Tracking the Digital Puck into 2004
|"Legend has it that when Wayne Gretsky
was asked why he was so successful as a hockey player he responded by saying
that he always tried to skate to where the puck was going to be, not to
where it was.
The notion of a ‘digital puck’ as a metaphor
for information technology in higher education seems appropriate: Sometimes
the puck moves very fast, sometimes slow; and its movement is often erratic.
Moreover, there are lots of people and institutions that always seem to
be chasing the puck—
sometimes going to where the puck was, sometimes tying to anticipate where
the puck is going."
—"Tracking the Digital Puck"
Kenneth C. Green,
Syllabus magazine, December 2002
This article extends the “digital puck” metaphor that first appeared
in Syllabus in December 2002 (“Tracking the Digital Puck”). Then
as now, a continuing source for information about the “digital puck”
of information technology in American higher education is The Campus Computing
Project (www.campuscomputing.net). Begun in 1990, the project is the largest
continuing study of information technology in American higher education (Green,
Data from the Project’s 2003 Campus Computing Survey, typically completed
by CIOs or the senior campus IT officer, provide interesting insights into where
the digital puck has been in various sectors of higher education, and also the
direction of the digital puck is going—in 2004 and beyond.
Digital Content on the Internet
Content and copyright have been big issues for higher education this past year.
The Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) filed law suits against
college students and colleges in an effort to stem the widespread downloading
of digital music from the Internet. Music on the Internet was the also the story
line for the Doonesbury cartoon published on Sunday, January 12, 2003, [www.doonesbury.com/strip/dailydose/index.html?uc_full_date=20030112],
follows one collegian who asks if he can use a fellow student’s PC: his
computer was confiscated by the “campus computer police” because
“the college is really starting to crack down on music piracy
they see you’re using too much bandwidth on the main server, they come
looking for you.” The student describes himself as a “gypsy downloader,
filling my MP3 player wherever I can, one step ahead of the man.”
The good news from the 2003 Campus Computing Survey is that the majority of
U.S. colleges and universities have campus codes of conduct that address this
issue: As of Fall 2003, eighty percent of American universities, two-thirds
of four-year colleges, and half of community colleges have campus policies intended
to stem the unauthorized downloading of commercial content—primarily music
and movies—from the Internet.
Other data from the 2003 survey reflect the campus commitment to protecting
copyright. For example, almost all campuses (92.3 percent) have policies intended
to stem the unauthorized duplication of commercial software; similarly about
nine-in-ten (87.4 percent) have codes of conduct regarding the fair use of copyrighted
content such as books and journal articles.
Indeed, the 2003 survey data confirm that colleges and universities are making
significant efforts to respond to the concerns of media industry officials regarding
the unauthorized distribution and downloading of music, video, and other commercial
content on campus networks. And while not condoning the behavior of students
who download music and film, it is also clear that college students—and
colleges—have become an easy target for the entertainment industries.
For example, although growing numbers of consumers—upwards of some 16
million households—now have access to high-speed networks from home, entertainment
industry groups that are understandably unhappy about the proliferation of digital
content on the Internet continue to focus on college students as the primary
culprits for downloaded content because they represent a large, easily identifiable
and easily targeted population. In fact, the notion that all 16 million American
college students, ages 17-67, are “wired” is one of the major myths
of the Internet: At best the “wired” population—those students
with 24/7 access to high-speed campus networks—totals some 1.8 million
undergraduates, the students fortunate enough to live in campus dorms.
In contrast, consumer broadband providers—ISPs, cable, and telephone
companies including Adephia, AOL, Comcast, Earthlink, and SBC—are far
less conscientious about addressing copyright issues with their clientele than
are colleges and universities that provide e-mail accounts and Web access for
their students, faculty, administrators, and staff.
The 2003 survey data reveal some dramatic gains over the past year regarding
campus planning for and the deployment of wireless networks (WiFi). Almost four-fifths
(77.2 percent) of the campuses participating in the 2003 survey report wireless
LANs, up from two-thirds (67.9 percent) in 2002 and 29.6 percent in 2000. Although
most universities had some wireless LANs operating by 2001, the big gains for
WiFi on campus in recent years have been among four-year public colleges and
community colleges, where WiFi deployment almost doubled between 2001 and 2003.
Other data mark the continuing expansion of WiFi services. For example, a
seventh (14.2 percent) of the participants in the 2003 survey indicate that
full-campus wireless networks are up and running at their institutions as of
Fall 2003, compared to a tenth (10.0 percent) in 2002 and just and 3.8 percent
in 2000. Across all sectors, the 2003 data suggest that wireless services cover
more than a quarter (27.4 percent) of the campus at institutions reporting wireless
networks, compared to less than a fifth (18.3 percent) in 2002 and just 10.9
percent in 2001.
