WMU News

Student Web page service premieres

April 2, 2001

KALAMAZOO -- Students at Western Michigan University can now create personal Web pages on the University's server, thanks to a service recently unveiled by the Office of Information Technology.

Student pages can be created or viewed at <homepages.wmich.edu>.

The initiative grew out of a visit Viji Murali, WMU vice president of information technology and CIO, made to the Western Student Association last fall. As part of her ongoing initiative to upgrade customer service in the Office of Information Technology, Murali asked what students most wanted from her department.

"The overwhelming response was that they wanted student Web pages," says Kelly Penskar, project lead for information technology development. "Viji returned from that meeting and made student Web pages a high priority project. The group worked with impressive speed to get this program up and running."

A large team of OIT professionals worked for several months to create the system and the corresponding documentation. In February, the office piloted the system with a group of tech-savvy students who work in the OIT. After incorporating comments from those students, the team took the project to a group of 250 education majors who had varying levels of technological ability.

"For the second pilot, we wanted a totally different audience," Penskar says. "We knew that our OIT students had done well with the system, but we needed to test it with a group more representative of the student body as a whole--some of these students were novices. It was helpful to have observations and feedback from both ends of the spectrum. Thanks to their input, for example, we were able to make the process of posting a page on the Web much simpler."

The Web page service will be available through students' "unified accounts," which had previously included only e-mail and Web access. Each student is allocated 10 megabytes of space on the University server. Both undergraduate and graduate students are eligible to create personal Web pages, and the service will remain active for two full semesters after a student graduates.

Students are expected to post both personal and University-related information on the sites. Faculty members caught wind of the project, Penskar says, and some are already planning to ask students to use their sites for classroom projects. And, of course, OIT staff members anticipate that many students will use their pages to post resumes and portfolios, similar to the system launched several years ago by the Haworth College of Business. Personal Web pages will fall under WMU's Student Code of Conduct.

OIT has developed a wealth of resources to support students who want to create Web pages. How-to information, answers to frequently asked questions, and basic templates are available online, and most lab computers on campus are equipped with the two major Web design software packages. Penskar calls the student multimedia lab located at 3302 Sangren Hall one of the University's "hidden jewels."

"We have this fantastic lab where students can go to scan photos, enhance their Web pages with creative sound and add graphics," she asserts. "The lab has virtually all the equipment they could want, plus trained staff members who can walk them through the process, if needed. And this project is definitely a work in progress--we expect to receive a lot of feedback as students evaluate what they do and don't like. This is just the beginning."

Media contact: Jessica English, 616 387-8400, jessica.english@wmich.edu

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