CAUSE/EFFECT

This article was published in CAUSE/EFFECT journal, Volume 22 Number 1 1999. The copyright is by EDUCAUSE and the author(s). See http://www.educause.edu/copyright for additional copyright information.

Campus Network Strategies: A Small College Perspective
by Thomas Moberg

This article offers advice to administrators and faculty in small college environments about things to consider as they engage in planning, building, and managing campus networks. Also included are observations about the network as a strategic asset, funding and staffing issues, and planning for unexpected results.

Campus networking is rightly perceived by most colleges and universities to be one of the most important issues facing them at present. A campus network is far more than just a physical infrastructure, and planning and building a campus network really means developing an entirely new information environment that will have a profound impact on almost every aspect of campus life. In building networks, campuses are engaged in a change process that is strategically essential to their very nature and existence. This article offers some advice to administrators and faculty about things to consider as they engage in planning, building, and managing campus networks in small college environments.

Observations about the network planning process

Some people may view campus planning as an oxymoron. Nevertheless, it is impossible to build an effective campus network without a significant amount of planning. Before addressing some of the specifics of planning campus networks, it is worthwhile to think about the planning activity itself.

Planning is a process, not a product

Some colleges use formal methodologies for planning, while others do planning "on the fly." Whatever the procedure used on your campus, it is important to stress that planning is a process, not a product. This is one of those "trite but true" statements about planning. It may be especially true (or especially trite) when applied to network planning. But a network is an organic entity that will continually evolve, grow, and mutate. Thus colleges need appropriate feedback mechanisms, organizational structures, and planning processes for measuring growth and handling change in the network.

Network planning must be mission driven

The network planning activity must be connected to the strategic goals and directions of the institution. What is the primary mission of the institution, and how does this affect networking? For example, if residentiality is a key part of the collegeís mission, how does networking relate to that? As colleges develop strategic plans for the institution, or master plans for facilities, it is very important to include the campus network at appropriate places in the overall planning.

Network planning is planning for the new ICE Age, in which Information, Communication, and Entertainment converge

It is important to understand that network planning really means planning a whole new environment that will encompass information, communication, and entertainment on the campus. The network will provide a powerful, dynamic, new channel of access to the world of information. It will also enhance and fundamentally alter the communication mechanisms on campus. And whether we want it or not, the network will provide a wide range of new entertainment opportunities. This new environment will encompass or touch all the information technology areas (e.g., computing, library automation, audio, video and multimedia technologies), which will challenge, compete with, and sometimes replace existing modes of campus communications, information access, administrative work, power hierarchies, and budgeting systems.

While change has always been a characteristic of technology, the rate of change is increasing. New technologies and combinations of technologies crash into our lives almost constantly. It is difficult to even know about all the new technologies, much less understand the implications of them for our campuses. But campus network builders have to be both scouts and wagon masters of the information age, so it is important to find ways to step back, reflect, and observe the changes taking place. We need this to get a clear perspective, perceive subtle directions and trends, and respond to new imperatives before they become crises.

The network as strategic asset

It seems to be characteristic of higher education today that many senior administrators are ambivalent about information technology: they arenít sure whether information technology is contributing to the problems of higher education, or whether information technology can be part of the solution to those problems. This is much less true today than it was a decade ago, but it still seems fairly typical that information technologists are expected to articulate the value of a network as part of the planning process.

So why is the campus network a strategic asset for a small college? What does this mean? To me, this means that the campus network is central to the basic purpose of education and can make the institution better and stronger. For most colleges, the central mission is to provide a high-quality teaching and learning environment for undergraduates. Beyond that, colleges need to be well run, efficient, dynamic institutions. Here then are some general ways that a campus network can improve and strengthen an institution.

Full access to information. The existence of a campus network enhances teaching, learning, and research by allowing faculty, students, and staff to have participatory access to information and technological resources on the campus and in the community, region, nation, and world. The network eliminates physical isolation, and allows students at small colleges to have the same kind of information access that any student anywhere has. Without this access, institutions of higher education could become road kill along the information highway. An institution that does not participate in the information age will simply not be viable in the 21st century.

