Information Technology

Bob Andree is director of Computer and Communications Services on the Indiana University Northwest campus.

Bill Bennett is director of the Department of Computing Services on the Indiana University Kokomo campus.

Ron Cigna is director of Computing and Data Processing Services at Indiana University Purdue University--Fort Wayne.

Tom Klein is director of Computer Services at the Indiana University Southeast campus.

Gary McCabe is director of Networks and Systems for Integrated Technologies on the IUPUI campus.

Larry Tenny is the senior technical adviser in the Office of Information Technology, Indiana University Bloomington.

Bill Verbrugge is assistant vice chancellor for information technology at the Indiana University South Bend campus.

Moderator: Karen Grooms

(This roundtable discussion took place via electronic mail.)

RCA: What are your thoughts on technology as a medium for communication?

McCabe: I use voice mail, e-mail, and a fax on a daily basis. We are also dabbling in cellular phones for coordinating repair efforts instead of two-way radios. I'm not sure it costs any more when you factor in that you need only a very few cellular phones for those people in remote parts of campus in need of assistance.

Andree: Occasionally I make use of conference calls, but this is rather rare. The big change is the use of voice mail. My not liking to sit in an office and wait for something to happen puts me out of touch with my telephone a large portion of the day. I find that voice mail gives me the freedom I desire but allows me to stay in contact with the rest of the world. Since others believe as I do, I find more and more of the calls I return go back to the caller's voice mail, and often decisions are made without ever actually talking to the other party. The computer and all of its functions form the other main use of technology. I find, however, that instead of doing computer-type things such as crunching numbers and moving data, we're using the computer, too, as a communication device. Technology-- computers and communication--is my secretary and receptionist. It answers my phone and helps me compose written documents and distribute them.

Klein: The majority of computing at IU Southeast revolves around a campuswide network. Every faculty and staff member who wants one has a computer on her or his desk, which is in turn connected to the network. We also have 200 or so computers in classrooms and labs (some in every building) available for student use. These are also connected to the network. Students and faculty can communicate, discuss, share assignments and syllabi, and so on, via e-mail. Although face-to-face communication is important, this network now adds another dimension.

Cigna: I use microcomputers (Macintoshes and IBM PC–compatibles); communication products; e-mail, voice mail, the Internet and BITNET; and application software (word processors, spreadsheets, graphics software, automated schedulers) for day-to-day management, meetings, discussions, presentations, and general communication with faculty, staff, and students. They all have access to the same resources that I do, but the technology, as it should be, is in the background. Our objective is to provide effective technology that meets the needs of the university but is as seamless as possible to the user community.

Verbrugge: Faculty, students, and staff have access to the same resources that I do, too. Plus, they have other resources--Apples, Sun and Hewlett-Packard minicomputers, and mainframe hardware and software. All faculty and staff have access to these resources in their offices, and students have access from 288 workstations in lab clusters and via sixteen phone ports. This has been available only this past year. It is causing a tremendous change in curriculum and methods of teaching.

RCA: How exactly does this technology change teaching?

Klein: For example, many faculty members require students to use word processors to create papers. While this doesn't require a network, the network environment opens up a world of opportunity. Faculty collaborate locally as well as around the world in their research by utilizing their Internet connections. I know of one faculty member who wrote a paper to be presented at a conference with two colleagues at distant locations. He hadn't ever met one of them! All was done with e-mail over the Internet.

Tenny: Many class lectures are supplemented by ongoing electronic discussions, students can communicate directly with faculty at any time via e-mail, and class work can be submitted, evaluated, and returned--all electronically.

McCabe: I think that e-mail, listserves, and Gopher are probably being used the most by faculty and students to share information. E-mail continues to grow; you can join a list on any subject. You could spend all of your time just reading electronic information--not that you would want to. Some of it is not "quality" reading.

Klein: Our computer classrooms and portable computer projection equipment are booked solid. Faculty can make effective presentations quickly by using presentation software. No more overheads! They can demonstrate statistics using statistical software. Students can sit at individual workstations and work along with the instructor. More faculty are making use of these technologies daily. In addition, a smaller group is using authoring packages such as Toolbook to create interactive multimedia teaching tools, which in many cases include CD-ROM and videodisc.

RCA: What technological solutions have you created to meet specific instructional needs?

McCabe: Two technological solutions at Indianapolis come to mind. One is called our electronic classroom, which could be better named, perhaps, an electronic lecture hall. It has three large-screen projectors that can easily display from VCRs, slide projectors, or PC or Macintosh screens, all connected to the campus data and video network. It also has a document camera that can display everything from overhead transparencies to objects. All of this is operated from a touch screen on the podium. The second is called MIPSit, which is a mobile version of the electronic classroom. Once a classroom is equipped with the projection devices (slide projector, VCR, etc.), the MIPSit can be rolled in and plugged in, and it turns a somewhat normal classroom into one with a document camera and multiple video projection possibilities.

RCA: What is the general condition of equipment on your campuses? Somewhat dated? In need of replacement? Up to the minute?

Andree: Some of ours is up to date; some needs upgrading. We are going to flush all of the IBM PS/2s in one lab to replace them with more powerful IBM-compatibles. We're eyeing the Apple Power PC as a device for a new lab. We try to recycle the older stuff by either cannibalizing it or turning it into servers or other machines that would have fewer demands on them than the regular lab machines. I don't consider any of these radical improvements or part of a big plan. The mode has been to replace equipment after five or six years, and to add a new lab every year or year-and-a-half. At this rate the year 2000 will see us with two computers for every staff and faculty member, and network connections in the restrooms. I meant that to be facetious, but the more I think about it--and the increasing demand for laptops and electronic notebooks, that total might be one or two short. Maybe one on the desk, one at home, and one to carry in between.

