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The 2011 IT Agenda in Higher Ed: 3 Perspectives

Leaders in higher education IT departments shared their technology plans for 2011 with Campus Technology. Despite predictions of flat IT budgets, their organizations are taking on ambitious projects and actually continuing to beef up services for faculty and students, moving into app development, shoring up wireless infrastructure, virtualizing servers and desktops, and experimenting with newer mobile platforms.

Virtual desktops, better network security, beefier Internet bandwidth, and business process improvements are just a handful of projects on Scott Lowe's agenda for 2011. As vice president for IT and campus technology at Westminster College in Fulton, MO, Lowe's "to do" list is both long and varied as the new year approaches and brings with it a slew of innovative IT devices, equipment, and services.

Lowe said virtualization is at the top of his agenda, owing to the cost and energy savings associated with virtualized computing environments (where multiple personal computers share the same resources and software). "We've been testing virtual desktops for some time now, and we're planning a spring 2011 pilot program," said Lowe, "followed by a more generalized launch in the summer."

Westminster College is also ramping up its network security system, starting with an improved "lockdown" of its wireless network. Lowe said the initiative came on the heels of the Firefox Web browser's latest release, which allowed "pretty much anyone to download and install the software, and use our unencrypted wireless network." In 2011, Lowe said the school will implement more network security, to ensure that password hijackers and hackers can't penetrate the system.

With Westminster College's bandwidth needs doubling every 18 months, Lowe said that in 2011 his team will regularly increase that pipeline. In December, for example, the school moved to a new wireless provider and a larger, 100 megabit pipe. More bandwidth will be added in 2011, Lowe said, in spite of predictions of yet another year of flat budgets.

"Basically, we just have to make sure that everything we're planning makes sense from a budgetary standpoint," said Lowe. "The good news is that I don't need a larger budget to achieve our school's IT goals."

At Creighton University in Omaha, NE, Brian Young, vice president for IT, is also bullish on his ability to fund and initiate several new projects in 2011. After successfully introducing lecture capture on campus this year, Young said the school is now exploring (via a pilot project) how iPads and other portable devices fit into both online and offline learning.

"I think these portable devices are going to play out well for us, especially as we develop applications meant to help students on campus," said Young. Right now, for example, he said the school's "app building" team is working on a method of tracking the university's campus shuttle system. "Using this app, students will know in real-time exactly when the shuttle will arrive," said Young, "and won't have to stand out in the rain, wondering how they're going to get to class."

In the coming year, Young expects students to use more tablet-based technologies. He said the IT team will continue to hone the university's lecture capture capabilities while ensuring that the school's wireless infrastructure provides appropriate coverage and speed for users.

Hap Aziz, director for the school of technology and design at Rasmussen College in Wausau, WI, also said he wants to integrate more table technologies into the classroom in 2011. In addition to the iPad, Aziz said he sees the new slew of Android tablets as good potential tools for students and educators. "These Android devices are still somewhat pricey," said Aziz, "but definitely show the democratization of technology (beyond just Apple products) and prove how portable and accessible innovation is becoming for college students."

In 2011, Aziz said his department will continue to seek out ways to stretch its flat budget by configuring Cisco routers and implementing virtual labs and other Web-based classroom support tools. "With technology changing at a rapid pace, and with the cost of equipment being so prohibitive," Aziz said, "it's impossible to keep building physical labs." Instead, he said, students are using Citrix-style systems and getting their work done by logging into simulated, online environments.

These initiatives not only help the school save money, but they also give students a "consistent view of the curriculum matter and materials across the board," said Aziz, and provide for simpler classroom management. "This consistency would be [impossible] to achieve in the traditional classroom environment, where students are geographically dispersed and working on different pieces of equipment with multiple software versions."

With the new year still in its opening weeks, Aziz said Rasmussen College is also looking to digitize its research and library materials in a way that allows students and faculty to access the information without having to physically visit the library. He acknowledged the fact that many universities revere their traditional libraries but pointed out that non-traditional students need state-of-the-art resources that go beyond the "traditional four walls and a roof."

"Being able to provide students with research resources and materials online is very important," said Aziz. "To deal with that demand, we're making a commitment this year to offering new, digital resources, as opposed to just replenishing our physical library."

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