Enhanced communication. A network enhances the campus atmosphere by improving communication among faculty, staff, and students. For example, faculty and students can have closer contact and better communication, even on small campuses that pride themselves on this sort of educational interaction. Multi-disciplinary courses can be planned, facilitated, and even partially taught by faculty-to-faculty and faculty-to-student electronic mail conversations. Faculty and staff can more easily contact each other, without the typical situation of telephone tag. Student groups can arrange meetings, faculty can distribute assignments to students, students can turn in assignments, library books can be ordered from inter-library loan--these are just a few of the many ways that campus activities are facilitated by communication over a campus network.

Support for student services. A network supports student services by allowing online registration, requests for transcript information, scheduling of appointments and meetings, and submission of electronic forms for almost anything students formerly used paper forms to do. Through Web pages and Internet forms, colleges can distribute information about the college that is useful in recruiting new students. Faculty and staff at colleges with off-campus programs use the Internet to maintain close links with the students studying away from the campus, thereby helping the students carry out activities such as course registration and communication with advisers and friends.

Administrative efficiency. A network promotes administrative efficiency by providing access to institutional data, allowing better decision making, improving productivity, and facilitating reengineering of operational processes. The use of campuswide databases for student and employee records, scheduling, procurement, and other business processes leads to more efficient work, flattens hierarchies, and removes departmental barriers.

Integrated information technologies. The network integrates various information technology areas by providing a central focus for management of resources and services. The network makes it easy (and sometimes imperative) to coordinate the management of computing, library automation, telecommunications, media technology, and other networked information resources. Such coordinated management allows better use of resources, helps eliminate turf issues, clarifies confusion about service sources, and allows much more efficient strategies for handling infrastructure components like cable systems.

Support for institutional advancement. A network facilitates fund-raising and good relationships with external constituencies (for example, alumni, parents, trustees, business partners) by providing new options for communicating with diverse and dispersed groups through electronic mail and World Wide Web technologies. Such linkages allow the college to build and strengthen these important ties and also provide a useful service to the college "family."

Planning the ideal network

The campus network provides the essential first link in connecting scholars to the information universe. As campus planners engage in the process of planning and building campus networks, they need a clear vision of what an "ideal" campus network should be like. Since every college is different, every campus network will use a different approach to envisioning, planning, and building its unique campuses network. The campus network will have a profound impact on the way the campus functions, so it is important to have wide involvement of all stakeholders in the planning process. It is also useful for campus planners to study the network strategies and designs of other colleges. The resources of EDUCAUSE, including its document library and the descriptions of the campuses honored in its networking awards, provide excellent sources of information about campus networks.

Regardless of the specific planning process or the particular network design used at a campus, there are certain dimensions (or aspects or characteristics) that exist in every campus network. The following model for envisioning the "ideal" campus network, incorporating five dimensions ranging from the physical to the cultural, may be useful to think about during the planning process.

Physical dimension. The ideal campus network is an information channel that reaches every place on campus where "knowledge workers" live and work, including offices, classrooms, laboratories, studios, student residences, student activity areas, and so forth. It includes a physical infrastructure that consists of high-grade copper and fiber cable; junction and termination boxes; communications devices such as fiber hubs, bridges, routers, terminal servers; and wiring closets to house equipment and termination panels. The ideal campus network provides a seamless interface to on-campus sub-nets and to off-campus locations and resources, such as faculty homes, metropolitan and regional networks, and the Internet. The ideal campus network has physical components that meet defined institutional standards, provide for modularity and expandability, and are well documented and mapped.

Protocol dimension. The ideal campus network handles multiple network protocols, such as TCP/IP, AppleTalk, Netware, etc. Therefore it should not have highly proprietary characteristics that preclude use of other protocols. The ideal network provides a seamless interface between protocols used on sub-nets and meets well-defined institutional standards for network connections and protocols.

