This article was published in CAUSE/EFFECT journal, Volume 22 Number 1 1999. The copyright is by EDUCAUSE. See http://www.educause.edu/copyright for additional copyright information.
Current Issues for Higher Education Information Resources Management
The EDUCAUSE Current Issues Committee is responsible for proposing a list of current or developing issues and trends that are important to the future of information resources management and use in higher education. The following topics have been identified by the committee as key emerging or ongoing issues. We encourage articles for CAUSE/EFFECT on these topics.
Advanced Networking Challenges
Connectivity provided by advanced communications networks continues to expand at a truly amazing rate. We are now building networks on the scale of other major physical infrastructures like roads, electrical systems, and sewers. Ubiquitous networking is no longer a rallying cry, it has become a reality. Advanced communication networks are now widely recognized as major enablers of our academic missions. This growing importance of networks and networking has forced us to rethink our assumptions about the nature of networks and how to best develop and manage them. Key issues that should be addressed next are:
- Providing adequate bandwidth/performance. How do we meet the challenge of providing adequate bandwidth as modes of network usage continue to evolve and change? What should be the expectations of users for levels of service in different contexts (e.g., faculty computing in the office versus at home; students teleconferencing in the classroom versus the computer lab, the dorm, the apartment off campus, or the home in another city)? What will be the future "must have" core applications? By what process will we decide what applications get what service? What means should we use to ensure that all applications have appropriate levels of service--ATM? RSVP? IP6?
- Convergence of networking. To what degree will we see the convergence of voice, data, video, and multimedia into a single unified digital network? What are the technical issues? How will this convergence affect the way we manage and fund our networking services?
- New national initiatives. What new network applications will result from the latest national networking initiatives such as Internet2? How will these applications affect our local and regional networks? How will the growing importance of digital libraries affect the development of local, regional, and national networks?
- Security. What new internal as well as external security and controls will be needed for providing security across our complex, multi-protocol, multi-application, integrated networks? Which authorization techniques can best handle different levels of service needs? Will new network services create new liabilities?
- Funding/cost recovery. How will we continue to fund our networks to meet the rapidly growing demand for service and performance? Funding and cost-recovery models will have a profound effect on the development and deployment of future networks--both on campus and throughout the world. What models are best for what services?
Challenges of a Distributed IT Environment
It is fair to assume that no single unit of the academy has undergone more dramatic changes in environment, services, expectations, and responsibilities than the office(s) directly responsible for supporting information technology (IT). The rapid changes in technology present an unpredictable, often turbulent environment. John Crecine, in Organizing and Managing Information Resources on Campus (Digital Press, 1986), wrote of the impact of technology changes on the IT center: "Simply put, change in computing technology, or technology delivery systems, implies a corresponding change in the structure of the organization (p. 36)."
In todayís world of LANs, WANs, the Internet, desktop systems, client/server software, desktop PCs, powerful yet user-friendly desktop applications, and mobile computing, the center of campus technology emerges at each desktop. Individuals often are better equipped than central computing centers were ten years ago. Many institutions, both large and small, have adapted their IT organizational structure to more closely match this current technology paradigm. In this organizational model, a central IT organization may exist, but smaller, sometimes single-person, IT support centers managing independent labs and user bases are distributed across campus in departments and offices.
From the user perspective, the distributed model can provide superior support and services. From a campuswide viewpoint, this highly fragmented environment presents new challenges that many institutions have not yet addressed. As information technology professionals we need to engage our institutions in discussions to address issues such as:
- What are the most effective overarching organizational structures that will enhance/facilitate communication between the distributed "computing centers" throughout the campus? What kind of incentives would encourage and enhance collaboration and cooperation among such centers? How can the institution provide the IT staff members in the distributed centers with a network of peers and support?
- How can colleges and universities ensure that adequate disaster and emergency planning is happening in all distributed centers and that these plans are tied to the enterprise-wide plan? How should an institution coordinate recovery procedures among the distributed centers in a disaster or emergency situation?
