CURRENT STUDENTS | FUTURE STUDENTS | FACULTY/STAFF | A-Z
|IV. PROBLEMS AND ISSUES|
The broad-based membership of the Task Force helped provide insight into concerns across the campus. Additional problems and issues are likely to surface as this document is distributed among University faculty and staff. Relevant concerns and ideas will be incorporated into the document as appropriate.
1.0 Organization and Planning
Past experiences, both Western's and others, indicate that centralization of control and operations for Information Technology yields benefits to the organization. In most cases, personnel, resources, budgets, and operations all improve when a single individual is responsible. During the latter portion of FY 1998-99, an individual was appointed to head a singular unit comprised of the defunct Academic Computing and Information Systems Units.
Traditionally, computing at universities was split along academic and administrative computing lines. This clearly had been the case at Western New Mexico University. The need for security in administrative computing vs. the need for access in academic computing was the focus of many management differences. However, while this will be an on-going issue, it by no means should act as a barrier. Quite the contrary, due to the nature or scope of administrative securities and academia's quests for knowledge and understanding - it is necessary that we acknowledge this separate focus. It is the manner by which we address this issue internally that must be 're-thought'. CATTS was formed to unite the talents, knowledge, expertise and efforts of Western New Mexico University's computing foundation. It is through this collaborative mechanism that both the universities' academic and administrative computing needs be met.
Though the organization (CATTS) is still in its infancy, many of the issues and/or concerns that faced the previous units - still face us today. However, what we may face tomorrow, CATTS will address them as a singular unit. The organization continues to form and therefore is more or less in a constant state of change. Though at times, it reaps some 'havoc', change (overall) is necessary to address constantly evolving technologies and our customers' desires to pursue it.
This comprehensive university-wide master plan for instructional technology together with the campus telecommunications master plan are designed to assist in centralized control and operation of IT. Members of the university's technological, academic and user community must be a part of the exploration, assessment, development and the designing of a long-range vision. The vision must be comprised of effective short-range strategies. Due to limited financial and personnel resources, it is necessary to undertake this plan in a segmented fashion. If there are to be difficulties, let it not be to lack of communication and an unwillingness to work with one another.
We must develop a long-range plan by which a firm base can be derived and sustained. Consider the following:
This is not intended to address the age-old issue of platform. Wherever possible, this ought to be at the discretion of the individual as to what computer platform they wish to utilize. Platform should not be a hindrance, a joke or an issue.
Although the decision for selecting a platform may be user dependent, we must review capability and applicability and identify guidelines for purchase. What we would 'like to do' differs substantially from what 'we must do'. This induces a plethora of wishes that we are all too familiar. Reality dictates, that, as new computers are installed, we initiate the 'hand-me-down' ritual. The many years of service in which our equipment must endure necessitates that we acquire the best equipment that funds allow. This equipment must address our current need and must also provide adequate service in the years that follow.
If we can anticipate extended lifetimes for purchases, increased initial costs will prove to be far less expensive in the long run. Second, we must review our experience with maintenance. Software and hardware costs must be made to include more than initial purchase dollars as time and support issues are not insignificant in the overall University budget.
Each of us in the university has a responsibility to ensure that as purchases are being considered, each hardware and/or software purchase should be reviewed for accuracy, applicability and functionality not only in the areas to which they are to be utilized, but understanding that the items' service life will be significant.
Also, we need to review the standardization of software. Envision the capability of what should be one of the most simplistic and basic functions in a lab or an office; the ability to forward a document to any and/or all individuals and their computer accesses and processes the document successfully.
Generally speaking, each machine should be installed with a standard complement of software that allows an individual to effectively communicate, manipulate, collate and update data and/or documents as necessary. Campus Wide Licensing will provide the means by which each and every machine may attain uniformity.
This standardization 'plan' must also consider 'other' software not typically destined for each and every machine that is installed. Specialized applications should be reviewed and notes made where additional considerations must be made for their installation, conversion (where applicable) and maintenance. Much of these applications are resident in the academic areas utilized by our faculty.