Management dimension. On the ideal campus network, management activities are invisible to users. Network growth, while constant, is managed without disruption to users. The ideal network management structure includes appropriate staffing, as well as budgeting, control, and security systems. The institution with an ideal campus network has a funding program that covers continual growth of the network and replacement of functionally obsolete equipment.

Application dimension. The ideal campus network provides easy access from any connection point to all information pools, including the global Internet, library materials, specialized departmental resources, non-print media collections, and institutional databases. The network provides a variety of integrated information resources via a campuswide information system (CWIS). The ideal campus network incorporates a seamless electronic mail system with a common user interface to all members of the institutional family, which may include off-campus constituencies, and provides easy sharing of electronic resources (data, text, images, sound, video) across the network. All members of the campus community find it easy to use shareable computing hardware and software resources such printers, scanners, statistical packages, programming languages, and databases; everyone has full access to Internet applications and information resources; and all applications are well documented and publicized.

Cultural dimension. Ideally, all faculty, staff, and students use the network fluently as a natural and integral part of their communications and information exchange activities. On a campus with an ideal network, students use the network as an intrinsic part of their campus life, faculty actively seek to use the network in new and creative ways to enhance teaching and learning, and administrators and staff routinely use the network to improve operations and reengineer archaic administrative systems. The network provides a unifying concept for campuswide integration of information technologies, resources, and services. The institution considers the network a strategic asset, and is committed to supporting the network as a vital strategic resource.

Planning and building campus networks often proceed together in an iterative fashion. Even if we share a common vision of the "ideal" network environment, each campus network will have to be tailored to that campus. The sidebar opposite offers some general guidelines for building an ideal network.

Funding issues

Funding is a central issue in planning and building networks. The financial part of network planning should include a strategy based on capital funds, support funds, and maintenance funds.

Capital funds are generally used for building the basic network infrastructure. Every campus network is different, so it is very difficult to provide a general formula or model to accurately predict the design and development costs. For example, a campus with a network of steam tunnels will find it much cheaper to install conduit and fiber than one that has to dig up or punch under city, county, or state roads.

Support funds, often included in the institutionís operating budget, are required for the ongoing support of network components and services. Examples of such expenses include personnel costs, license fees, Internet line charges, and fees for regional providers of Internet connections.

Maintenance funds will be required to replace damaged, worn out, or functionally obsolete networking equipment. Administrators must understand that most information technology items are just like other essential utilities and "consumables" (for example, water, electricity, and toilet paper), and as such, must be funded as part of the institutionís ongoing operating budget. Keeping an equipment inventory, with the expected replacement cost and the expected lifetime for each item, is necessary so yearly costs can be predicted. For simplicity, if a component is expected to last N years, then each year (100/N) percent of the replacement cost should be deposited in a depreciation reserve fund. And the network management staff should have access to this reserve account on an "as needed" basis.

Staffing and human resources issues

What are the staffing implications of networking? What are the new responsibilities related to the development and management of a full-campus network? Some areas where staff time will be required include:

User support. Faculty, staff, and students will need all the types of support that computing requires (consulting, training, documentation).

Software support. Network operating systems will need regular management, maintenance, and upgrading. Applications are increasing dramatically in both quantity and variety.

Technical support. Someone will have to run cable, make and maintain network connections, trouble-shoot problems, install routers, and so forth. This kind of service could be outsourced or could be done by college employees.

External relations. Someone will have to work with vendors and other external partners, represent the institution in maintaining an Internet connection, talk to parents and alumni who want access to the campus network, and perhaps help with external fund-raising.

Policy issues. Someone will have to coordinate the development of campus policies and procedures to address the many questions that will arise when access is provided to electronic information about its proper use, ownership, authorization, control, accuracy, security, privacy, and so forth.

In addition to these staffing issues, a host of human resources management issues related to a networked environment will also arise. Access to a full campus network quickly leads creative workers to find new ways to do their jobs by ignoring the old hierarchical styles of information flow and management. People simply go where the information is and find people to work with who will help them do their job. So the availability of a campus network makes possible work styles and problem solutions based on new human networks. To promote this type of creative work style, some staff members will need training and encouragement to develop new approaches to problem solving. Other workers will eagerly take on more comprehensive tasks outside their normal departmental areas, thus raising difficult questions about how to classify and compensate such jobs.

