25 Q&As: Knowledge management at school of the year

As part of Computerworld's silver anniversary celebrations 25 IT managers recall the ups and downs of their careers. Here, Janet Smith of Methodist Ladies’ College, Kew, Melbourne shares her experiences with Rodney Gedda.

Q: Choose one key IT technology and describe how you want it to develop?

Our intranet, myMLC. Methodist Ladies’ College, which was named Australian School of the Year in 2002, delivers online curriculum to all students via myMLC.net, the school’s intranet. This highly personalised knowledge management system offers a one-stop shop for the whole school community. Students can access calendars, college newsletters, the library catalogue, online CD-ROMs, faculty intranet pages, a photo gallery, links to student clubs, external Web site search engines and news feeds updated eight times per day to local and world news.

The college has also developed, in-house, an Online Learning System (OLS) which offers subject-based activities for individuals or groups, tests, discussions forums, real-time chat, and videoconferencing options.

Staff benefit from information access, being able to ‘mark the roll’ electronically, generate automatic e-mails to classes and through online use of resources, templates, discussion forums and style guides that make their roles easier.

In the next three to five years, we aim to develop the range of services offered through myMLC.net to further enhance student learning and staff productivity.

Q: What has been the most challenging IT project of your career?

Introduction of StarCard for students. In 2000 we introduced a smartcard called StarCard at the college working closely with Bermel Business Systems. Our challenge was to build an effective ‘one-card’ system with technology that was still in its fledgling stages in Australia.

The StarCard is now used by all Year 7-12 students as an ID card (with photo), library card and debit card rolled into one. Students can ‘store’ up to $50 on the card to use for photocopying and making purchases from the Star Café and the bookshop. The card is also used for vending machines, colour printing and for staff and student access to various buildings, and classrooms on the weekends.

The philosophy behind the card was to give students the opportunity to learn about budgeting in a controlled environment, and to develop their ability to experience anywhere, any time learning.

The challenges were getting the various internal stakeholders to work as a team along with external commercial vendors. Integrating technology was also a challenge as there are very few similar reference sites.

Q: What advice would you give to someone now entering IT?

Get your foot in the door early while you are a student. Get experience and start building a reputation. Good jobs are scarce and there is much competition. Keep your knowledge broad, and specialise in two to three key areas. Be flexible and demonstrate a willingness to learn and take on new projects.

Q: What tertiary qualifications do you have?

A Bachelor of Arts degree and a post graduate Diploma in Library and Information Systems.

Q: When did you start in IT and what job did you have before that?

I started in IT in 1998 and was previously employed as technology librarian in universities, research institutes and TAFEs.

Q: What was the first computer technology you used?

The Dobis/Libis library system, (from Belgium) in 1983.

Fast facts: Employees: 600 (full-time equivalent). Approx number of IT users: 3000. Hardware: 2250 notebook computers; 23 servers; 280 desktops; 225 printers, photocopiers/fax machines. Key applications: Microsoft Office; Outlook for e-mail and calendaring; CHRIS for Human Resources and Payroll. Networking: there are more than 90 3Com 3300 series switches on campus! Operating systems: Windows Millennium Edition running Office 2000. Server back end: all file and print for the school’s 2600-plus users is handled by five NetWare 5.1 file servers, running on a combination of Dell 2450 and 2550 rack mount servers. E-mail is a three-server Microsoft Exchange system.

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