Maintainability and Support
Within this plan, knowing and acknowledging our strengths and weaknesses is necessary to research corrective methods/actions that will be required to address any shortcomings.
A phrase that comes to mind: 'Don't bite off more than you can chew'. We must ensure that during the development of the plan, we not lose sight of our ability to meet the goals and deadlines outlined in it. We broaden our area of focus based out of necessity and therefore we automatically increase the need to support those areas. To keep ourselves in check, we must also look to the availability of resources that must maintain our current responsibilities and this expansion.
Noting our weaknesses and developing remedial plans of actions in conjunction with our long-range plan, will strengthen our capability to maintain and support that plan.
Technology is expensive and the costs steadily rise in the areas of software, services, support and compensation. With regard to the development of the long-range plan, we must take into account all of the information that we have available to us today. This facilitates a path toward wiser expenditures. We realize our long-range plan is not attainable this year, the next and quite probably the year following. However, the efforts and procurement that lie ahead, i.e. equipment acquisition, expansion of the network, additional services, personnel, etc. must be a concerted effort working within the guidelines of the plan. When considering technology purchases, we must address issues of compatibility with, and access to, other university resources.
As mentioned previously in the 'Standards' section of this text, the standardization of equipment should be regarded as a 'high priority' simply due to the fact that computer and printer procurement are one of this university's largest expenditures. We must spend to maintain our roles and place as a technology center. We must spend it wisely by considering future need of the equipment and noting extended service life. While this will add to the overall costs of equipment now, it may also increase the effectiveness and utilization in the years to come. Also, we must take advantage of any means by which costs may be reduced: via educational discounts and/or quantity discounts.
The centralization of Western's computing foundation should be regarded as 'the clearing house' for naming, authorizing and approving equipment acquisition. This is not an effort to elevate levels of self-importance or power. Simply put, a great deal of talent, skill and knowledge are located in each facet of this university. These attributes are easily found within the central computing unit - CATTS. These individuals have the answers or know where to get them. We need to exploit this knowledge - especially in the area of technology equipment procurement to get as much 'bang for the buck' as possible.
('Bang for the buck' ideology should not be limited to technology - focused spending should be adopted and exercised in each area of the university.)
Not everyone will have the opportunity to voice issues or concerns with the direction that the technology plan is taking at Western. This tends to propagate negative attitudes and increased levels of frustration.
Communication is a tool by which we can diminish some of these issues. Providing and maintaining open lines of communication via newsletters, announcements, an intra-net web page or newspaper articles, promotes awareness and acceptance of the direction of technology at Western. In doing so, we acknowledge individuals as team players and in a positive light, understand their right to know how, when, where and why this plan will affect them as a member of the team.
Just as technology is in a constant state of change, we too in our environments must conform as a way of life, education, knowledge and survival. The long-range plan must be sensitive to technological progression. It must also be flexible enough to be modified to adapt to our changing environments.
In the plan, a number of 'built-in' fail-safes should be present so that at anytime it may be necessary to 'scale back'; we can do so while still retaining the levels of operation that we have attained. Each segment or 'short goal' should be met, solidified, maintainable and manageable prior to proceeding further. If we were in the military, it would be nothing short of the 'holding this piece of ground' approach. As we progress further into the plan, accomplishing each short-range goal, at each level, we must support these levels in a highly qualitative fashion and not lose site of our customers' needs.
Due to some limitations that we must acknowledge, technology will continue to be implemented in a piecemeal fashion. Though this 'band aid' approach seems counter productive, if executed within the guidelines established in a solid long-range plan, will in the end serve as assets rather than liabilities.
Programs to provide incentives and rewards or to encourage development and integration of instructional technology into the curriculum are limited. The role of supporting technologies such as interactive video, CD-ROM, multimedia course design, etc., are in the initial stages of development. Coordinated efforts between Distance Education, Outreach Services and Faculty members have developed a training course for faculty to learn how to provide Web support for their traditional courses. With this program, it is hoped that the workshops will led to faculty having the skills to implement complete Web courses. Investigation is constantly underway looking into other models for Distance Education and then sharing that information with faculty and staff that express interest in Distance Education. Therefore, policies and procedures for information technology are beginning to be defined; however users are often unaware of these policies. The Distance Learning Process Management Team (PMT) together with the CAG is working to address these issues.