Existence of a full campus network will also lead to the need for new kinds of positions. Besides the obvious ones related to network management, the development of campuswide databases will require someone to act as a database administrator, with sufficient campuswide authority to support centralized management of information. There are various ways to place such positions in the campus employment structure, but the people holding such positions need to be comprehensive thinkers with a genuine collegiate perspective.

Finally, access to the Internet from all staff work areas raises a number of issues related to employee supervision and assessment. Should employees be encouraged to "cruise" the Internet to find information, make contacts, and participate in discussion groups? How can managers evaluate the productive value of the time an employee spends learning to use the World Wide Web?

Providing Internet access and its implications

The Internet, first through the widespread use of electronic mail and then through the amazing explosion of World Wide Web use, is having a dramatic impact on teaching and learning on college campuses. No educational institution can claim to offer an "information age" education to its students without a campus environment that allows students and faculty to participate fully in this dramatic activity. All aspects of scholarly activity are being rapidly reshaped by the use of hypertextual, multimedia information deposited, organized, and shared on the Web, as well as the incredible volume of electronic communication taking place via electronic mail, news groups, and listservs. The Internet is also a major driver in the mad dash to create distance education programs.

Providing full access for all faculty, students, and staff to the networked world outside the campus is one of the most important reasons to build a campus network. Services and resources such as use of electronic mail, participation in discussion groups, access to bibliographic and full-text materials, data sharing, and so forth exist in the global electronic community just as they do on campus. Everyone--faculty, students, and staff--can do their work better if they can use the Internet from their desktop. In fact, many of the benefits, such as the potential of the Web for instructional use or as an "intranet" campuswide information system, can only be realized if everyone on campus has access to them.

At the moment, much Internet activity still involves relatively slow transmission of characters or text files. However, the explosive expansion of Web use for graphics, audio, and full-motion video is pushing the demand for greater campus network capacity. Campus network planners should anticipate an ever-growing demand for more network speed and capacity, as well as more security, greater reliability, and improved quality of service. Within a short time frame, probably just a few years, even small institutions will have a strong impetus to connect to the next iteration of the Internet.

Many new challenges related to information access and use are being raised in the context of Internet access, including issues related to fair use, intellectual property rights, plagiarism, information accuracy, and access to Internet materials sometimes considered pornographic. Campuses, as well as the general public, will have to deal with these issues in a variety of contexts as society deals with the impact of the Internet.

Planning for unexpected results

Networking has revolutionized the way we work, teach, learn, communicate, and think. However, our campus networking strategies often have unexpected, secondary effects which are not necessarily positive. These tend to be effects that develop in an evolutionary way and may be hard to notice at first. But they will happen and should be anticipated by campus network planners.

A secondary effect is simply an unintended consequence, something unplanned which occurs as a result of a planned activity. For example, one college installed a Maintenance Department work-order request system as part of an online service request menu. Basically, this system just harnessed the e-mail system with some batch files to allow college staff to request repair and maintenance work without making a phone call or sending a paper form. The Maintenance Department managers then assigned the work to the tradespeople via e-mail and tracked the work orders in a database. The system was expected to save time for both staff and the Maintenance Department, and it did. What was unexpected was that students almost immediately started using the system to report maintenance problems in the residence areas directly to the Maintenance Department. Historically, all such problems were first reported to the Housing staff, who in turn sent the requests on to Maintenance. Once the students started using the network-based system, a whole step was eliminated, which speeded up the process significantly. And the Housing staff suddenly discovered that they had extra time. All in all, this was a very positive secondary effect. Not all unintended consequences are so beneficial.