However, even as WiFi grows, many institutions seem to have opted for a “just
do it strategy,” focused on deployment first, followed by planning. The
proportion of campuses reporting strategic plans for wireless networks rose
to 45.5 percent in Fall 2003, up from 34.7 percent in 2002 and 24.3 percent
in 2001. The numbers with plans as of Fall 2003 trail the numbers of campuses
with some WiFi deployment (77.7 percent vs.
WiFi service may be a victim of its own success for many institutions, despite
explosive growth of wireless on campuses and in the consumer and corporate sectors.
Rising expectations about wireless services are fostered in part by the recent,
dramatic growth of inexpensive WiFi in the consumer sector. Students and faculty
may come to campus wondering why there is no wireless service in dorms, offices,
classrooms, and the campus quad if they already have WiFi at home.
Progress on Portals
American colleges and universities are making steady progress in developing
and deploying campus Web portals. The 2003 survey data document the growing
number of institutions that now have Web-based campus portals, up to 28.4 percent
in 2003, from 21.2 percent in 2002.
Another fifth (20.4 percent) of the survey respondents report that the campus
portal is “under development” or being installed in the current
academic year, about the same as in 2002. Just under a fourth (24.5 percent
compared to 29.5 percent in 2003) of the participating campuses indicate that
portal issues are now “under review/discussion” at their institutions,
while a slightly higher proportion (27.4 percent) report no portal planning
or related activities at their institution (compared to 29.0 percent in 2002).
Other data from the 2003 survey also reflect the campus commitment to Web
portals. For example, a third (31.3 percent) of the institutions participating
in the 2003 survey have a strategic plan for portal services, up from 24.9 percent
in 2002. Survey respondents rate “providing a campus portal for Web-based
student services” at 5.7 (scale: 1=not important; 7=very important), up
from 5.5 in 2002, and 5.2 in 2000.
However, when asked to assess the campus IT infrastructure, respondents rank
campus portals lowest among 13 different IT services (a 2003 portal score of
3.1, where the scale is 1=poor; 7=excellent). In contrast, the two highest-ranked
IT infrastructure components are computer networks (5.9), and online library
reference resources (5.6).
Campus Services on the Web
Data from the 2003 Campus Computing Survey also reveal continuing gains on various
Web-based campus services. One major measure of progress is that the percentage
of institutions reporting online course registration, online transcripts, and
online course reserves has tripled since 1998.
Over half (53.3 percent) of the nation’s colleges and universities can
process credit card payments from their campus Web sites, up from two-fifths
(40.5 percent) in 2002, 27.6 percent in 2001, and more than double the number
from 2000 (18.6 percent). In contrast, just 5.1 percent of the campuses participating
in the 1998 survey could process credit card transactions from their Web sites.
More than two-thirds (70.9 percent) of the institutions participating in the
2002 survey report that their campus Web site offers online course registration,
compared to just over half (55.4 percent) in 2001, 43.1 percent in 2000, and
20.9 percent in 1998.
While many in the campus community may feel good about the dramatic progress
made since 1998, higher education’s primary clientele—students ages
17 to 67—often look at many campus Web sites and portals and find them
wanting. Depending on age and experience, for many students the reference point
for “services on the Web” will be Amazon, Abercrombie, AFT (American
Federation of Teachers), or even AARP (American Assoc. of Retired Persons—where
membership eligibility begins at age 50!). These sites, and others (for example,
online travel services, banks, credit card companies, and cell phone providers)
offer increasingly customized Web-based services that have become the standard
against which all others are measured. In this context, it is not surprising
that the campus community is still roughly two years behind the consumer sector
in many of its “services on the Web” offerings.
Indeed, other data from the 2003 survey support the notion of lagging services
on the Web. This year’s survey respondents rated the campus infrastructure
for eCommerce and portal services as 12th and 13th on a 13-item list of technology
metrics that include network and tele communications services, user support
services, online instructional resources, network security, and IT training
for students and faculty.
A Declining Priority of Instructional Integration?
As in the past years, survey respondents across all sectors of higher education
continue to identify “assisting faculty integrate technology into instruction”
as the single most important IT issue confronting their campuses “over
the next two or three years.” However, the numbers have dropped dramatically
since 1998, falling by half across almost all sectors.