Cigna: We are in the process of significantly improving dial-in capability to improve faculty, staff, and student access to the IBM mainframes, the VAX cluster, and the Internet/BITNET from home. All of our students, as well as our faculty and staff, live off campus, and many of them have to drive into the campus to use the resources. When we are done, more of them will be able to work from home or their places of business, and we will not have to enlarge our labs as quickly as we may have had to do otherwise.

Klein: I'm not sure we'll ever be "up to the minute," since the definition of that changes almost daily. We will constantly be in need of upgrading. As tools for traversing the Internet continue to improve, I'm sure this is going to be a booming area in the near future. There are tremendous resources out there for faculty, staff, and students, but accessing them has been a royal pain. The new tools (such as Mosaic), as they continue to mature, will lead to a need for faster transmission speeds. Many megabits of bandwidth will be necessary to carry the graphics, sound, and video associated with these resources.

Andree: If I have learned anything over the years, it is that whatever seems to be a clear excess in terms of memory, processor speed, and data storage today will be next year's absolute minimal requirement.

RCA: What have you observed about changing attitudes toward technology, including your own attitudes and those of faculty members and students?

Cigna: I think the attitude of everyone toward technology has changed dramatically. At first, I think the general attitude was that technology was being forced upon people, and the tendency was to resist. Now, I think people have a better understanding of how technology can benefit them.

Andree: Among faculty, there are three distinct groups: those who incorporate computers and communication technology into everything they do; those who use the technology as a tool to help them get their work done; and those who would like to see it somehow "go away." The migration seems to be from the two extreme groups to the middle one, but this process is slow. The biggest problem with speeding this migration seems to be an unwillingness of users to spend the time it takes to become proficient in the use of the machines. Most put it off until there is a minor crisis and an absolute need.

Klein: I'm not sure my personal attitude has changed that much. I've always enjoyed technology and have seen its use in very practical terms. If used appropriately, it can provide tremendous benefit and satisfaction. If not, it can actually cause damage and certainly frustration. As far as others- -faculty, students, staff, and the general public--are concerned, the attitudes of many certainly have changed. There are still people who "don't believe in computers," but those are generally people in their later years who would have limited returns from the technology. This goes for faculty as well. A sixty-year-old professor who teaches quite effectively without technology probably wouldn't be interested in retooling her or his classes to make use of multimedia. There simply isn't enough payoff. On the other hand, junior faculty members just developing these materials are chomping at the bit to use technologically oriented presentation tools. The folks in between vary. I think almost all professors understand (or are beginning to) what technology can and cannot do for them, and are trying to implement it when they think it will be beneficial.

Bennett: The only negative comments I've heard have been about the frustration caused by the constant upgrading of software by vendors. It has posed some problems for professors with their course preparation. One noted frustration was that a lot of the textbooks are coming out with diskette software included, and the software versions used for those diskettes are often behind the current versions on the market.

Cigna: Faculty members have not told me about negative effects of technology on their teaching and research. What they have talked about, however, is that they have become dependent on technology and want it faster and more reliable.

Klein: As far as students are concerned, the younger ones are not afraid of technology, and they want to continue to use it. Many wouldn't know what to do without a calculator! Older students are in many cases still intimidated by it, but they feel they need to be more literate, and they want to learn.

RCA: How will the proposed information superhighway affect the state of technology at IU and in higher education in general?

McCabe: I think it will speed up the development of communications technologies, which means for me faster, less expensive communications. Even for universities, telecommuting may be closer than we can imagine. We could be working from home at least some of the time. The biggest determining factor for universities in Indiana will be if the information superhighway cuts through the middle of the state. If it passes us to the north or south, then it will be longer before we benefit.

RCA: How could it bypass Indiana?

McCabe: If a major hub for the information superhighway is not located in central Indiana, then the potential for high-bandwidth applications will also not be in the state. The key is how available bandwidth will be to leading-edge applications. If we have to use the old technology from the telephone company to get to a major hub in Illinois, Michigan, Ohio, or Kentucky, we would see no change in price, capability, and so on. For Indiana the information superhighway would be just talk and not a reality, like what would have happened to commerce if Interstates 65, 69, and 70 had gone through Ohio, Michigan, and Illinois but not central Indiana.

Cigna: No one really knows what the "information superhighway" is. As far as I know, it has not been defined yet. "Information superhighway" is a buzzword that the politicians grabbed onto. I have read and heard several definitions, uses, funding plans, et cetera, but I haven't seen anyone step up and say who owns it, who will make it happen, who will pay for it, when it will happen, or what the "rules of the road" are. When all is said and done, I think the impact on us is going to be "business as usual." That may seem like a strange thing to say, but the information superhighway, in whatever form it appears, is just another resource that we will support.

Andree: I'm not sure that I have ever heard a good definition of it, either. To me it involves the Internet and all of its affiliated elements, such as Gopher, Usenet, listserves, and so on. To the communication industry it seems to be the cause for a mass scramble to get control of at least the media over which the data is flowing. From my personal standpoint, it represents another step in the evolution that removes emphasis from "computing" and places more emphasis on communication. Ten years ago, I was concerned about data and the storage, ownership, and access to it. Today I am more concerned with the movement of data, which by any other name is communication.

Verbrugge: Concerning how it will affect higher education, I think it will change the whole process of delivery as we know it today. We will be receiving and giving instruction all over the world. There will be voice, video, and data. Students will be able to take full curricula from their homes, and it will be coming from many different educational institutions. Those institutions that respond will win.