- If specific services are outsourced, can these distributed, completely independent services be blended smoothly into the enterprise-wide support system? How can an institution avoid having a fragmented IT knowledge pool, where no single group is aware of the "big picture"?
- How are institutions handling the systems/networking management issues that arise from the distributed model? How will we clarify responsibilities in areas that overlap; for example, with Internet2, who does what in the "last inch" of an I2 connection that crosses organizational boundaries?
- What can an institution do to maintain a robust production application environment with the diverse hardware, software, and network components that may result from the lack of central IT planning and purchasing?
- What is the impact on students who must navigate among the plethora of hardware/software standards and the seemingly disjointed support centers in larger institutions? How should an institution best organize the help desk service? Is a decentralized, discipline-specific model more effective than a centralized, triage approach?
- What is the most effective way for the institution to do planning and budgeting in a distributed environment? What are some successful models for apportioning available IT moneys between the central and the distributed service providers? Is the distributed model cost effective?
Authentication, Authorization, and Access Management
As colleges and universities extend access to electronic libraries, databases, computer applications, and other secured or subscription services, the need to authorize or "authenticate" users becomes critical. Once satisfied by a building- or campus-based approach to access management, librarians, student services officers, and other administrators are faced with the need to extend their services to faculty and students connected across public and private networks. Sometimes limited to network addressing schemes, the authorization of users fails outside the college campus connection. In turn, authorization methods to gain access to modems or printers are rarely the same for e-mail, application, or library system access. The challenges of extending access across both public and private networks include:
- Policy development. Institutions need to develop, implement, and monitor information about use and the authorization of use on public and private (internal) networks. User rights and responsibilities are now extended well beyond applications and into discrete levels of information or data as part of a data warehousing system, for example. The management of information remains a critical process that should be based on policies.
- New licensing agreements. Once willing to offer colleges and universities "campus-wide" or site licenses, vendors now must consider new access points to their subscriptions or content from distant networks. The re-orientation of access and authentication is now focused on the individual user, not the organizationís physical campus.
- New classes of users. With a well-articulated list of policies available to information technologists, the management of the network is now opened to a new set of tools. Users may gain access to the network with higher levels of priority access based on their function in the organization. Once limited to priority settings for memory or disk space, applications may be tuned for the next extension of their use, the network connection using virtual private networking solutions.
- Public networks, private data. The extension of the network beyond the traditional local area network to connections beyond college IT management generates new issues of privacy and public awareness. Ill-configured computers broadcast their availability via FTP or HTTP. Students may exploit security weakness in operating systems to post or broadcast information or images on the institutionís "pirated" hosts. The extension of the network application and data requires a re-examination of security as if the college managed an electronic commerce site. What options will colleges and universities select to establish server-to-server, server-to-client, and content-based security? How will institutions extend or maintain the authority or authentication of documents transmitted over the network?
- Standards and tools. Authorization and authentication technical strategies continue to be examined, as the "single or universal login" remains a goal for many information technology organizations. What are the implications of authentication and directory services changing standards (e.g., LDAP)? How will colleges and universities incorporate directory-like services with the local area network architecture?
- Inter-realm authentication. Various vendors offer information technologies organizations methods to authenticate users based on their own proprietary schemas. How are colleges and universities planning to provide authentication for services across various linked, but independent, services (e.g., dial up using Radius or TACACS, directory services using LDAP or NDS, and so forth)?
Distance Learning Challenges
Increasing numbers of students are becoming more receptive to interactive and asynchronous learning than to the broadcast learning style that typifies higher education today. As the learning market evolves to lifelong learning with students being educated anytime and at any place, the size of the market for higher education will increase dramatically. Current estimates indicate that over a million students are taking distance learning courses via the Internet and other similar technologies. Investors Business Daily forecasts there will be a compound annual growth rate of 95 percent for this type of online training and education.