A campus network will very likely have a strongly positive impact on campus communication patterns, including more, better, and new forms of communication among all campus constituencies. But it is also quite possible that the most immediate consequence of a campus network will be that the traditional communication patterns are completely upset. Suddenly, any student can send e-mail to the president without intervention from a secretary or any other traditional filter. And anyone, no matter how eccentric or altered with recreational chemicals, can send e-mail to everyone on campus, on any bizarre subject whatever, at any time of the day or night. Such incidents quickly raise the campus consciousness about the power of e-mail and, typically, give the campus a strong imperative to begin dealing with important policy issues related to student behavior, privacy, harassment, security, residence life, authority, and administrative control in the networked environment.

Facing academic challenges

Wide use of a campus network by students and faculty will raise challenges to traditional modes of instruction and assessment. Students and teachers will experiment with new modes of instruction and communication. Web-based classes, group projects carried out over the network, distance learning activities, round-the-clock e-mail discussions, and distribution of computer-based courseware across the campus all raise new issues about the nature and management of the educational process. Faculty will be challenged to find new ways to evaluate student papers created in a network environment where traditional approaches to recognizing intellectual privacy rights are very difficult to assess. College administrators will be challenged to find new ways to measure the performance and competence of faculty who use new pedagogical approaches based on electronic mail, virtual office hours, online discussion groups, and Web pages.

Many colleges do not have adequate classroom facilities to take advantage of the instructional opportunities available in a networked teaching environment. Classrooms, laboratories, studios, and study areas all need network access. Colleges may need network access at every student desk in every classroom, along with display and control equipment to allow the instructor to provide a visual instructional focus in the room. Constructing new types of classrooms is a very expensive proposition, but there will be strongly felt needs for such facilities when faculty and students understand the value of teaching and learning in a networked environment.

It is almost axiomatic that demand will exceed supply when it comes to technology use on campus. With computers continually getting faster, smaller, and more powerful, and with new network applications developing constantly, faculty, staff, and students will expect and demand a perpetually "improving" technology environment. College administrators can expect regular demands for more network capacity as computing applications become integral parts of the mission-critical activities of the institution. Members of the campus community will expect the network to be constantly available, with perfect reliability and constant access.

Summary

A full-campus network is one of the most important features of a college environment. While a fundamental part of the infrastructure, networks are not static; they must change and grow continually, often at a much different pace than other parts of the infrastructure. A campus network, while a part of the infrastructure, also needs to be viewed as a "consumable" like library books, football uniforms, dormitory furniture, electricity, and water. This requires a regular, consistent, predictable source of funding, not just a one-time budget infusion to lay cable.

Colleges that aspire to have a high-quality technology environment need to set standards and manage networks from a true collegiate perspective, in the sense of choosing to maintain a set of technological options that are genuinely supportable with the financial and human capital available.

Finally, as with most service areas, people are the key factor in whether or not a college will be able to develop an exemplary network environment. Strong leadership and support from senior executives is a vital ingredient. Colleges also need pragmatic visionaries to imagine and then implement the changes necessary to build a networked institution, and thus need a structure that allows such leadership to exist and flourish.

Acknowledgements

The basic ideas in this paper evolved from a series of talks given by the author at workshops sponsored by the Council of Independent Colleges in cooperation with Educom and CAUSE (now EDUCAUSE) in the early 1990s on topics related to planning and developing campus networks at small colleges. Following these workshops, an online mediated discussion, supported by CAUSE, took place over a period of several years. This discussion greatly informed the authorís work and the author wishes to acknowledge the colleagues who participated in that discussion for their outstanding contributions: John Balling (Dickinson College); Paul Bishop (then at Washington College); Bill Doemel (Wabash College); Morris Galloway (Presbyterian College); Leo Geoffrion (Skidmore College); Carl Heideman (Hope College); Bob Hodge (Taylor University); John Langeland (Trinity College); Ron McCleary (then at Rockhurst College); Ed Meyers (then at Macalester College); Jim Nash (then at Albion College); Juliet Oeffinger (then at North Central College); Ken Pecka (Whitworth College); Ray Phillips (Colby College); Dave Rotman (Cedarville College); Gary Schlickeiser (Reed College); Dave Smallen (Hamilton College); Tom Warger (then at Bryn Mawr College, now at Five Colleges, Inc.). The author greatly appreciates the contributions of Al Essa (then at Austin College, now at New York Institute of Technology), who co-moderated discussion, and members of the CAUSE staff, especially Julia Rudy, who provided significant assistance with this project. A more substantial version of this work, which incorporates much of the electronic discussion, is available online through the EDUCAUSE Information Resources Library (http://www.educause.edu/ir/library/html/url0108.html).

