IT Plan Aims
A comprehensive planning effort to ensure that the University’s information technology supports the institution’s goals of teaching, research, and outreach has resulted in a series of reports and recommendations that will be made available for discussion later this semester.
“We are trying to craft a plan that will outline how the academic, research, and outreach missions of the University will be supported by technology,” says Michael Kerntke, interim vice president for information services and co-chair of the IT strategic planning steering committee.
Krista Rodin, dean of the College of Continuing Studies, who also co-chaired the IT strategic planning steering committee, says that without a strategic plan for IT at the University, “our technology simply represents a response to whatever pressure is on us at that moment. We need to maximize our technology resources. The strategic planning process has involved looking at what’s working, where there are gaps, and where we need to be to really serve students and faculty.”
The initiative originated in fall 2003 at the request of Linda Flaherty-Goldsmith, vice president and chief operating officer. It began with unit reviews by the deans and various area heads. The planning effort is Storrs-based, but also takes into account the regional campuses and their needs. It does not involve the Health Center, however, where many of the IT issues are related to providing clinical care.
Last fall, nine teams were named to explore the issues identified in the initial reviews. They are:
“Many universities have a single card,” says Kerntke.
Some of the older buildings are not wired to handle the technology that security uses would require, however, says Rodin, and this creates challenges for the implementation of a single campus card.
Data Storage and Web Services
The group recommended creating a repository for storing documents in an electronic format that can be shared with others in the University community. Currently, many units have their own servers, says Kerntke. Financial data, student-related data, and human resources data, for example, are stored in different systems that in many cases “don’t talk to each other,” making it impossible to move data from one system to another.
“We can store data, but unless people can use it, what’s the point?” says Rodin.
Kerntke says “Improved data storage has strong implications for strategic planning and will improve collaboration between areas and individuals.”
A project is already underway to provide wireless access in the campus core – including Homer Babbidge Library, the Center for Undergraduate Education, and the Student Union – by May 1.
Other areas will be added during the next few years until wireless access is available throughout the campus.
“A large number of students are coming to campus now with laptops with wireless cards,” says Brinley Franklin, vice provost for University Libraries and co-chair of the wireless task team, “so they come to the library and other places expecting wireless access because it’s become so pervasive – it’s in airports, coffee shops, and at many other colleges and universities. If we did not add wireless access, we could be at a competitive disadvantage relatively soon.”
Franklin says there are some associated security issues, including providing an authentication mechanism to ensure that only members of the University community can gain access to the UConn network.
Teaching and Learning
“There is a clear need for more classrooms that have user-friendly technology for students and faculty,” says Rodin.
But the group also concluded that sometimes what’s needed is not new equipment, but integrating existing items so they work together better.
“There will always be a need for some classrooms that don’t make use of technology,” says Kerntke. Not every topic or teacher is best served by hi-tech, he notes.
Keith Barker, director of the Institute for Teaching and Learning and a member of the team, says “Some of us felt strongly that ‘technology for its own sake’ or ‘technology before pedagogy’ was not a good strategy, and that as we include more technological support for faculty there should be a concomitant program to educate instructors in the most efficient use of such facilities.”
“We discussed a range of questions, including whether the University at large will be involved in learning where there is no face-to-face interaction – Continuing Studies already does this,” says Nancy Bull, associate dean of the College of Agricultural and Natural Resources for outreach and public service and associate director of the Cooperative Extension System, a member of the Distance Education Team.
“If so, is it willing to invest in the necessary infrastructure? Who will take the lead? Who will provide training and support for faculty members? And how will the activity of students in class be monitored?”
“Until technology is incorporated into a majority of the classes offered across the board, a University-wide requirement probably doesn’t make sense,” says Rodin. “If a student takes a business class, they’ll need to buy a laptop or they won’t be able to access the class materials. On the other hand students in other fields may not need a laptop.”
Already a majority of students currently have their own computers, though not necessarily laptops, and all students at the Storrs campus have access to computers in the residence halls and in other locations such as the library.
Technologies for Career Paths
“There are specific technologies that, for example, industries expect an MBA to have,” says Kerntke, “or an engineer or a pharmacist or a graduate with an agriculture degree. We want to ensure that the expectations of the business world are being met, and that our graduates are viable candidates for employment.”
The group recommended that each school and college should define what technological expertise will be required, and at what level.
The team is recommending a data warehouse that will incorporate technology to convert and maintain historical as well as current data, and will be accessible to users without a lot of technical background.
Voice Over IP
“The technology bypasses the phone jack to plug into the network,” says Kerntke. “It’s been around a while, but it’s not always economically feasible and the quality of the connections is often poor. Most people are saying, ‘Let’s wait and see’.”
Some issues cut across the work of the different teams. A big issue, says Rodin, is single sign-on. Currently, most UConn computer users have to sign on to the programs they use three or four times in one session.
“Many faculty, for example, would prefer to sign on once to, say, WebCT and also be able to download grades to PeopleSoft,” she says. “Having to go in and out of these programs all the time is not user-friendly.”
Some technological obstacles must be overcome before a single sign-on is accomplished, but, says Rodin, “we will get there.”
The IT committee will present the task teams’ recommendations to key constituency groups on campus and at a public forum for feedback during the spring, and will report to Flaherty-Goldsmith by the beginning of the fall semester. The administration will then prioritize the recommendations and seek funding for the items on the list.