Computer system serves students, faculty, and staff
New Link does just that
by Brian Fitzgerald
Need instant information at BU? Let your finger do the clicking. The Link -- a novel computer system that gives students, faculty, and staff direct access to University records -- is proving to be a powerful community resource.
Available since last December, The Link enables students to view their course schedules and grades, verify their student account status, update their addresses, and even purchase convenience points. Students can also look up their most recent account payment, view the Student Employment Office's Quickie Job Service listings, and complete a financial aid entrance interview.
"Students like it," says Steve Singer, senior associate comptroller at BU. "More and more of them are sitting down and using The Link station in our office." Singer, a member of The Link's steering committee, notes that this information system is available not only on the 150 Macintosh computer stations on campus, but also on the Internet. "Many students now have access to it from the convenience of their residence hall room," he says.
The Student Link's Web address is on the Tools and Resources feature on the Boston University home page (www.bu.edu). There is also a Faculty Link, which provides access to information about class schedules and final exam schedules, and a Faculty/Staff Link, which provides academic and administrative personnel with official information about BU students.
"From The Link, instructors download their class lists and print them out on spreadsheets," says GRS Associate Dean Scott Whitaker, another steering committee member. "That is a wonderful function for those of us who previously had to type hundreds of names."
"A faculty advisor can use the Faculty/Staff Link to review students' transcripts and be more equipped to recommend courses that will fulfill curriculum requirements," says Jacalyn Reisz, assistant director of custom system development at University Information Systems. "And changes on transcripts can now be viewed instantly. It's more efficient than relying on lots of paper reports that have to be redistributed and refiled. The information on The Link is more timely and accurate. For example, if a student receives a delayed grade from a professor, on paper the course status might be still listed as 'incomplete,' but on The Link the faculty advisor has this up-to-the-second information."
To maintain privacy and security, several of The Link's services require a BU log-in name and a password, which can be obtained from the Office of Information Technology, at 111 Cummington St. "The student's name and BU ID number aren't on the screen -- no one can look over your shoulder and see it," says Reisz. "And before you change your personal information, you have to type in your password again to ensure that no one else can manipulate your data." Services that don't require a log-in name and password protection are listed in italic on the list of functions.
Although students and staff will always have the opportunity to talk with representatives of University business offices in person or over the phone, now they are able to answer many questions themselves. For example, general information that used to require a phone call or a trip to the Registrar's Office is now provided on The Link: a click on the Frequently Asked Questions function will tell a student where to go to replace a lost ID card or obtain a course adjustment (add/drop) form. In addition, specific questions can be sent to various offices using its electronic mail feature.
"The Link is designed to save time and paper," says Reisz. "It can minimize calls to the Registrar's Office, the number of people standing in lines, and the need to fill out information request forms."
"It certainly is convenient," notes Laura Davis (SAR'99) as she looks at her final exam schedule on The Link from her personal computer in her Towers residence hall room. "Four exams in three days," she says with a sigh.
Heather Hicks (COM'01) points out that she looked up BU's class schedule for the spring 1998 semester on the computer system. "It sure beats borrowing a schedule or going out in the sleet and snow to get one," she says.
Mary Ann French, associate director of the Student Employment Office, says that The Link "is a tremendous time-saving device for students who want to view opportunities on the Quickie Job Service. There has been an increase in the number of students using it because they can immediately see what jobs are available, and then come down to our office for a referral. If nothing in the listings appeals to them, The Link has saved them a needless trip."
"We find it very beneficial," says Housing Director Marc Robillard. "Students can purchase convenience points any time of the day or night. It doesn't have to be between nine and five. In the future we hope to also have meal plan changes available on The Link. We do 2,500 to 3,000 meal plan changes a year, and right now each one requires a personal visit."
Reisz says that new services on The Link will be added throughout the academic year. Comments on this information system may be forwarded to the developers using the "suggestion box" electronic mail address on The Link.
Two years ago, 80 students tested a limited prototype version of The Link and provided University Information Systems with feedback on how to make it more effective. The steering committee includes representatives from the Office of the Dean of Students, Information Technology, the College of Arts and Sciences, the Office of the University Registrar, the Comptroller's Office, the Office of University Relations, and UIS.
"From what we've been hearing, students and staff are pleased with The Link, and they want to use it for even more functions," says Singer.