Because there are limited established criteria and standards for the acquisition and installation of hardware and software, software site license discounts may be lost.
Insufficient staffing levels at CATTS in the past have hindered their ability to meet current demands for support from faculty, staff, and students. However, there are positive actions being made that will address this issue. Increased staffing at CATTS, in some areas, will address staff and faculty training issues, support and MIS development. Once these functions have formalized, it is anticipated that some relief to faculty, staff and student issues will soon be realized, especially within the areas of training.
Administrative support of academic functions falls short of faculty, staff, and student needs. This is due in part to our current MIS system and it’s inability to serve as a relational database. Information cross-referencing extractions are almost non-existent. Only the most experienced users are able to derive the necessary results. The SCT Banner systems overlay a high-end database product known as ORACLE. The nature of a database structure facilitates the design and development of a data warehousing system where information is retained for reporting and/or analysis.
Automated registration and course scheduling, enrollment analysis, faculty activity reporting, forms processing, and related activities should be realized with the advent of the new MIS, SCT Banner/ORACLE systems. This will facilitate the possible linkages with other technology and information centers (i.e., library, outreach services, off-campus programs and discipline-specific labs).
However, through the course of the implementation of the SCT Banner/ORACLE Database systems, it has been realized that CATTS must address, in the very near future, the acquisition of a new server to house the respective systems. The window for such activity (installation and programming migration development, implementation and testing) is narrowed by 'on-line' target dates set for the latter part of 1999.
Western New Mexico University was fortunate with the successful passage of general obligation bonds and creative financing that enabled the MIS to become a reality. However, we must continue to identify dedicated funding for the ongoing support of information technology. "One-time" funds are usually allocated for technology with no firm plan for providing ongoing support.
The MIS or SCT Banner/ORACLE system requires a substantial period of implementation, development of site specific WNMU rules, training, forms/reporting, ORACLE procedures and technical and end user support. We have committed ourselves to this project and are supporting it by providing the necessary funding to sustain it to conclusion. To maintain the momentum of the project, our efforts must remain 'focused'. Our goals necessitate constant evaluation of project requests and what we can or can not do to address them at this time.
Systematic upgrading of existing software and acquisition of new software should continue to be given a top priority. Additionally, the ability to maintain and upgrade both software and hardware support levels should go hand-in-hand in expanding our capability and functionality. This already has taken the form of equipment sitting idle because funds are not available for repair and/or there is a lack of personnel to address it in a timely fashion. This further impairs faculty and staff productivity. No formal campus-wide plan is in place to provide maintenance for information technology equipment.
Computing and Telecommunications Technologies Services or CATTS, while relatively 'new' to the University's list of departments, retains some of the issues and/or problems of the past. Technology is ever changing and to deal with that technology, our IT Staff must play an integral part in its development. Technology has embraced each area of our lives, both professionally and personally. It is the maintaining of a constant vigil, to be apprised of technology changes and the necessity to re-think our ability to address it.
To a large degree, the role of the IT Staff member is to keep abreast of technology and the manner in which it is applicable and necessary to our environment. In order to do so, IT professionals must participate in technology training to gain the skill and knowledge required to address contemporary information technology concepts, tasks and processes. To a great extent, this training is specialized and certifiable. Therefore, one can not simply 'take a class' and be done with it. The maintenance of certification assures that the IT professional is skilled and knowledgeable in today's standards of technology.
Of course, this concept is not new and certainly, without abiding to this sentiment, to a degree, results in mediocrity and places the IT professional in a constant state of 'catch-up.' Long term abandonment of the philosophy adversely affects the IT professionals ability to address technology issues. It is therefore prudent that in order to maintain our technical prowess we develop and maintain technical training plans/certification for the IT professionals.
