April 1997 // Case Studies
Technology Planning and the Movement Toward Software and Hardware Standards: Part I
by Ray Brown
Note: This article was originally published in The Technology Source (http://ts.mivu.org/) as: Ray Brown "Technology Planning and the Movement Toward Software and Hardware Standards: Part I" The Technology Source, April 1997. Available online at http://ts.mivu.org/default.asp?show=article&id=1034. The article is reprinted here with permission of the publisher.

In a relatively short span of time, two North Dakota campuses have emerged as leaders for integration of technology and instruction. Key parts of the successful transition rest on: (1) a commitment to planning; (2) focus on professional development; (3) involvement of all campus constituencies and a commitment to universal access; and, (4) partnerships with public schools and communities.

The focus of this article will be on events at Valley City State University, beginning nine years ago. Future articles will describe more recent events surrounding creation of the partnership with Mayville State University and the 1995 process which resulted in both institutions making a decision to create technology intensive learning environments with universal student and faculty access to notebook computers.

The foundation for current activity was built in the late 1980's when it became evident at VCSU that changes were needed. At the time, a few public schools and higher education institutions were gaining publicity for use of microcomputers. A group of faculty found the environment troubling. The institution had a long successful history of preparing teachers, yet it was evident that limited state resources would not be adequate to purchase enough computers or permit regular upgrades or allow hiring of sufficient academic support personnel. Something needed to be done or graduates would possess hopelessly out-dated technology skills.

The progression of events can be divided into two phases. There was an initial period of years where people were involved in what might be termed environmental scanning to find out what was happening in other places and what lessons could be learned from institutions where significant technological changes were evident. A second phase included implementation of a specific planning process characterized by classroom renovation, networking and the distribution of notebook computers.

Initial Planning Steps

During the early years of the first phase, a group of faculty and staff began meeting informally to discuss the situation. For a period of time, people were depressed by the facts and critical of administrators for lack of leadership. After a time, people began to tire of gripe sessions. It was evident that other institutions were facing identical issues and relatively few campuses appeared to be in better positions with respect to technology. It also became obvious that with the pace of change, an individual or institution could jump in at any point and become a leader. The issue was not where you started from, but how fast you could swim once the decision was made to jump. A feeling soon emerged that the group could consciously set out to take initial baby steps which would ultimately result in a transformation of the university.

As a first step, efforts were made to secure some additional marginal funds. A successful proposal was written to the Bush Foundation to secure funding for a planning process. The three step model used involving selection of sites where a higher education institution or public school had a public image for making significant strides with technology. An individual was identified at the site who could serve as a consultant. A group would then visit from North Dakota. The consultant would make two visits to VCSU. The first trip was intended to familiarize the individual with the state of the campus. The consultant would then return to their home and prepare a report. Recommendations were based on the experience of their home campus with technology and what they saw in ND. The consultants then returned a final time to VCSU and presented their recommendations to various groups.

The campus community found this to be a powerful process. A common image of the future and steps needed to get there, emerged for the group. Faculty and staff who participated in the trips formed a strong common bond. The consultant's recommendations proved very helpful as people from VCSU understood the campus context that framed the consultant's remarks.

Sites visited included: Dakota State University in Madison, SD with a mission designation in the state for technology; Northwest Missouri State University in Maryville, MO that implemented the first Electronic Campus concept placing terminals in every dorm room and office; Chadron State University and the University of Nebraska, leaders in distance education; the University of Minnesota-Crookston that was the first campus to implement the notebook university concept; a variety of leading edge public schools in Minnesota and South Dakota; and finally, the T.I.E. Center in South Dakota which offered a major annual technology conference each year.

Several activities followed as a result of the planning process. Since it was evident that faculty needed assistance through release time and acquisition of software, a 3-yr proposal for faculty development funding from the Bush Foundation was prepared. At the time, the ND University System was going through a process of mission differentiation for various campuses. VCSU requested and received a designation as focal point in the state for application of instructional technology. A proposal was offered to create the Center for Innovation in Instruction, a unique partnership among public schools, vocational education, and higher education to operate a central resource for faculty development.

The VCSU administration also began to reallocate limited internal resources for purchase of technology. A commitment was made to try and place a 486 or Mac equivalent on the desk of every faculty member. In-service programs were offered where faculty and staff shared their expertise with each other. Part of the boot strapping process also included a wide offering of summer technology workshops. Instructors received 70% of the revenue generated and the remaining 30% was pooled for targeted support of travel, or software acquisition when regular budget funds were unavailable.

