HISTORY OF THE INFORMATION TECHNOLOGY UNIT (I.T.U.)
COLLEGE OF MEDICINE,
UNIVERSITY OF IBADAN.
The College of Medicine, University of Ibadan, is the oldest medical school in Nigeria. It has highly skilled staff in various disciplines and is one of the most productive medical research institutions in Nigeria and in West Africa. However, information and Communication Technology (ICT) was little developed in the Institution prior to 1998. Being located in a developing country which has been experiencing severe economic problems for several years, there had been little funding for ICT. Until 1998, there were some stand-alone computers in the College, some of which belonged to research projects and some of which were bought by the College for departments. Some training of staff had been done on basic computer appreciation; otherwise there was little else.
In 1998, during the tenure of Professor M. T. Shokunbi as Provost, a blueprint for ICT development in the College was drawn up. Dr. A. A. Adeyemo, a Paediatrician and pioneer ICT committee Chairman (then known as the College Computer Committee) was a major contributor and a great mover. The blueprint called for a number of well-defined goals to be pursued. The goals included:
(1) Establishment of an information technology unit (ITU) to do system administration and implement ICT policy for the College.
(2) Continued procurement of computers.
(3) Networking of all computers in the College,
(4) Obtaining internet access for the College and
(5) Setting up a College web site.
Between September 1998 and July 1999, the first goal was achieved when ITU was set up under the office of the Provost, initially staffed by two computer professionals on national service (NYSC). A full-time system administrator was appointed early 1999 and the following year (2000), two more full time system administrators were employed. Objective 2, procurement of computers, was continued. Plans for setting up a pilot local area network (LAN) in the Clinical Sciences Building (CSB) were made and meeting/discussions held with various computer companies. By July 1999, a company had been identified to set up the LAN. Between August 1999 and December 2000, the following major activities were accomplished:
1. A college web site was designed, implemented and deployed (http://www.com.ui.edu.ng). The site had web pages of faculties, departments, centers and institutes in the College. The website was developed and the basic content was obtained from the latest edition of the College Handbook. The content has been updated several times since then.
2. An IT newsletter was started and the first issue was distributed in May 2000.
3. The college obtained dial-up full Internet access in June 2000. The server for this access was obtained through the Medical Informatics Program, a training and equipment grant to a collaborative project between the College of Medicine, Loyola University, Chicago and the Tropical Metabolism Research Institute of the University of the West Indies.
4. A cybercafé-type of arrangement was set up in the ITU whereby staff and students who do not have their own computers can have Internet access.
5. The College Administrative Block LAN - which housed the unit was configured for the network with about 20 nodes.
6. The CSB LAN was configured with a different server and activated by ITU in July 1999. This initial LAN had 13 departments on it.
The unit embarked on departmental and end-user training to encourage use of the Internet for teaching and research.
December 2000 - 2007
Dedicated wireless radio access to the Internet was obtained with General Data Engineering Services (operators of the Skannet network) as our Internet Service Provider (ISP). This link was established by the College with some assistance from the Medical Informatics Program, a collaborative project between the College of Medicine, Loyola University, Chicago and the Tropical Metabolism Research Institute of the University of the West Indies. This was commissioned by the Vice Chancellor, University of Ibadan – Professor Ayodele Falase, on January 9th, 2001. The bandwidth was upgraded from 4 kbps to 16 kbps in January 2002. As the campus LAN expands, access was provided through this gateway. Full 24X7 (24 hours a day, 7 days a week) Internet access to every computer on the network was provided to the College Administrative Building, the Clinical Sciences Building, the Institute of Advanced Medical Research and Training, the Institute of Child Health, the Department of Physiotherapy, and the Latunde Odeku Medical Library. The link to the Public Health Building was done with access to offices of heads of departments as well as a few other points. By mid-2002, it had become obvious that:
(a) the wireless radio link was slow, unreliable and inadequate for the College
(b) our connection became slow or unavailable whenever the ISP has problems because all our traffic goes through the ISP
(c) the radio link was not cost effective since our bills continued to run even when we have no access because of power failure on campus or the ISP had problems
(d) the needs of the College for fast and reliable Internet access will continue to increase for the foreseeable future, as more computers become available and more offices and buildings are connected to the network. After much research and a market survey, it was decided to go for a broadband satellite connection to be provided by Direct on PC Limited, Lagos. The installation of the system was done in November 2002. The system provides high-speed (uplink 64 kbps, downlink up to 2 Mbps) two-way, always-on (24 hours a day, 7 days a week) Internet access. The current plan the College is using is based on data usage of which it is estimated that the College will have data transfer of a maximum of 6 GB per month. This enables us to:
(1) achieve greater cost-effectiveness since we only pay for what we actually use; so no more paying for when we cannot access the system due to power failure or other problems
(2) be more flexible in scaling up as we can purchase more data blocks when we have more traffic and/or more users. The system has been quite reliable so far. The ultimate goal is to have a minimum of two routes to the Internet for purposes of redundancy and reliability.
