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Q&A with James Wolf

James Wolf, director of academic computing, recently spoke with Inside about computing on campus.

What are the major responsibilities of your office?

Academic Computing supports the research and instructional mission of the University. We tend to focus most of our attention on faculty and students. We help students in the residence halls connect to the network. We manage the public computing areas — the PODS — including the Information Commons, which we operate in collaboration with the Libraries. We also manage Blackboard, maintain the Web server and offer assistance to departments in developing their Web pages.

How do you reach out to the University community?

One way is through Bites and Bytes sessions with our staff. Our goal is to have at least one workshop a month where people can come and hear a 10-minute talk and then have a dialogue about an issue. The last one focused on spam, and I’d like to have a discussion about data security soon. It’s a great way for us to get information from our user community.

We want to empower the University community to use as much of the computing infrastructure on campus as possible. It’s difficult to make all of the available tools known to people on campus.

How important is Blackboard now?

There was a day around Thanksgiving when there were 12,700 log-ins to Blackboard. Two-thirds of all course sections out there use Blackboard.

Blackboard is a wonderful resource. You can use it to publish almost anything that’s a computer file, whether it’s video, audio, a pdf, all kinds of different things. You can also have a virtual classroom, with multiple people in a chat room sharing something that’s like a whiteboard.

In Blackboard, we also have tools such as Turnitin, a digital drop box and things that are like blogs and wikis.

What about resources apart from Blackboard?

We do also try to make tools available outside of Blackboard. Visit, for instance, and you can log in with your PODS password and comment on things.

There’s blog space and public Web space, too. Anybody who’s got a Binghamton e-mail account can set up a page. Mine is, and they all follow that naming convention, with the user ID at the end.

How do you see computing on campus changing?

The Information Commons is a popular location for people to come and work. That concept, of putting the information resources and the tools with which you use that information together, has proven itself well here. I think we’re going to see more of that kind of use of space.

What are the biggest challenges for campus computing?

Supporting the research enterprise is my biggest challenge right now. Computational science and engineering is growing rapidly on campus and researchers are looking for hardware, software and support staff that we don’t have available. We’re working with the Division of Research and the Graduate School to develop a model for research IT that is sustainable through this time of growth. Collaboration is key in this area and collaboration often extends beyond the boundaries of the campus.

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Last Updated: 10/14/08