Let Compass Web site be your guide for homework, checking grades

By Marcus Wordlaw

Incoming freshmen will benefit from extreme changes and advancements to the Compass site made by Campus Information Technologies and Educational Services, also known as CITES. The University unit and its friendly support staff aid students in the transitional process into college by offering them a wide range of helpful amenities.

Freshmen new to the University experience will quickly find that the Internet is essential to much of their schoolwork. For years, Compass, a Web site that allows students to access assignments and grades, has been an instrumental tool that professors have integrated into their course plans.

“I think Compass, and programs like it are a great way for the class to have a presence outside of the walls of the classroom,” said Eric McLaughlin, assistant professor of Political Science.

As of May 21, however, students have had to adjust to a new system.

“We will be initiating an upgrade from the Compass WebCT Vista 3 to Blackboard Enterprise Vista 4,” said Kenneth Spelke, interim associate CIO for CITES, at the time.

With a substantial change, Spelke and CITES are increasing the amount of user features on the site, while hoping to eliminate any crashes or problems students have when accessing the site – a major issue with Compass in the past. Spelke said he felt that the size of the University and amount of users trying to access a fairly small system at once were what caused the site to occasionally crash. Blackboard offers a much larger database, along with easier navigational tools and an improved look and feel for students and faculty, Spelke said.

“This is a major version change,” he said. “It should take some time to get adjusted to for current students, but new freshmen should find it appealing, attractive, and easy to use.”

Similar to Compass, the goal of Blackboard is to provide students with opportunities to download or even submit assignments, view grades, lecture slides, and post questions and comments to instructors. It became available to faculty members in early June, allowing them the chance to create home pages for their classes, and add any personal characteristics specific to their courses to the site.

Those taking summer classes at the University have been limited to what Spelke called a “pilot server,” which is an abbreviated version of Compass. A temporary solution for the time between the Compass shutdown and the installation of Blackboard, summer students have still been able to access classes and homework through the pilot server.

Retrieving and sending e-mail is the other large service that CITES offers users. A new account and password will be required for incoming freshmen to obtain their e-mail. Daniel Jacobsohn, director of customer support services for CITES, said he believes that changes to the CITES Web site, along with Blackboard, will benefit freshmen.

“The biggest problem tends to be password issues, on setting your password and changing them,” Jacobsohn said. “We are working to modernize all CITES Web pages.”

Jacobsohn said this renovation program will improve accessibility of Web pages, while organizing each page in a more understandable, clear manner.

After numerous complaints from the freshman class of 2006-07, CITES officials believe they have done their part to create a more user-friendly atmosphere for work, one that the new class of freshmen will reap the benefits of.