While traditional higher education will continue to exist, student-centered asynchronous learning environments are being created to deliver courses at any time, any place. Colleges and universities are also developing the associated functions required to support students taking courses that are not time- or placebound. As information technology leaders, we need to be a part of discussions about distributed education that address, if not resolve, a number of key issues:
- What support systems will be necessary to assist students who are taking courses at a distance, e.g., student records, financial, and financial aid? How will instructional support (technical and help desk) be addressed for anytime, anyplace learners?
- What impact will the Open University, Western Governors University, and other virtual universities have on the provision of distance learning from typical universities? What lessons can be learned from these leaders?
- How will colleges and universities address the cultural, strategic, and financial aspects of distance learning? How will they deal with faculty issues such as training on new resources, rewards for developing distance learning courses, release time, resistance to change? How will online courses received anytime, anyplace integrate into the lives of students? What challenges and conflicting demands may surface?
- How will our institutions deal with the competition from the business sector?
- Which courses are viable for new modes of delivery? How should course management systems be used in the delivery of online courses? What aspects of the collegiate experience will be lost with online courses? How can the critical ones be modified to an online environment?
- How should library resources be made available to distant students?
- How will technology support for distributed students be delivered and financed? What academic and technological organizational structures need to be put in place to support online education?
Intellectual Property Issues in a Networked Environment
The digital revolution is dramatically changing the ways we create, store, and distribute information and it has precipitated a re-examination of the laws and policies governing intellectual property. As both creators and consumers of information, institutions of higher education should provide leadership in addressing the questions that concern intellectual property policy in the digital age. That leadership should take the form of consistent national and campus-based efforts to create and preserve a meaningful balance between proprietary rights and exceptions for educational and scholarly purposes in the digital environment. In other words, as beneficiaries of the free flow of information, colleges and universities should be active advocates for keeping instructional and scholarly information affordably accessible. Current challenges include:
- How will information that is born digitally be preserved for future scholarly endeavors? What agencies will be charged with preserving our intellectual heritage of the digital age? How might changes in copyright law hinder access to and preservation of digital information?
- With the Digital Millennium Copyright Act now in place with a detailed set of regulations that affect colleges and universities (see Casey Lideís article in this issue for details), what should be the kind and content of the link between institutional Web sites, the Copyright Office, and information about the DMCA? Who should be the institutional/campus representative on issues dealing with copyright claims, infringement, and compliance? Who should be the agent registered with the Copyright Office?
- With the increasing digitization and dissemination of instructional and scholarly information, what role will higher education play as producer and distributor of electronic information? With the enactment of the DMCA, several questions remain unanswered about how higher education should continue to promote distance education via digital technologies, and whether the copyright code should be changed in order to accomplish institutional distance education goals. Should the current distance education exemption be updated to facilitate the use of digital technologies and present-day pedagogical practices?
- How should the interests of users and intellectual property owners be balanced in the copyright code so that higher education can realize the benefits of extending itself through information technology and the networked environment? Should the copyright code be changed to ensure sufficient flexibility regarding new technologies and technologies yet to be developed? Should licensing be considered a replacement for a statutory balance of rights, or should revisions in the copyright code provide a modern distance learning limitation that complements the law?
- If higher education institutions expand their roles as producers and distributors of information, will they expect more control of faculty-produced material? If so, will they be in direct conflict with faculty who expect to profit from their own intellectual property?
- With regard to developing course materials electronically, is there a model of ownership that should be adopted? Should the traditional textbook or patent model be used, or should different models be developed?
- Should colleges and universities be more actively involved in creating and supporting new opportunities for electronic publishing? This is especially compelling in light of rapidly escalating prices for print and electronic resources and the recent initial success of the Association of Research Librariesí Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resources Coalition (SPARC). The basic intent of SPARC is to create more competition in the marketplace of ideas.