Sidebar

Building the Ideal Campus Network

Aim for the ideal

Design the network to reach everywhere, including all offices, classrooms, labs, studios, student residence areas, and auxiliary enterprises, anticipating new buildings, campus reconstruction, and building renovations. Donít believe it if someone tells you that a particular building will never need to be connected to the network. Include network support facilities such as wiring closets, security systems, power conditioning, and lightning protection in the design. Wire the student residences for data, voice, and video.

Get the power and build alliances

Some individual needs to be designated as the final authority on all campus network development to coordinate planning and construction, ensure necessary access to all campus buildings and spaces, push the creation of standards, and build campus alliances with important stakeholders. Such authority should reside in a position that reports at a strategic level in the institution, which usually means to either the chief executive officer or someone who reports to the CEO. The responsible person needs to have a broad institutional perspective and be a good communicator, consensus builder, and pragmatic visionary.

Develop and enforce standards

Clear institutional standards for all components of the physical network, as well as the software and hardware that will provide network services, are critical. For example, at the construction stage, standards must be defined to proceed with the basic steps of writing RFPs, comparing bids, making purchases, and testing wiring. While diversity is valued in many aspects of collegiate life, technological diversity is expensive in terms of time, money, and effort. Standards make it possible to maximize the use of human, financial, and physical resources, to train and deploy technical staff, and to support users. These support issues have a direct impact on the quality of the technology environment as well as the basic teaching mission.

Accept that too much is never enough

Make the network design as flexible as possible. The "giga-world" has arrived, and bandwidth, speed, and quality-of-service demands will continue to grow. During construction, put in extra conduit wherever and whenever possible, allowing for flexible cabling strategies such as "blown fiber." Ample fiber should be used between buildings, with either direct fiber runs or Category Five unshielded twisted pair copper cable to the desktop within buildings. Assume that all network electronics (e.g., routers, hubs, bridges, and switches) will have to be replaced regularly, generally about every two to three years. Using adequate fiber and high-quality UTP wire should make it possible to move up to any speeds likely to be necessary in the foreseeable future.

Take the long view

Technologies such as the World Wide Web, wireless communications, networked multimedia systems, and so forth are having a dramatic impact on all educational institutions. The next iteration of the global Internet, while not yet a commodity system, will bring affordable high-performance networking to all colleges within a few years. The best thing that small colleges can do to get ready for the next generation of networking is to build a strong, supportable, well-managed campus network today.

Donít forget to remember history

Record the details. Document and map everything. Without detailed maps, it is amazingly hard to remember where underground conduit runs a year or two after it has been buried. It is difficult but worth trying to get the contractors to provide "as built" diagrams after a construction job is finished. Keep copies of all RFPs, proposals, plans, diagrams, and blueprints. And keep them in a logical, central place, not as head files. It may be worthwhile to invest in a CAD package and scanner to help record the construction details.

Help it grow

Campus network use never declines. Even as some types of usage mature and level out, other network-based applications arise and consume new chunks of the network resources. Growing the network to keep up with the demands for more connections, more speed, and more bandwidth requires continual funding. Justifying regular funding may require cost/benefit arguments based on network use, so it is useful to develop a set of metrics for network-related activity to help administrators understand the role and impact of the network on campus life. Measure such things as live network connections and network load/traffic, number of people using the network, number of network connects to the online catalog, number of hits on the Web site, and so forth.

Thomas Moberg (mobergtf@slu.edu) is the CIO at Saint Louis University.

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