'Information commons' sprout at unis

An "information commons", an enhanced computer centre established at many overseas universities, is up and running at Otago University and is in the planning stages at Auckland and Massey.

An “information commons”, an enhanced computer centre established at many overseas universities, is up and running at Otago University and is in the planning stages at Auckland and Massey.

Otago IS director Martin Anderson says the information commons came into operation when the new campus IS building opened in October.

“The idea was to have a place where students can go where they’re in the library and also have access to anything on the university LAN.”

The 138 workstations in the commons run at 1Gbit/s, though only the information systems building has that speed at present. Future extensions of gigabit capacity are planned.

The information commons isn’t for emailing your friends, Anderson says. “We have a number of e-stops, or self-service email terminals — you go to the information commons if you’re doing course work.”

Authentication is a key plank of information commons use, he says.

“We’ve developed a single standard desktop image so students can use Macs or PCs and authenticate themselves to get access to relevant materials for the courses they’re taking.”

The IS building also has a virtual private network, so students can bring in their laptops, have them registered and use them to access the LAN. The authentication process was developed in-house with standard Novell products, Anderson says.

The networking side of things was provided by Logical and Cisco, who are also behind Auckland University’s information commons, scheduled to open at Easter.

Massey also has its eyes on an information commons, university librarian John Redmayne says.

“There are plans to refit the Palmerston North campus library building and an information commons will be part of the mix.”

Such a facility is desirable “because students no longer make a distinction between word processing and a library database — when they’re writing an essay, they want it all together”.

However, Massey’s plans are “in the early stages”, he says.

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