3.0 Education and Training
Faculty and staff are unaware of available computing resources and services, so computers and technology are often under-utilized. This has a negative effect on teaching and learning. Under-utilization of computers/technology may also hamper WNMU's efforts to attract outstanding students and faculty members. In some instances, students' levels of familiarity with software and hardware exceed those of staff and faculty simply due to the unavailability of resources.
Resource translates into equipment, software and training. Secondly, there are multi-faceted support issues present. Who is responsible for maintenance? Where are these monies to be derived?
Most faculty and staff have very basic understanding of computer technology, hardware, software, and applications; training to raise the level of computer literacy will increase faculty and staff productivity. Students need exposure and practice with technology and applications they will probably encounter in the workplace. This necessitates a structured formal training program available to each staff and faculty member that enables each to acknowledge and meet this challenge 'head-on'.
Although the introduction of the training facility in CATTS-Chino is a welcome and much needed asset, the computer training facilities are limited. We are currently reviewing methods in which faculty and staff may be trained in the utilization of applicable and useful programs. The training classes that CATTS is currently considering offering to both faculty and staff are those comprised within the Microsoft Office Suite of products. These programs are most widely used and are an accepted process for the development of spreadsheets, word-processing, data manipulation and storage and mail merge functionality. Though in the past, even when training was offered, many faculty and staff are constrained by; (a) the time available for training; b) their willingness to devote the time to training; (c) a lack of encouragement by their superiors; or (d) their embarrassment in displaying a lack of knowledge during training sessions. In order to overcome these issues, again, we must attain collective 'buy in' by university members by acknowledging training as professional development and thereby benefiting themselves and the university.
More adequate training will free up CATTS staff from routine computer tasks better performed by the user. However, in order to implement and conduct training in a consistent, structured format, a trainer must be available to produce and conduct classes while providing the necessary answers through our help desk addressing ad-hoc concerns. Therefore, with time and effort, our staff and faculty will be much of their own problem-solvers and eventually alleviate some issues at CATTS. But, as technology advances - so must our own internal sources of education and training.
Although progress has been made, limited rewards exist for faculty and staff recognized as technology leaders. Formal programs to reward or recognize faculty who have developed new curriculum or other applications through the innovative use of technology are few.
Work study students assigned to computer laboratories often lack the requisite knowledge to do their jobs. The little time and money devoted to training these students is contributed by CATTS and departmental staff/faculty. No official structure exists where time or money has been allocated to accomplish this training.
4.0 Academic and Administrative Support
The current support system suffers from an overabundance of paper processing required to conduct routine requests and a consequent loss of productivity. Examples include purchase requisition process, grade posting, classroom scheduling, travel and employment contract processing, and the many other service requests which continue to rely extensively on paper forms. Excessive form handling is extremely inefficient.
The current information system is incapable of providing integrated, convenient, and consistent access to institutional data and information. Academic administrators and faculty are unable to acquire current and accurate student and fiscal information. In cases where information is available, users are frustrated by the repetitive and cumbersome techniques required to gain access. This inhibits the efficient management of resources and the ability to monitor key variables of enrollment management.
As the University grows, the number of paper records increases. Faculty and staff also need wider access to these records. The current storage method for university records (including imaging) cannot support the secure and efficient access necessary for the provision of high quality service to University constituents. Department heads are ill equipped to monitor appropriate records, as they lack easy access to institutional information.
Additionally, what efforts are being undertaken to address support? The latter paragraphs' message will continue on and will subside with the advent of the SCT Banner Systems. However, one does not necessarily hold the 'magic key' simply having SCT Banner on the team. Many support issues await us once the SCT Banner Systems are in place. SCT Banner has 'absorbed' one and one-half full-time personnel at CATTS to address ORACLE data base requirements and facilitate SCT Banner functionality. In order to address support for the departments utilizing Banner, we must also identify personnel to support them. Secondly, Western will not be ready to embrace SCT Banner fully by installing each of the application modules. We will continue to rely upon our Legacy System (POISE) to provide some functionality.
As the implementation of the SCT Banner systems continues and the applications come on-line, our need to provide support not only to the system directly but to the staff, faculty and students that access it either via their desktop or internet (network), will increase, and must be maintained.