These declines reflect not so much a declining importance of instructional integration
as the rising priority of other issues—IT financing, ERP upgrade/ replacement,
and wireless—that now compete for the time and attention of the survey
respondents, typically CIOs, and also compete for increasingly restricted institutional
resources (people and money).
Course Management Systems and ePortfolios
Course Management Systems continue to play a increasingly significant role in
instruction across all sectors. The 2003 survey data also indicate that a third
(33.6 percent) of all college courses now use course management tools, up from
26.5 percent in 2002, 20.6 percent in 2001, and almost double the level in 2000
(14.7 percent). The survey data also reveal that over half (51.4 percent) of
the survey respondents report that their institution has a strategic plan for
deploying course management tools, compared to 47.5 percent in 2002. More than
four-fifths (82.3 percent) of the participating institutions have already established
a “single product” standard for course management software, up from
roughly three-fourths (73.2 percent) in the 2001 survey and 57.8 percent in
The CMS data are interesting as they reflect the arrival of course management
tools or learning management software as a core component of the institutional
instructional infrastructure: Both the percentage of classes that use CMS resources
and the number of institutions that have established a campus standard for a
CMS product continue to rise.
As an extension of course management and assessment initiatives, Electronic
Portfolios (ePortfolios) are also emerging as a important resource for students
and for institutions. Fully an eighth (13.5 percent) of the institutions participating
in the 2003 survey offer ePortfolio services on their campus Web sites. However,
the aggregate data mask significant variations by sector as ePortfolio resources
are available to students at a fourth (24.6 percent) of public research universities,
but at less than 5 percent of community colleges.
Continuing Budget Cuts
Two-fifths (41.3 percent) of the institutions participating in the 2003 Campus
Computing Survey report a decline in the academic computing budget at their
campus for the current academic year, compared to a third (32.6 percent) in
2002, just under a fifth (18.0 percent) in 2001, and about one-eighth (11.4
percent) in the 2000 survey report. The budget challenges were most pronounced
in public four-year colleges, where this year budget cuts affected well over
three-fifths (62.9 percent) of institutions, compared to half (50.7 percent)
of public universities and 47.2 percent of community colleges.
Similarly, the 2003 survey data also reveal a downturn in spending on administrative
computing. As above, two-fifths (42.3 percent) of the 2003 survey respondents
report a decline in the campus budget for administrative computing, compared
to almost one-third (31.0 percent) in 2002, one-fifth (18.3 percent) in 2001
and one-eighth (11.7 percent) in 2000.
Another indicator of troubled technology funding is the growing number of
campuses reporting mid-year budget cuts. Fully one-third (32.4 percent) of 2003
survey participants report mid-year budgets cuts this past year, up from a fifth
in 2002, 8.0 percent in 2001, and 5.3 percent in 2000. The mid-year budget rescissions
averaged 9.2 percent in A/Y 2003, compared to 7.0 percent in A/Y 2002.
Yet the survey data also reveal some interesting funding priorities amidst
the budget cuts. For example, even as overall funding for computing declines,
campuses are increasing budgets for portals, ERP software/services, and IT security
initiatives. These increases in specific lines—security, portals, and
ERP services—come at the expense of other portions of already reduced
IT budgets, often equipment and consulting services.
Although the majority of survey respondents seem somewhat optimistic that
budget cuts will not have dire consequences for key technology initiatives on
their campuses, many IT officials are clearly concerned. Almost a third (33.3
percent) “agree/strongly agree” that budget cuts will “severely
impede efforts to enhance eLearning” and just over one-fourth (29.7 percent)
“agree/strongly agree” that budget cuts will “severely impede/interrupt
ERP upgrade/replacement efforts.” One fifth (21.8 percent) of the institutions
participating in the 2003 survey report delaying or deferring ERP deployments,
replacement, or upgrades.
Taken together, these data and other information from the 2003 Campus Computing
Survey reflect the movements of a digital puck that is going, concurrently,
in many directions: a continuing campus concern for instruction and the instructional
infrastructure, a new focus on administrative systems, and real, long-term pressures
on technology budgets and resources.
Unfortunately, the inherent (and now continuing) tension between rising expectations
for IT-enhanced instructional resources and administrative services and reduced
funding for IT budgets ultimately affects students who come to campus to learn
about and also to learn with technology. The recession manta, again heard on
many college campuses—do more with less, and do it better—makes
for an interesting sound bite but fails to provide a clear path or a strategic
plan for IT resources, services, and operations.
[Editor’s note: Visit Casey Green’s new Digital Tweed Blog on www.syllabus.com/blog.]