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A Peak in at Beacon

by Ali Dimoff

A smaller committee, referred to by Sheila Confer, assistant director of the Academic Village and Beacon coordinator, as a “steering committee” met Oct. 16 to discuss long range plans for Beacon.

“Members from Advising and Student Services are part of this committee, they’re some of the main stakeholders on campus to help determine long term plans,” Confer said.

In the spring it was discussed there might be new features added to Beacon this semester. So what do they include?

“There aren’t any,” Confer said. “Campus Labs spent a lot of last year improving Engage [formerly CollegiateLink], so Engage is great, but Beacon hasn’t really caught up,” she said.

The only new feature she hopes will be implemented by Spring 2018 is the ability to have student ID pictures linked to the profiles.

Some old changes have reappeared though. In Fall 2016, everything posted about a student was made visible to anyone in their network, which included when a professor made a notion about the student and information from students’ one on one’s with CA’s. In Spring 2017, most information was not available for faculty to see. Confer explained why this fall everything is visible again.

“In the spring that was unintentional,” she said. “We had some issues with getting course data upgraded in the system, faculty were not connected with the students in their classes in the same way they had been in the fall.”

In terms of if the system goes too far and infringes on privacy, Confer offered some thoughts.

“It’s kind of a mixed bag,” she said. “There are some faculty who very much appreciate seeing information because they like seeing what’s going on with their students outside of the classroom, and then there are faculty who would prefer not to,” she added.

Confer said the long range planning committee will likely address this issue of what faculty need to or want to see.

“We may only allow faculty to see notes and things for students who are their direct advisees, as opposed to every student in their class,” Confer said.

Confer also acknowledged that the system is not perfect.

“It has some glitches,” she said. “For example, a trigger can be set to alert a student if they have exceeded the maximum limit of unexcused absences. Unfortunately if the faculty member doesn’t set a maximum limit but then enters an absence, it triggers the alert anyway. I had to lower like 30 alerts today because they had missed one class, despite there being no limit,” she said.

As for the future, Confer hopes to continue using Beacon.

“I think it’s an efficient way to share information,” she said. “My opinion is, even if we need to pull back and limit access to information, I think we should continue to use this program and figure out how to best adapt the use of Beacon.”

No additional plans were made following the meeting on Oct. 16, according to Confer at this time.

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