East Carolina University. Tomorrow starts here.®
 
East magazine Spring 2008 edition
From the Classroom


 

A Banner day for learning


By Bethany Bradsher

/Users/stevetuttle/Desktop/Web art/banner1

We asked sophomore Matt Kucinich (above) to keep a log of his internet use on a typical day. Here’s his report:


Morning

7:25    woke up to alarm on computer and home alarm clock ringing at the same time

7:27    checked fantasy football on Yahoo.com

7:28    checked e-mail via ECU web access

7:30    checked Facebook

7:30    sent 3 messages to members of group project

7:42    wall post on Facebook

7:58    read news on my home page (my.yahoo.com)

8:00    checked fantasy football

8:07    checked weather online at weather.com

8:45    put laptop in car and listened to songs via Ruckus player

9:00    in class with laptop

9:15    downloaded 3 Powerpoint slide shows off of
           teacher’s Blackboard web site

9:17    did homework on computer

9:50    skated up hill listening to music from laptop in
           backpack

10:00   accessed campus wireless network outside of the galley

10:02    Blackboard for homework

10:03    researched homework topics using Google

10:40    E-mailed document via ECU web access

10:59    saved document on pirate drive

11:00    printed off homework from computer lab below
            Aycock

11:02    skated back to class listening to Ruckus using
            computer

11:03    skated to car listening to Ruckus


Evening

11:30
    checked e-mail via ECU access

11:35    checked Facebook

11:47     turned Ruckus/Ihome alarms on

12:00    (ish) fell asleep

 Y

ou
hear mostly positive comments from students about East Carolina’s new $18.7 million computer system called Banner—that it simplifies registering for classes, that it makes it easier and faster to get financial aid checks, that it allows them to transact about any business with the university entirely online. They say they’re encouraged that it eliminates using Social Security numbers as an identifier, which reduces identity theft concerns.

In the few months that Banner has been up and running, students seem to have accepted it as the logical next step to the OneStop system they’re familiar with. In OneStop, students could search the course catalog, check on parking tickets and see if tuition payments were due. Banner expands those features to allow professors to post homework assignments online and for students to submit them online. Students who don’t take good notes or lose the class handout can usually go to the professor’s Banner web site and download those, complete with PowerPoint presentations and study materials.

Actually, the students themselves aren’t saying all that much about Banner because to them it isn’t that big of a deal. They are the first generation of college students who have never known when a computer wasn’t a central part of the classroom.

The ones who are commenting about Banner are ECU administrators and staff, and not always favorably. They have had to learn how to use the new software to complete a myriad of administrative tasks, and mastering new methods of completing old chores can be difficult.


Virtual classrooms

Sophomore Matt Kucinich, an urban planning major from Herndon, Va., seems nonplussed by the fact that one of the few actual, hold-in-your-hand documents that he has received from East Carolina was his acceptance letter. Almost every other interaction he has had with the university since then has been via computer.

He applied to ECU by e-mail after researching the web sites of several schools. He submitted the required admissions essay as an e-mail attachment. “Every application I submitted was online,” he shrugs. “I didn’t do one single hard copy.”

When Kucinich arrived as a freshman, he met with his advisor, who handed him a list of classes he should take the first few semesters. Kucinich then signed up for those classes from the comfort of his dorm room, using his wireless laptop, through OneStop.

While OneStop was good for handling many academic functions, the university relied on other software systems to manage tuition payments and financial aid. Still other systems managed administrative tasks. And because all of this information resided in different databases, the various software systems couldn’t “talk” to each other. Worse, they all relied on a student’s Social Security number as the only form of acceptable identification, making identify theft a constant concern. A rare breach in security in February 2007 potentially exposed thousands of ECU students’ Social Security numbers to unauthorized users.

East Carolina solved most or all of those problems with the launch of Banner, a four-year, $18.7 million project whose goal was to merge admissions, registration, tuition payments, financial aid and human resources into one software platform, according to Don Sweet, director of the Banner project.

“This is a huge undertaking,” says Sweet. “There’s a lot more to it than people realize.” Banner is so versatile that it will run “what if” scenarios for students considering switching majors and identify classes they will need for the switch.

Getting Banner up and running has been challenging, including a worrisome hiccup in the software last fall when the new system was blamed for a spate of financial aid delays. Most of the problems seem to have been resolved as programmers iron out the final bugs and as faculty, students and administrators become more familiar with the system.

Kucinich used Banner for the first time to register for his spring semester classes. “It was so quick,” he says. “It took me maybe five minutes.”

Within one nine-minute period last fall, 514 students completed registration for spring semester classes. Even considering the huge increase in enrollment here in recent years, Sweet adds, “What used to take eight days to get all the students registered is down to five days.”


Learning in cyberspace

It’s not only the big tasks like admission and registration that have been transformed by technology. Daily classroom attendance, studying and homework all are now supported by cyberspace.

When Kucinich attends his first day in a new class, the professor reminds the students that the syllabus and class requirements can be found on Blackboard. Some professors still distribute printed syllabi and some still require homework assignments to be physically carried to the classroom, but Kucinich says that more often than not he is encouraged by his teachers to complete quizzes, homework and papers online.

“Blackboard is a lifesaver,” he says. “I think the best thing is doing the homework online, and being able to submit it that way. There’s no forgetting it. It’s just a click away.”

Al Burne, a lecturer in the planning department, is Kucinich’s advisor and has taught several of his classes. He is also fully linked to Blackboard, using the program to communicate information with his students and to post lecture notes or other material they might need.

“It’s made teaching much more efficient,” said Burne, who has been teaching for eight years. “If they miss a handout or something like that, they know where to go to get it.”

Which is not to say that Blackboard doesn’t present some new challenges for professors, Burne said. For one thing, many of the assignments in the planning department involve drawing and submitting detailed maps online, and those files are so big that it used to tie up Burne’s e-mail inbox when students submitted them. Now the assignments come through the Blackboard server instead of his personal inbox, which has increased his efficiency.

Teaching in a digital age

When he’s not logged on to Banner, Kucinich—like nearly every other college student on the planet—is spending time on Facebook, a social networking web site that allows members to post pictures, communicate with each other and plan get-togethers. On one hand it’s the ultimate online time-waster—Kucinich said it’s one of the places he visits when he’s supposed to be doing online schoolwork—but it also has served a valuable purpose for groups of students that need to work together.

When Kucinich is given a group assignment, he starts by finding the members of his group on Facebook. He “friends” them, he says, (asks them to join his friend network), then makes a special Facebook group so that they can talk online. From there, they can easily talk about progress or plan work sessions.

Because Kucinich has never known life as a student without the constant companionship of the Internet, he is quick to learn new systems like Banner when they come along. Anything that makes his campus life more convenient is welcome, he says.

Teaching administrators and staff members to use Banner has been harder because they have to learn new ways to do their jobs. The university spent more than $6 million bringing in consultants to teach Banner to
its employees.

“My daughter knows more about Banner than I do sometimes, and I’m in charge of it,” Sweet said. “Students are so much quicker to pick these things up.”