The second route will be achieved when the IT component of the McArthur Foundation grant to the university is accomplished.
Information Technology Unit
The ITU has now become a full-fledged professional unit providing a wide range of services to the College community vis a vis:
• Deployment and Maintenance of Network services
• Administering and maintenance of all ICT equipment directly under the unit
• Provision of reliable Internet service to the entire college community
• Repair and maintenance of Computer systems and peripherals located in all departments and units of the College
• Maintenance of the Cyber café and Training Laboratory provided by the 2002 ETF fund (50-compuetr laboratory)
• ICT related training for staff and students as contribution to research and education
• Software development (computerization of units)
• Consultancy services to the College community – offering valuable advise
• Provide landmark for further ICT development to support learning
The unit functions on several committees in the College and on the main campus.
The main office of unit is located on the Ground Floor of College Administration Building where we have the server rooms, networking and training subunits – with telephone extensions 3662 and 2302. The software subunit is located on the ground floor of the Clinical Sciences Building – with telephone extension 2746. The ETF training laboratory and cyber café is located at the basement of Latunde Odeku Medical Library with telephone extension 3573.
While the number of permanent system administrators remains, the unit has successfully trained about 50 students on Industrial attachments from higher institutions within the country, Ghana and USA. Over the years, up to 10 Youth Corpers has also served in one capacity or the other during their National Youth Service Year.
The Unit was redefined with 3 subunits in 2008 – Software and Web, Networking and System Administration, E-learning and Training. The Head of the ITU is responsible for overall management of all 3 sub-units and associated unit such as the ETF-sponsored training laboratory and reports directly to the Provost. She is also a member of the ICT Committee which serves in advisory roll to the College Management on ICT matters.
By the end of 2007 all major buildings in the College of Medicine including the preclinical departments were on the Local Area Network (LAN) mostly with fiber optic cables. Today, there are about 600 computers on the College network.
The Deployment of the wireless project also commenced in 2007 and now covers up to 70% of the entire LAN including the Dental Center.
The Ibadan Medical Specialist Group (IMSG) sponsored two phases of the four-phased wireless project. A major component of this is the deployment of wireless access for Alexander Brown Hall (ABH) and power backup (solar panels and Inverter) for the network equipment commissioned in November 2008.
Our Internet connectivity has metamorphosed from dial-up over the years to C-Band VSAT connection and a fiber link. The VSAT link is currently being sponsored by the Macarthur grant for ICT development with a bandwidth of 2.7Mbps downlink managed by African Virtual University (AVU). The fiber link provides 4Mbps duplex.
The point in having two internet links is to provide reliability and prevent redundancy. We have also succeeded in overcoming the problem of Internet service interruptions due to power outage to a large extent. The unit now boasts of Inverter power backup with few solar panels, and hopes to improve further by deploying full solar panel installations.
IT in Teaching and Learning
The role of ICT in teaching and learning continues to expand. The unit has developed an intranet which is evolving. We maintain our e-mail server and exchange of messages has been made easier on the intranet.
Our website www.comui.edu.ng has also undergone a lot of development since it was first developed. The IT Unit developed and maintains the electronic-learning platform for the College based on Moodle Course Management System - available to lecturers to upload lectures, assignments and create discussion forum for students. The e-learning project, deployed in 2009 was handled by the ITU.
The Faculty of Clinical Sciences provided a Dell Server for E-learning in addition to 12 desktop computers.
The Class of 84 of the College Alumni provided fund for 20kva inverter backup with batteries, 15 Dell Desktop computers and furniture for the computers provided.
IT developments in the College of Medicine over the years have been interesting. While much has been done, this has been in the face of formidable obstacles. The cost of setting up ICT infrastructure is relatively high but the potential returns far outweigh the capital outlay. Internet access is still very expensive. However, the strong commitment of the management to IT development has been most invaluable. Also, seeking multiple sources of assistance, having a professional IT unit and pursuing a strategy of evolution (rather than big, expensive, turnkey projects) have all proven useful in our ICT development. More still needs to be done to bring the College into the 21st century in its primary goals of teaching, research and service.