want to get work done, you need to separate yourself from any of the IT systems used on campus. Why? Because technology seems to be an afterthought and not a priority.


The Windows Blue Screen of Death. Is this a bit too familiar?

The year hasn’t even kicked off properly yet and I can already see many of my colleagues struggling with the university’s computers. Not only do we have to load pages with Internet Explorer (updated to version 7 late last year), but the university’s reluctance to respond to students’ modern computing needs is frustrating.

The University of Lincoln uses Windows XP on its computers. As a gentle reminder, this operating system was introduced in 2001 — 8 years ago. Of course, all the latest security updates are installed, but it’s unforgivable how we are forced to use Internet Explorer 7, which was introduced three years ago. Install Firefox, Safari, or Chrome at your own risk, of course.

Let’s say you want to bring your laptop in, as it’s going to be much faster than the majority of the university’s own computers. Tough luck though, as the WiFi connection in many buildings only has limited connectivity. For example, in the media building you get stronger signal from the Library Bar’s network than from the university’s own.

Just a few week’s worth of emails or so will quickly get your university inbox full and you will be unable to receive further emails. Many students have a Google Mail account already (with over 7GB of storage) and many of my colleagues have just stopped using university email altogether or forwarded it to their personal account purely because they can’t stand being asked to keep deleting their emails. It’s futile to even ask about university email compatibility with your mobile device or calendar synchronisation.

The list of things that need addressing goes on and on. Luckily, there are a few students around who hack and fiddle with the university’s system to give us a better experience. Student Alex Bilbie has written a script so that students can use their timetables with various calendar management solutions. Nick Jackson finally found a way to enable students to print from their own computers instead of going through the uni’s PCs, though it’s not implemented as of yet.

A hat tip for Alex and Nick, and I’m looking forward to some sort of survey from the IT services regarding students’ computing needs. I know changes won’t happen overnight, but at least future students at the university will have a better experience.

2 Responses to Technology shouldn’t be an afterthought at the university

  1. Alex Bilbie says:

    Thanks for the plug Daniel.

    Over the summer various people have done a lot of work into trying to improve the IT experience at the University and very soon there’ll be new elements such as more 15 minute PCs around campus, automatic login to the wireless and new ways to find information that is relevant to you faster and easier.

    A GetSatisfaction page has been set up at http://getsatisfaction.com/universityoflincoln, it’d be great if students and staff could post ideas, problems, questions on there so we can help improve all aspects of University life.

    Many thanks,

    Alex Bilbie
    http://www.alexbilbie.com

  2. Nick Jackson says:

    As Alex mentioned, a lot of people have been spending a lot of time over the summer working on how to improve the ICT services, and you’ll see lots of changes this year including a better distribution of PCs to where they’re needed, printing from your own PC (which is coming soon, I promise!), faster and more ubiquitous WiFi coverage, easier logins and little tweaks behind the scenes to improve load times.

    More importantly though, the University wants feedback. Tell your student reps what is wrong and what is right, feel free to write emails to people telling them what you want changing. Use the (unofficial, but still fully functional) Get Satisfaction page at http://getsatisfaction.com/universityoflincoln to share ideas, comments and problems. There’s no promise everything will be fixed overnight, but without comments the ICT team are having to guess at what people want.