Weber State faculty strongly believe that Information Technology (IT) has greatly improved their work and that of their students. According to a 1998 survy, over 90% say that IT has had a positive effect on their preparation for teaching and on their research and creativity. More that 50% feel that it has had improved students' written and visual communication skills, quantitative reasoning, creativity, overall learning and technical job skills. Beyond opinion, faculty are practicing what they preach. The average professor professes to spend over 19 hours a week using IT services, and the average department spends 10% of all class time teaching computer applications in it's discipline. Over 90% of faculty expect students to use word processors, 20% expect the use of statistics programs, and similar expectations exist for a variety of other computer applications including web browsers; graphics and presentation programs; email; and discipline-specific tools. IT promises a profound change in academia and Weber State is firmly committed to the quest.
Progress, however, has been too slow and results too little. Over 50% of faculty feel that campus systems and networks are too unreliable. Over 45% feel that hardware and software problems are not fixed quickly enough. Many other deficiencies in the maintenance and growth of IT concern faculty. To achieve the promise of IT there must be money, expertise and time for development, and Weber State is lacking in all of these.
For several years the Academic Resources and Computing Committee of the Faculty Senate has promulgated a plan for the solution of these problems. The plan has been a delineation of actions needed and an appeal for support to carry out these actions. The latest version of this plan is presented here as a continuing guide in our quest.
The Forces of Satan
Planners, pure of heart and with shining armor, must battle four demons: distraction, departmentalization, delimitation and despair. Several academic entities have legitimate interests in the development of IT. Separate from the ARCC plan, colleges finance computer labs, build communication networks, provide technical staff. Departments incorporate computer concepts into the curriculum, set performance standards for students. The distraction of alternative views and competing needs can confuse a quester. What is the true path?
And academic departments represent only part of the University IT need. A plan will not, and probably should not, receive support unless it addresses the needs of the entire University community. The crusade for the IT grail includes all departments not just those represented in ARCC. But the third demon lurks here. A compromise of many interests is likely to be cautious, pedestrian and superficial. Planning must allow for major innovations, developments based on University goals more fundamental than individual departments, colleges or even divisions.
Despair is an ever present temptation. University budgets are small and recently declining. Needs are great and not for IT development alone. Can we hope to reach the grail?
The New Crusade
In designing and in utilizing this present plan we gird the University against these demons. The core of the plan (Section II) is a list of general needs identified from faculty surveys and from the computer plans of individual colleges and departments. For each of these "agenda items" the present status and perceived needs are described and recommendations for specific action next year and for future years are stated. The seven items are 1) basic computing needs, which includes a) student computing labs, b) faculty computers, and c) software standards; and 2) discipline specific support; 3) computer classrooms and displays; 4) support and training for faculty and students; 8) WSU on-line. This agenda should guide action and discussion now and into the future.
It should be easy for colleges and departments to relate their distinct development plans to this agenda and we invite them to do so. The desires and actions of the various entities, colleges, departments, ARCC, will then become at least a confederation moving in the same direction and not a confusing distraction of disparate developments.
Our list can be extended beyond the academic area and become a nucleus for the University. Departments in Administrative and Student Services should amend and supplement it to help us form a more comprehensive agenda which addresses the needs of all.
Our agenda is both specific and long term. It puts the limited attainable objectives in each area in the context of longer range goals. Attainment of these objectives, even if small, would be progress and protection against despair. Meanwhile the long term agenda remains in place. To change the metaphor, even though it may take a hundred years we can see the cathedral walls slowly rising.
The demon of caution is still afoot. Visionary innovations outside the present political structure are not in this plan. Hopefully, though the agenda, as a complete but succinct depiction of our present problems, is a foundationt for innovative thinking. In discussing and searching for solutions to these issues a creatively new formulation of our problems or an innovative way of solving them may emerge.
Faculty respondents support strong measures to correct present problems and continue future development in Information Technology. 81% would consider or would definitely reallocate institutional funds to improve student computer labs. Large majorities also favor possible reallocation for office computer upgrades, for electronic library resources, and for specialized disciplinary hardware and software. The knights are ready.