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IT in Review 2004: From the Biggest Non-Story to the Biggest Real Story

Well, the biggest "non-news" item of 2004 was that we did not have a major repeat of the August-September 2003 worm/virus disasters on campus! I think that many on campus still look back to August/September of 2003 and consider that one of the toughest times they've ever had dealing with the flood of infected machines that students brought back to campus just as a couple of particularly nasty worms were released. But apparently we've learned. There were some problems on every campus and large problems on a few, but network procedures and student education, plus help-desk routines and preparations kept the nasty micro-beasts at bay in 2004.

But there was plenty of real news. 2004 proved that we have once again only scratched the surface of the IT/knowledge revolution. And it proved that higher education is central to that revolution--partly because it is getting clearer that colleges and universities are the economic hearts of their regions and communities. Here's more from 2004…

Oracle/PeopleSoft Merger/Battle

The financial and legal war between the leadership of Oracle and PeopleSoft was a constant news story throughout 2004, as it was through much of 2003 as well. In the end, the merger's going to happen and the PeopleSoft shareholders are doing okay. That leaves us going into 2005 with the hope that nothing bad will happen soon to all us PeopleSoft users, with assurances from Oracle that it will support the products for quite some time. But will there be any new developments in PeopleSoft software? Don't bet on it. Everyone's going to end up having to move to Oracle, probably renamed something special.

Acacia Technologies

The less said the better about the kind of "software" company that has more lawyers than it d'es technologists and which buys up and then tries to extort money from colleges and universities based on questionable patents. It was a pleasure to see a coalition of institutions get together to defend as a group against Acacia Technologies.

Wireless Expansion

We got more and more wireless. Small institutions without any at all began putting it in a few places. Larger institutions completed plans that made wireless ubiquitous on their campus. Case Western Reserve University announced plans to work with the City of Cleveland to cover the entire Cuyahoga County, Ohio. Other cities--small and large, such as Philadelphia announced that they, too, were in competition for the metro region with the best wireless coverage.

RFIDs--More Implementation and More Concerns

RFID technology means more than privacy issues, of course. More and more libraries are already using it and people who have to track items love it. But concerns about stealthy use of RFID transmitters and receivers to track people's behavior and movements were not quelled by announcements of a few people having them implanted in their bodies for security purposes.

Other Privacy Issues

These ranged from a lot more reporting on hacks into systems containing personal data--partly due to better reporting that was generated by a new California law and partly due to more hacking--to better and sneakier spyware and phishing schemes.

People Start Going to Jail

A few people went to jail for hacking into secure servers or creating worms or viruses. The public outcries about that seemed to be particularly lacking, so I think it's safe to say that more people will go to jail in 2005.

Lawsuits/Legal Music Downloads for Students

Apparently everyone agreed in 2004 that college-age students must have their music, and when and where they want it, too. The RIAA brought lawsuits left and right while IT staffers and policy folks tried to ensure that institutions weren't liable for the students' behavior, while at the same time trying to modify the students' behavior. And then, we decided to provide it for them, beginning with the Nittany Napster program and followed by a whole bunch of related pilot and test programs at colleges and universities.

New Levels of Mandated Technology Required for Students

More schools are requiring laptops, especially with more extensive wireless networks, and those networks themselves are feeding back into the demand for laptops. Duke University "gave" freshmen iPods, not just for music of course, and now we find that "podcasting" is a new development that has to be taken into account on campus, both in course development and curriculum. When Duke said the iPods were also for curriculum, I guess it meant it!

Moves Toward Getting IT, Physical, and Academic Planners Together

Maybe I should call this cross-disciplinary collaboration. The types of folks who come together at Syllabus or NLII conferences and workshops often are multidisciplinary in their departmental origins anyway. That's what makes these conferences so much fun--the fact that there are academics from multiple disciplines interacting with administrators from a variety of departments. This year there has been more of that and one great example of that was the NLII Focus Workshop on the Design of Learning Spaces where about 80 people came together to talk mostly about IT in classrooms but left having drilled deeper down and focused on simpler learning space design principles that have little to do directly with information technology.

And The Biggest News of the 2004…

Google, Google, Google

Well, this was the year of Goggle. The most recent issue of MIT's Technology Review magazine, which just arrived on my desk, d'es an amusing letter and color play on the word "Google" by displaying on its cover the blue "G," the red "o," and the yellow "o," with the second "o" turned into a "d" and just a hint of the left-side curve of the next letter, the blue "g." And that's about right. What did we get to use/learn/manage from Goggle in the past year?

--We got to watch it go public, probably the most watched IPO of the current century, and that news will continue because the verdict's still out on its success for anyone but the major shareholders;

--We saw Gmail up the ante for "free" Web-based e-mail systems with great searchability and 100 gigabytes of storage space;

--We saw the introduction of Google News Alerts. This particular Google feature was the most valuable of the year to me personally: the ability to receive an e-mail every time Google indexes a news article on a topic in which I have an interest. That has been wonderful. I had no idea there were so many articles published each year about disc golf!

And then, just this month, came the latest: Google has worked out deals with several large university libraries to digitize a vast collection of their books, many more than 10 million over the next several years--7-8 million at the University of Michigan alone. Google is aiming at creating the digital version of the Library of Alexandria. It, of course, will have access for searching purposes, and the institutions will get something they could never afford on their own--searchable, digital copies of everything they own. The digital rights management involved will be a major ongoing story in 2005, 2006, and beyond.

Overall, it was an encouraging year for IT in higher education. While big business may have accepted the "IT is not important" paradigm, we didn't. We continue to be blessed by an industry, higher education, which values and needs information technology. Most of us are not only involved in maintenance of the IT infrastructure, we are also involved in the research, design, and development of new things. Which is exactly where we want to be.

Next week: Predictions about the big higher education news stories of 2005.

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