5.0 Networking and Access to Information
Today, we continue to face shortcomings with regard to areas where network access is limited or is non-existent. However, there have been some advances made in this area which began in FY 1998-99 and will be realized this year. Direct network access is available in some student residence halls. Other administrative offices have experienced the introduction of network service to their areas. Although we are grateful for these accomplishments and must make note of the immense energies that have been devoted to these efforts and understand that we still have a ways to go.
The long-range vision has been assembled in an 8 phase plan for expanding infrastructure - to be implemented as funds allow. This only provides the 'highway' if you will, between the buildings at the university. However, not to the desktop or classroom equipment nor the inside building wiring. Faculty offices, staff offices and student residences are not adequately networked and many of which have no connectivity. Access to external and internal technology-based tools that enhance instruction and learning is limited or non-existent. LAN connectivity for administrative and academic departments will open opportunities to share expensive peripheral devices, to provide access to the same versions of popular software, and to share information with colleagues. Access to computing resources on campus and via wide area networks (WAN) is limited.
Classrooms are not networked. Students need enhanced training to function effectively in today's networked information society. Lack of classroom networks hampers efforts to attract the best and brightest students to WNMU.
As we develop the network, enhance its capabilities, bettering the service where the network is present, we can not overlook the 'out lying' areas where there is no network. Our faculty, student and staff in some areas do not have adequate phone service to be part of the network via a phone.
And of course, many areas utilize the phone line as connectivity via modem. Therefore we must realize our technological inadequacies are inclusive of both the IT network and in some instances, the telephone network. The importance of service, whether it be IT or telephone connectivity to these ‘out lying’ areas is no less than any other area in need of enhanced services.
Distance learning capabilities exist but not via satellite programming. Credit and non-credit courses are offered at remote locations within the University's service area, few of these take advantage of recent technological advances.
The University is capable of receiving a wide variety of satellite programs; however, distribution and reception points are limited. Classrooms and student residences are not yet equipped to receive satellite transmissions, so learning opportunities are lost.
Access to CD-ROM databases housed in the library are limited to on-site users. Patrons often must wait in line to access a database, resulting in lost productivity. Access from locations outside the library (e.g., faculty and staff offices, student residences, and home) remains limited. As a result, the opportunity to conduct educational activities in an environment conducive to learning may be hampered.
Many current University operations would benefit from modernization and integration of appropriate technology.
Technology in the form of 'Network Access' in the student residence halls, by today's standards, is not a necessity - it's mandatory. This provision allows the student a means of secondary communication as well as an information portal, which the student may review vast amounts of information for presentation, research and extrapolation. The student is 'on the playing field' with his/her counterparts and develops a sense of contribution in the classroom. Without this level of accessibility to the network, both our student's and faculty continue to 'make-do.'
6.0 Support Services and Maintenance
The central unit for Western's computing foundation, CATTS, will continue to face inadequate staffing for years to come. This is not indigenous to WNMU and will simply not go away after a few short years. Financially, we can not address the acquisition of personnel to address each and every project, task or problem in a timely fashion that meets the level of user expectation. Projects must be scheduled and prioritized in accordance with our resources. We can do it - we are doing it. We must continually 'check-in' and understand our limitations; thus maintaining focused effort.
And when we approach a limitation, we continue by calling upon as many resources as available, whether they are internal or external to the University; student, staff, faculty or contractor.
In the past - user services were inadequate and inefficient. It was almost impossible for the user to ascertain which department (Information Systems or Academic Computing) they fell under in order to obtain support. And, in some instances, that too was debatable.
To deal with this frustration - CATTS was formed. Secondly, the centralized computing foundation for Western should have a centralized "helpdesk" or a single point of contact for users. In the latter portion of FY 1998-99, the CATTS 'Help Desk' became a reality. While some customers continue to contact directly the individual they feel will adequately address their issue, we make efforts to educate and communicate the existence and effectiveness of the 'Help Desk.'
