The networking imperative – investment in high-technology information infrastructure – includes related article - Higher Education


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The networking imperative – investment in high-technology information infrastructure – includes related article

by Ronald Roach

The high cost of building and maintaining the infrastructure
necessary to support information is nowhere near the price schools will
play if they do not develop this strategic asset.

By the end of 1998, all students living on the campus of
Winston-Salem State University (WSSU) will have the capability to
access the Internet from their dormitory rooms. Just last spring, only
a small percentage of students living on this North Carolina campus had
such online access.

Although Dr. Joyce Williams-Green, the vice-chancellor for academic
affairs at WSSU, says the dormitory networking project represents a
noteworthy accomplishment for the small, historically Black university,
she adds that the university is struggling to stay current with the
computer networking revolution that is sweeping American higher
education.

“For us to provide a quality educational environment, we have to build a quality computer network,” Williams-Green says.

For years, colleges and universities nationwide have provided
computer labs for their students and have automated many administrative
functions with computer networks. However, a more recent wave of
computer networking, such as the WSSU effort, represents what many see
as the most expensive and most far-reaching technology initiative ever
undertaken by American colleges and universities.

Schools that serve significant minority student populations are
facing a considerable struggle to build and upgrade their campus
networks. Yet, those that fail to do so, will find it increasingly
difficult to compete for students and faculty.

For Black, Latino, and Native American students attending
predominantly White schools, there is evidence to suggest that, on
average, they come to campus with less computer exposure and fewer of
them own computers than their White and Asian American peers.

A new study released by the National Telecommunications and
Information Administration (NTIA) at the U.S. Department of Commerce
reports that nearly 41 percent of White households own a personal
computer in comparison to 19.3 percent of Black households and 19.4
percent of Hispanic households. The study found that the disparity is
consistent across income levels.

The Push to Network

The $2 million WSSU technology effort includes fixing the year 2000
computer problem, upgrading the campus network, and providing all 165
faculty members with personal computers that can access the Internet,
according to Williams-Green. Campus network upgrades will provide
administrators with new financial management and student information
systems. Administrators are also getting a computerized campus
scheduling system, along with upgraded financial and student management
systems.

What differentiates the current information technology push from
previous ones is that it uses Internet technology to create an entirely
new learning and teaching environment for students and faculty.
Advanced networking also integrates the transmission of voice, video,
and computer data across a single network.

Such networking enables students, faculty, and administrators to
collaborate and communicate with each other in powerful ways. Faculty
members can use the Internet to interact with students via e-mail and
to publish curriculum materials. Students can access instructional
software tailored to individual learning styles from the campus
network. Course registration and financial aid can be handled online,
reducing paperwork and bureaucracy. Distance-learning opportunities
become possible when schools develop them with sophisticated computer
networks and videoconferencing technology.

In 2007, an Estimated 25 million people will being experiences,
including traditional degree-seeking undergraduate and graduate
students. The majority of that group will not be pursuing a degree, but
instead will be updating their skills in response to the changing
economy, according to Dr. Carol A. Twigg, vice-president of Educause,
and Dr. Robert C. Heterick Jr., former president of Educause’s
predecessor, Educom. Educause is an association of information
technology professionals in higher education.

“The network has become a strategic asset. It’s now strategic to
the mission of the university,” says Ted Evans, associate director of
telecommunications and networking at Georgetown University.

Evans estimates that only 5 to 10 percent of American colleges and
universities can be considered to be completely wired. The job of
networking a school is expensive, starting around $1,000 per computer
terminal he says. That means a school has to wire its campuses with
expensive fiber optic cables to have the capacity for massive data
networks.

The task of wiring American colleges and universities to handle
sophisticated computer communications, video transmission, and
telephone traffic is expected to cost millions of dollars. Although
it’s inevitable that richer schools have an advantage in financing
advanced networks, higher education IT professionals say campus
leadership is as critical a factor as money in an institution’s
capacity to use and deploy information technology.

Yippie Yi Yahoo!

One prominent index hailed by some administrators and criticized by
others is the Yahoo/Internet Life magazine survey of the 100 Most Wired
campuses in America. Launched in 1997, the survey ranks 100 campuses
considered to have the most advanced computer networking
infrastructures and services (see BI The Numbers).

Schools are assessed by their capacity to offer Internet access,
computer connections in dormitories, online registration, student and
faculty computer training, and many other criteria.

