Digital Tweed: Shameless Self-Promotion
Fall 2005 marks the 15th anniversary of The Campus Computing Project (www.campuscomputing.net)—of
my Campus Computing Project. Campus Computing is the largest continuing study
of IT planning and policy in American higher education. Later this month, at
the October 2005 Educause Conference in Orlando (www.educause.edu/e05),
and the League for Innovation Conference on Information Technology in Dallas
Campus Computing will release the results of the 16th Campus Computing Survey.
Some months ago, as the 15th anniversary began to loom large, I offered my
friendly editors at Campus Technology the option of an exclusive interview to
celebrate this notable occasion. Okay, to be honest, I flooded them with e-mails
and I pleaded with them: This is a big deal and a magazine interview would convince
my mother I really am doing honorable work. But the editorial content for this
issue, I was told politely but firmly, had been carefully planned months earlier;
precious space in the magazine was already allocated. However, the Digital Tweed
column (now in its sixth year) is mine. So I decided to throw my own party,
be my own interviewer, and generate my own sound bites. Here then, dear reader,
is an interview with myself, to mark the 15th anniversary of The Campus Computing
Project. These are the questions an informed (Campus Technology) reporter would
What is The Campus Computing Project, and why should I care?
When asked to explain the Campus Computing Project, I often comment that we
have data, and that as the director of the project, I am the equivalent of the
one-eyed guy with glaucoma in the land of the blind.
We've seen a dramatic shift in the focus of campus IT organizations from product and technology issues to service issues.
But is there any meaning in this awful metaphor? We have data!
In fact, Campus Computing collects data on a wide range of campus IT planning
and policy issues. When the project began in 1990, there were lots of opinions
about campus issues, but there were really were no data about a wide range of
IT planning and policy issues, especially in the context of the nascent “microcomputers”
that were popping up all over campus and creating some havoc for some of the
traditional IT folks. When the project began in 1990, the focus was on IT planning
and policy issues affecting academic computing—teaching, learning, research,
and scholarship—with a special interest in the evolving role of what were
then called microcomputers.
How has the focus of the annual Campus Computing Survey changed over
time? Good question. Survey respondents (typically, campus CIOs) who
remember the early questionnaires would no doubt say (complain!) that the survey
is now longer, and it is.
As the technologies and accompanying IT issues have
changed, so has the survey. For example, the arrival of the Web in the mid-1990s
was a catalyst for a number of new questions, as was the development of course
management systems. When portals emerged in the late 1990s, we began to track
portal deployment and, concurrently, some two dozen features and services on
campus Web sites, such as online registration, library resources, and ePortfolios.
A few years ago, the emergence of P2P file sharing promoted new questions about
copyright issues. And in 2005, we added a new set of items about security issues
and classroom response systems (“clickers”). Yet, also important
over the past 15 years is that the boundaries that separate “academic”
from “administrative” computing have changed dramatically. Once
separate operations (empires?) on many, if not most campuses, today the operations,
if not integrated, are often “merged” into an office of Information
Technology Services, under a single senior campus technology officer. And it
is harder to distinguish “academic” from “administrative”
services. Is online registration an academic or administrative service? Course
management systems generate lots of transaction data that could be linked to
other “administrative data” for institutional research an analysis.
What’s the biggest challenge you confront, in your annual survey
process? Without question, the biggest challenge is getting people
to complete the questionnaire each year. Everyone (or it seems as if everyone)
wants the data the survey provides. But often, it feels like pulling teeth to
get people—CIOs and senior campus technology officers—to complete
the questionnaire. We depend on the “kindness of strangers,” (college
and university IT officers) for the institutional data that campuses use for
benchmarking purposes. And institutions and IT officers use our data to help
address some key IT issues: How are we doing compared to our peers? What are
we doing well and what must we do better? Many campus officials complain about
the rising costs of IT.
What have you learned about IT expenditures over the past 15 years?
I’m not sure anyone really knows just how much money any one college or
university really spends on IT. It’s probably like the CIA budget: You
would need a team of very skilled forensic accountants to come up with an informed
assessment of total campus IT spending—central and departmental expenditures,
hardware, software, personnel, etc. A lot of the IT spending is decentralized
in academic departments and operating units. And much of the true personnel
costs often are not tagged as an IT expense (such as the graduate or work-study
student who d'es IT support for an academic department or research project).
That said, we do know that campus IT spending consumes lots of money, about
5 to 7 percent of total institutional spending (according to data from Campus
Computing); that’s probably double the number from 15 or 20 years ago.
We track some data on IT spending, but the best data available are from the
annual Educause Core Data Survey Report (www.educause.edu/coredata).
Has campus IT leadership changed over the past 15 to 20 years?
IT leadership has changed significantly over the past two decades. We’ve
seen a dramatic shift in the focus of campus IT organizations from product and
technology issues (Which products? Which is the “best” computer?)
to service issues (How do we provide these resources to students, faculty, and
staff?). Concurrently, the IT leadership has changed. With due respect to IT
officers (then and now), in the early years of the so-called, much-hyped “computer
revolution in education,” campuses would hire “heavy metal”
guys—generally men with engineering or computer science degrees—to
“manage” and contain the computer/ technology issues on campus.
Technology was seen largely as a product problem. Today, a new generation of
campus IT leaders recognize that technology really is a service issue. Moreover,
many CIOs or senior campus IT officers now come to IT from the faculty ranks,
and without computer science or engineering degrees. This new generation focuses
on planning, policy, programs, and people. They don’t ignore the bits,
bytes, and network stuff, but they recognize IT as a service issue. Also, and
interestingly, many of the new IT leaders are women, not “heavy metal”
guys. Some examples of this new generation who come to the CIO position from
the academic side of the campus house: Diane Balestri (Ph.D., Literature) was
CIO at Vassar College (NY) and later, Brown University
(RI), before her untimely passing a few years ago; Diana Oblinger (Ph.D., Plant
Sciences), was CIO for the University of North Carolina system
before her current VP appointment to Educause; Lev Gonick (Ph.D., Political
Science) is CIO at Case Western Reserve University (OH); Polly
McClure (Ph.D., Botany), is the CIO at Cornell University (NY).
Educause President Brian Hawkins (Ph.D., Organizational Development) was the
CIO at Brown more than a decade ago. These individuals and many others have
followed different paths to their current IT leadership positions. But those
paths also document the significant shift in campus IT issues and organizations
from a (narrow) focus on IT products to a (broad) concern with IT resources
Any final comments? My sincere thanks to the many individuals
who have supported The Campus Computing Project by completing our annual survey.
Unsolicited e-mails and conference hallway conversations suggest that the project
has proven useful to the campus community. And for those of you who have passed
on the invitation to participate in the annual survey: We keep lists and know
who you are.