Almost all of the incoming issues and/or problems that CATTS receives are dealt with in a timely fashion. Due to the limited resources and noting that each problem is a high priority and in reality, some more so than others, CATTS personnel 'queue' problems as they are intercepted. Providing a high degree of quality service in a reasonable time period is and has been an attainable goal. However, bringing the network to specification with regard to hardware and accessibility within each and every department, office, dorm and classroom necessitates the need for support strategies.
Most issues can and will be addressed by CATTS personnel. There are however areas of technology that surpass the scope and expertise of the members within the center. Also, not only is knowledge and experience lacking in some aspects of certain technologies, time is also a major component. It is certainly not from the lack of desire to research and develop the procedures and define the required hardware/software combinations that allow a solution to come forth, we must also note the unavailability of focused time that must be devoted to these projects.
It is anticipated that in order to tackle some of the tasks that are scheduled for design and development in FY 1999-2000, it will be necessary to procure contractor services. As noted previously, we must acknowledge our weaknesses and deal with them in the most positive fashion possible for the betterment of the University.
And we continue to face yesterday's problems: hardware limits faculty’s ability to use modern courseware, so the quality of instruction suffers. Students may find better, more up-to-date equipment at their place of internship or part-time employment. The use of obsolete technology affects productivity, the level of computer literacy, and causes stagnation in the generation of ideas and instructional techniques. Computing priorities should be set and coordinated among students, administration, faculty, and support staff.
Resources dedicated to maintenance have failed to grow at the same rate as the number of computers and LANs.
Available resources are not sufficient to maintain either computing systems or individual faculty, staff and student lab computers. In some cases, unskilled departmental staffs are attempting to maintain hardware and thus taking time from their normal duties. A coordinated plan for setting repair and maintenance priorities must be established, to avoid excessive downtime being accrued.
Computer labs are not adequately equipped with computers and printers. Staff is also inadequate, consequently, hours of operation are limited. Many designated support personnel are inadequately trained to assist the wide range of student and faculty needs. Students sometimes avoid the labs because of lack of advanced technology, proper assistance, or hours of operation.
Rapid expansion of software packages, application materials, and hardware possibilities place increasing demands on technology staff to support an even wider variety of materials. Without proper planning and standardization of some technologies, support will become impossible.
7.0 Instructional Delivery
An instructional center to assist faculty with course preparation and instructional technology integration/development would facilitate faculty development. Faculty members are reluctant to take on instructional technology projects or use available multi-media classrooms because of limited training and support. Faculty must be given ownership and a means by which they can be part of the solution. It is necessary that Faculty have the opportunity to identify areas for curriculum enhancement and/or development and the resources to support these efforts.
Failure to integrate instructional technology into classroom instruction, denies students access to the advanced levels of instruction possible via technology.
Campus teaching facilities historically have not been configured to incorporate computer or other instructional technologies. Often equipment must be mounted on portable carts and transported between classrooms, causing potential damage to the equipment, reluctance on the part of the faculty to integrate technology into their teaching, and wasted time.
Since not all facilities allow faculty to integrate multi-media and interactive video into their teaching technologies, room assignments may affect the delivery methods used by faculty.
The incorporation of computer utilization in instruction is limited by the number, size and currency of computer labs available for use by faculty and students. This is especially so when classroom enrollment exceeds the size of available teaching labs.
Increasingly, students have access to more contemporary forms of technology in both their high school and at community colleges. Some may have chosen to attend other universities because of Western’s inability to effectively address technology issues.
Students prefer extended lab access and printing facilities in order to complete classroom assignments in a timely manner. While some aspects of hardware quality and availability have been addressed in some labs, we continue to face support issues. Neither the quantity and quality of hardware and software nor the availability of computer labs is adequate to meet the needs of staff and students.
Physically challenged students especially need access to the latest in computer technology. Conscious efforts are being made to provide support for those who need special help, but it is not enough.
Hardware at WNMU has not caught up with hardware available in the business world, healthcare sector, or the arts. WNMU graduates are less competitive in the job market as a result.
Western New Mexico University
PO Box 680 Silver City, NM 88062
Phone: 575-538-6149 Fax: 575-538-6243