With all this activity, people both on and off campus, began to take notice. Yet, it became obvious that the move was not sustainable. Success with focusing of resources, grant writing, and some additional funds from the state helped, but the institution was really not much better off than when it first started. People were excited about the changes, but tired. The pace of societal change was not slowing. Other institutions were making their own investments and catching up. People began to see that something else was needed.

So, a more formal and deliberate planning process was initiated during the 1993-94 academic year. Using a process and structure developed by the CII for public schools, faculty and staff met and prepared a proposal for the administration to consider taking the technology intensive campus concept to the next level using notebook computers.

Technology Planning Committee

Committee members were selected began work in January 1995. The committee consisted of six faculty, one student, two staff, one administrator, one librarian and one community representative. A faculty member was elected to chair the committee.

The first task for the group was to assemble benchmark information, examining the facts about the current institutional situation. People set out to describe levels of hardware, software, training and technical support. Business office inventory records provided limited information on the actual capabilities of computers. As a class project, students located the computers on campus to determine the actual capabilities and configurations.

Faculty and staff were surveyed to find out what software they were using and the status of copyright compliance. Perceptions were solicited regarding current levels of technical support and training. People were asked what they would like to see in the way of support and training. And, the survey asked users to rate the current level of technical support and training. Ninety-eight percent of the faculty and staff returned the survey.

In spite of some success with technology, the planning committee became painfully aware of campus dissatisfaction during the bench marking process. The campus climate could be summarized by saying the reliance on one-time funding for acquisition of equipment and the trickle-down of machines was resulting in a support and training nightmare.

A small staff was trying to provide technical support for every generation of IBM compatible and Apple microcomputer hardware, since the inception of the microcomputer. When asked how they felt about the quality of technical support, faculty and staff provided a rating of 2.5 on a 5 point scale, with 5 being a high level of support and 1 being a low level of support.

Three-fourths of the computers on campus could not be physically or economically upgraded to run the then-current generation of software and most of the remaining forth needed some sort of hardware upgrade. With so many different models and brands, upgrading hardware and software was an incredible labor intensive task.

For a small campus of roughly 1,200 students and 55 full-time faculty, there were 300 different software packages with several versions of some software in use because older machines could not run newer software. There was no one responsible for maintaining and tracking software license agreements, so it was impossible to make a positive statement about the status of copyright compliance.

A closer look at e-mail software revealed the impossibility of the situation. What initially appeared as a simple task to design and offer a one-hour, introductory training session on how to use e-mail turned into a planning nightmare. The task would require seven different training preparations. And, since everyone with a particular software could not make it to one training time, the trainer had to repeat the seven sessions for a total of 14 hours of training. With the current staff and time available for training, a campus training plan that provides a simple introduction to the Internet, e-mail, word processing, spreadsheets, presentation software, and a database software could not be completed in a one year cycle with available resources. It was obvious that something had to change.

When asked how they felt about the current level of training opportunities, faculty and staff had a rating of 1.9 on a 5 point scale, with 5 being a high level of training opportunities and 1 being a low level of training opportunities. The planning committee realized that the institution could not maintain the numbers of computers amassed over the years.

A plan for replacing the existing numbers of computers over time, based on the average budget for technology during the past five years, revealed a bleak scenario of a seven to ten year replacement cycle. The resource deficit was so great that reliance on grants or the permanent reallocation of institutional funding would have been an impractical, irresponsible response from the technology planning committee.

The campus network was limited to three buildings and about 120 connections, including 48 laboratory computers. A third of the faculty and staff had no LAN connection. Most users without LAN connections had a modem and there were 12 modems in the computer center. There was no local e-mail system and several faculty and staff did not use e-mail or the Internet. Users had a variety of e-mail systems in place. The most prevalent e-mail systems were one of five e-mail systems available through a North Dakota State University System organization called HECN (Higher Education Computer Network).

There were two support staff on campus that supported administrative computing and one support person for academic computing. Even though the campus was small, administrative computing and academic computing were separate operations with different campus locations. There were distinct budgets and reporting relationships.

Given several years of significant discussion about technology and success with acquiring outside resources, the situation in the mid-1990's was definitely bleak. Fortunately, there were other models. The next issue of this newsletter will provide more details of the decision-making process that led to standards for software and hardware.

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