“The way that colleges use network technology — the way that they
admit the Internet into their classrooms, dorm rooms, and offices — is
already an important measure of their success and will become
increasingly vital in future years,” according to Yahoo’s America’s 100
Most Wired Colleges Web site.

The Yahoo Web site also claims that as “a result of last year’s
rating, several schools accelerated their campus wiring initiatives.”
Yahoo notes that in 1997, “only 28 percent of our Top 100 offered
online registration” to their students. In 1998, that number jumped to
64 percent.

In both the 1997 and 1998 ratings, no historically Black
institution ranked in the Yahoo survey. However, three institutions
that ranked in tile Top 100 for the production of Black undergraduate
degrees, as compiled by Black Issues In Higher Education this year,
made Yahoo’s 1998 survey. These schools were Temple University,
University of Maryland-College Park, and Michigan State University.

Dr. Melvin Johnson, vice-chancellor for information technology at
North Carolina A&T State University in Greensboro, says colleges
and universities are using the Yahoo survey as a marketing tool to
attract students and parents. In an economy where there’s a shortage of
information technology workers, having elaborate networking technology
on campus can be an effective marketing tool, according to Johnson.

But Johnson cautions that such surveys have the capacity to lead institutions into making hasty and ill-advised IT decisions.

“It’s the glitter phase and [to some institutions] glitter matters,” he says.

Forward any questions or comments to ronald@cmabiccw.com

RELATED ARTICLE: Technology’s Transformative Impact

Having proficiency in computer use is becoming an increasingly
important skill set in the national economy. Job growth in the
information technology sector is highest among all work categories, and
use of information technology is’ expected to increase for all
occupations.

Sixty-five percent of American workers use some form of in
formation technology (IT) in their jobs. In the year 2000, 95percent of
workers will use information technology at work, according to
researchers affiliated with Educause, an association of information
technology professionals’ in higher education.

RELATED ARTICLE: Tech Gurus As Senior Administrators

Nationwide, administrators such as Dr. Joyce Williams-Green — vice
chancellor for academic affairs at Winston Salem State University
(WSSU) — and Dr. Melvin T. Johnson — vice chancellor of information
technology at North Carolina A&T State University (A&T) — are
guiding their schools in the upgrade and construction of campus
computer networks. In the process, they’ve been promoted to the highest
levels of university administration and now play a critical role in
university governance.

African Americans working as IT professionals in the senior ranks
of colleges and universities are largely found at historically Black
institutions. A few high-ranking Blacks coordinating IT development
work at predominantly White schools.

Earlier this year, WSSU administrators hired Williams-Green away
from Virginia Tech. It was at Virginia Tech, the state’s flagship
university for engineering and technology education, that Williams got
experience working as an administrator with responsibility for IT
development.

Williams-Green says WSSU faces considerable challenges in the
effort to catch up to schools such as Virginia Tech. She currently has
responsibility for coordinating both academic and administrative
computing management on campus.

“It’s a juggling act,” she says.

At Georgetown University, Ted Evans occupies an unique niche as one
of a few of African American IT executives at a predominantly White
college or university. Prior to joining Georgetown two years ago, Evans
spent his career working for telephone companies as a
telecommunications network manager. He went to Georgetown primarily to
acquire experience developing networks that combine video, data, and
voice transmission.

“It’s been a challenge” adjusting to academia, says Evans, adding
that academia requires more of a consensus-building approach than that
required in the business world.

The task of managing IT development has unique set of challenges
for the IT manager at a college or university. Figuring out how to
develop incentives to entice faculty members to use computers in their
courses is one such challenge, according to A&T’s Johnson.

Striking a balance between the construction of an appropriate
number of public computer labs and establishing network connections in
dormitory rooms is another. At a certain point, campuses have to stop
building computer labs and focus on establishing network connections
for students who bring computers to schools, Johnson added.

Catherine Smith, director of computing at Carleton College in
Minnesota, says IT managers have to walk a delicate line between
integrating centralized computer networks with decentralized networks
controlled by autonomous academic departments. She says IT managers at
large universities confront that dilemma more so than those at smaller
schools.

Smith also notes that IT professionals have had to overcome
considerable resistance from school administrators unwilling to accept
them at the highest ranks of the college or university. Historically,
because many professionals came from technical areas such as the
computer science departments, there was a perception that IT
professionals “did not think broadly or deeply enough to be at the
highest levels of the university.”

Smith says that perception has changed over the past decade because
the ranks of IT professionals have become populated with more
well-rounded managers who have developed reputations for providing
quality service.

COPYRIGHT 1998 Cox, Matthews & Associates



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