University shapes up over the summer by improving services

Over the summer months while the students have been relaxing, the university has rolled out a number of changes in order to improve their standard of teaching.

These developments include new buildings, the redesign of current ones, and improvements to the online services.

The university’s School of Engineering has been given planning permission, meaning work is already underway there, the Business and Law building is now on target to open in 2011, and the Artbox project – a studio space for the art and design students – is still on track. Other projects that have been in the pipeline for the past year include the rearrangement of the first floor of the library.

When Ian Snowley was appointed as director of the library last September, he made it clear that he wants to give the library a more relaxed atmosphere.

After a year in the job the library is now embracing a radical new look with the introduction of the hub and comfortable furniture, which Snowley said in an interview with The Linc is all for the benefit of the students: “We recognise that students need more flexible, and informal, group study spaces – to reflect the way they work.

“We expect that it will lead to an increase in library usage, and result in happier more productive students – who really feel that the library is their space.”

Over the past academic year the library started to phase in the importance of self check out machines, for the loaning of books. This has now been replaced by a new “Totem” self service machine, which Snowley reassures is a much easier system: “No more opening the book and lining up the barcode, you just scan your library card and place a stack of books on the machine, to issue or return them.

“We will also be able to enable the machines to accept payment for fines. The new machines will allow us to release staff from desk duties, so that they can ‘rove’ around the library, helping students as soon as they need assistance.”

However, in amongst all these technological improvements its collection of books has not been neglected. Additional funding has allowed them to update their books and upgrade the video collection to DVDs, as well as sorting through the collection: “We’ve weeded the collection to ensure that the books are up-to-date and easier to find.”

A temporary addition to the library will be a Blackwell’s book shop, which will opened on the Monday of Freshers’ Week, and remains open until Friday, October 29th. The shop will also make a comeback at the start of the second semester, and hopefully it will become a year-on-year arrangement.

 Despite the campus not being far from the city centre, Josh Green, the manager of the Lincoln branch of Blackwell Connect, said: “We believe that we offer a very different and entirely more personal approach than Waterstones or WHSmiths are able to. And this personal approach is precisely how we choose which books to stock.”

 Some of the most significant changes have been put in place by the IT team and online services team. These changes include improvements to the on campus wireless Internet, including the shared living areas in the Courts halls of residence. The whole campus will be covered by the end of the year, as well as an off campus wireless network allowing students to have access to Blackboard whenever and free of charge.

Also, the university’s systems are becoming more “joined up” allowing them to have a better understanding of the student and their subject. Nick Jackson, a member of the online services team, said: “The biggest change most people will notice is a new look and feel for the online services we provide, which is designed to be faster and easier to use, cleaner to look at and more accessible.”

There are also a number of plans in development to make the online services easier to deal with, such as the introduction of Jerome which, amongst other things, will improve the library. Jackson says: “We hope to create a new library home page which offers seamless access to all of the available services, alongside a lightning-fast search across all of the library’s resources.

“In terms of improving the experience, not only will this be faster, but it will also search in more depth and use various other information such as past borrowing history to give more accurate results.”

Total Recal is another project in development which will bring all the data such as Blackboard, timetables and Outlook account together, which Mike Day, head of ICT, says “will put much of the information that students need into a simple to access calendar format.”

There is also a move to improve emails and communications for students by introducing Google Apps and Gmail. The university’s overall budget has suffered, first with the last government’s higher education cuts and now with the new coalition’s axe poised to soon rain down blows.

However, Professor Scott Davidson, deputy vice-chancellor at the university, says the money allocated to developments is protected: “There’s always a distinction drawn between capital expenditure and our day to day operational expenditure, so our capital expenditure we have budgeted, we know where the money’s coming from.

“It’s quite distinct from operational spend, so all those plans for building development are going to go ahead.

“After all, the university is only here for two reasons, really, and that’s teaching and research. And students are our reason for being so we’ve got to make sure that the students get the best experience.”

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