February 4, 2003

Outlining changes to Chalk

The recent decision to invest $170,000 above costs to refit the Chalk system was sage from more than one perspective. Not only has Chalk proven to be an effective tool for organizing and disseminating class information, but it has shown potential for even more in its few years of use. Classes were taught, with varying degrees of success, for over a century at this University without Chalk, and it's unlikely that professorial Luddism and its subsidiary heresies will ever be entirely vanquished from these 208 acres. But the increased use of Chalk and the Blackboard Systems software, in which the U of C has been both a guinea pig and a pioneer, is clearly a good idea, and will validate the investments made in it.

Chalk is not without its foibles. The system occasionally chafes under its increasingly heavy burden, and is a bit bewildering for the first-time user. The inability to delete classes from previous quarters save for a time-consuming student-by-student sweep is perhaps the quintessential quibble with the Web site. But Networking Services and Information Technologies's plans for a new enterprise server would solve the problem of removing old classes, in addition to allowing students to shop for classes by browsing old syllabi.

NSIT and the University deserve credit for their thorough and productive exploitation of the Chalk system. Although some students still complain that Chalk lacks the immediacy of in-class handouts (or their foolproofing capabilities), most instructors have utilized the Web site to the benefit of students. There remains ample room for improvement, however. The process of improving and refitting Chalk should seek the input of students and faculty. Those in charge of enhancing Chalk should push to integrate the system not only with the CNet protocol, but also with the Registrar's Office. Could online registration, confirmation, and grade-checking features be folded into a new Chalk system? Grafting e-reserves onto Chalk has been largely a success, and more collaboration with the Library should be considered. The University and NSIT should continue their work with Blackboard Systems to build an ever better Chalk.