Because of the ACI’s all-encompassing scope, the team faced a
wide array of challenges. Some are the obvious technical issues:
for example, getting a new portal to integrate seamlessly with the
existing systems. Some were less obvious, less technical, but no
less daunting. For example, how does one dispose of the packing
material that came with over 3,400 laptops? In general, the
difficulties fell into three categories: Preparing the backend
network; managing delivery logistics; and training users and
gaining their acceptance.
St. John’s foresaw the need to upgrade its backbone network to
improve performance, reliability and manageability. Working with
strategic partners Cisco and BearingPoint (with Contemporary
Computer Services Inc. managing the physical details), St. John’s
installed a completely new network, upgrading the campus to gigabit
switched Ethernet. The backbone network is now fast enough to
handle the additional load of a wireless network add-on. The
network is standards based, so there is no concern that wireless
access points would not be able to interact with the backbone
network. Finally, the network is physically distributed but
centrally manageable, so wireless nodes can be added where needed
but configuration can be managed from the central command center.
Additional domain controllers, software update and virus scanning
servers were installed to handle the anticipated load of more than
12,000 new computers over four years.
The logistics of distributing over 3,400 laptops were very
complex, especially when the immovable deadline for distribution
was less than five months from project approval. Deliveries were
tracked closely to ensure that laptops would arrive when staff was
assembled to prepare them. Mountains of packing materials had to be
removed. Millions of dollars of equipment needed to be inventoried
and secured. An auditable process was designed and documented to
ensure up to 200 students per hour could receive a laptop,
peripherals and training. Fifty staff members were trained on
various aspects of preparing and distributing laptops.
It was clear that training and education would be key to user
acceptance. Separate education tracks were designed for students
and faculty members. Students received an hour-long orientation
session before the laptops arrived, and then participated in Public
Safety and "care and feeding" sessions on distribution day. In
addition, every student received handouts and the laptops were
equipped with an on-board help system.
The team anticipated some difficulty with faculty acceptance and
integration of the ACI into their existing curriculum due to the
short time period. Thus, daylong Faculty Institutes that focused on
techniques for incorporating technology into pedagogy as well as on
the mechanical aspects of using the laptops were scheduled.
However, the team initially anticipated a modest response and
planned only a few of these sessions during the summer of 2003.
Instead, over two-thirds of the full-time faculty requested laptops
and training over the summer; more than tripling the need for the
Faculty Institute sessions. James Pellow, Executive Vice President
and Treasurer, notes, "One of the most impressive things to see was
how the faculty accepted the ACI. We thought it would be difficult
training and encouraging faculty to introduce the technology into
the classrooms in such an aggressive timeframe. Through very strong
leadership and the sheer excitement, we found that faculty
overwhelmingly embraced the program. They lined up in numbers."
In addition to the challenges above, the team was hit by a
significant setback when the Northeast suffered a multi-day power
outage just three days before distribution began. Because the
entire distribution process was automated and depended on network
access to the St. John’s student records database, the team had to
restore the University back-end network while distribution
preparations continued. All of this was achieved while phone, cell
and e-mail networks across the region remained unavailable.