Campus Business Continuity Planning for the Year 2000 and Beyond
As each of our colleges and universities prepares for the arrival of the year 2000 (Y2K) we are all extremely busy finding and testing critical systems required to keep our respective enterprises operating. Technology integration within the fabric of our colleges and universities has reached a level where the various working units cannot perform their function without it. We have come a long way in a very short time. In doing identification and testing many colleges and universities are recognizing that it is nearly impossible to test each and every technology component and that some failure will occur. To address these failures many organizational units are being asked to write some form of business continuity plan to ensure successful operations during this time period. The Y2K challenge is just a well recognized form of an outage, as we know exactly when it will occur. We should be doing more generalized business continuity planning to address each and every possible form of outage, not just Y2K-related risks. Once written, these plans should be tested frequently and reviewed annually. Key issues we will need to discuss during the next year and hopefully continue after Y2K include these:
- For Y2K and/or business continuity planning purposes, what is the scope of the campus community? For example, some Y2K efforts to date have resulted in partnerships (or antagonisms!) among universities and their suppliers. How far does the "community" extend?
- What advantage can be taken of the fact that Y2K is a "foreseen disaster"?
- Can the Y2K issue be used to raise awareness of other kinds of business continuity issues and plans (e.g., fire, earthquake, flood) in a variety of campus community venues?
- What is the role of the campus auditor in ensuring business continuity in the Y2K context?
- Can Y2Kís high current profile be used as an opportunity to draw attention to and obtain resources for the overall IT environment? For example, Y2K issues have precipitated the replacement of legacy administrative systems in many institutions. What other good can come of Y2K challenges?
- What are the "best practices" in business continuity planning with regard to this issue worldwide, and with regard to other foreseen or predicted disasters at a given institution? among all institutions?
On the last morning of the CAUSE98 conference in Seattle last December, more than 200 conferees attended a "hot topics" session where representatives of the Current Issues Committee shared their list of issues and, in turn, captured additional issues from the audience. The following list summarizes issues suggested at that session.
Funding models and cycles
- How can we rationalize the funding stream for information technology? What can we do to raise awareness at a national level for the need to allocate more funding for technology diffusion and support to meet the continuing insatiable demand?
- What are some best-practice models for apportioning the optimal share of available IT money to central IT organizations versus departments? What constitutes a "fair fee" structure?
- With respect to the equipment replacement cycle, how often is cost-effective? How is cost-effectiveness measured? Is leasing a cost-effective alternative?
Improved preparedness of incoming students
- How can we deal with the failure of some campus executives to recognize how prepared new students are for IT?
- How can we learn to anticipate the raised level of preparedness and how can we meet it?
- How do we manage the expectations of students entering school with high levels of IT sophistication?
IT staffing issues
- Is there regional variation in the problem? Can there be regional responses?
- How can we work with campus human resources offices to encourage initiatives to deal with the IT staffing crisis?
- How can we engage state government to motivate and support campus HR offices?
- How can we identify the skills that are needed in an IT organization and keep up with the rapidly changing jobs?
- How can we achieve more funding for successful recruiting and retention of valuable IT staff?
Enterprise-wide solutions to teaching- learning-technology challenges
- How can we foster more cooperation and collaboration among institutions?
- How can we foster more partnerships with commercial software and service providers?
Enterprise-wide solutions to integrated administrative applications/systems
- How can we afford to implement these kinds of solutions? How can we afford not to?
- What are the best practices in the planning and implementation processes for enterprise systems?
- Are consortia a solution for administrative systems sharing?
- Are there IT solutions for changing Government Accounting Standards Board (GASB) standards/requirements?
Student "ownership" challenges
- Should students be required to purchase their own computers?
- How can we (should we be expected to) support the computers students own?
- Should we set standards to leverage support for the diversity of student-owned computing resources, including computers and e-mail accounts (AOL and so forth)?
Establishing well-defined processes for IT planning, governance, and decision making
- What mechanisms are most effective for capturing buy-in and advice from the broader community?
- What are good models for planning strategically for IT?
- What kind of IT organizational structures will we need in the future?
Measuring IT effectiveness
- Can reliable benchmarks be developed and/or comparative data be made available on which to base decisions about investment in information technology and support services?
- What are some strategies for lending coherence and dependability to the myriad existing approaches to measurement and assessment of IT and for measuring, evaluating, and communicating the benefits of IT investments on campus?
...to the table of contents