Friday, April 08, 2005

Business as Usual or to Hell in a Handbasket

Though I've been doing IT stuff for a while, I still am on the Econ department listserv and once in a while read the messages posted to it. The discussions don't seem different from ten years ago. Most of the players are the same. While the specific issues have changed, the nature of those issues has not. The world internal to the Econ department seems largely unaffected by the changes in the larger universe, including the move of the department from the College of Business to the College of Arts and Sciences.

In contrast, at the last CIO Cabinet meeting we are discussing how to cope with the current budget crisis and the forecast that revenues over the next several years will be flat or declining. We're talking about making serious cuts in service and, from my perspective going back on a trust, in the sense that we'll tell people on campus they must abadon a service they've grown accustomed to and unlike in the past not offer something else that is even remotely similar.

This puts me in a weird position of feeling that I should scream on top of my lungs --- "let's take some serious steps to adjust to the new realities"--- while acknowledging that even if I do, it's likely that nobody outside the IT organization is going to listen. Instead, the probable course is that we will make the cuts, duly consulting our advisory committees, and have a lot of angry users who blame us, the messengers.

The position is a little more awkward than this because the networking area is well funded as is the security area, but everything else is not. So the rational response to that is to try to have as many services as we can provided through the network and then pass the cost onto our users for the rest. The most obvious place to do this is with computer labs. We should get out of the business entirely. Students should provide the laptops (or Tablet PCs or other handheld devices). We should provide the the connection to the network and the software delivered over the network. Of course, the pattern now is that most students don't carry around laptops. And in many of our classrooms the students really don't have enough flat surface to manage a laptop well. Further, the culture is still hugely dependent on paper, and if that can't be gotten in digital form, then why carry a laptop? If we're heading in this direction, we have a long way to go.

Likewise in the smart classrooms, the campus should provide the projection, especially in larger rooms, because the projectors should be ceiling mounted and the wires should be unobtrusive. But the other equipment, e.g. laptop or dvd player, will have to be brought in. The instructors who have gotten used to having all the equipment in the classroom will be livid about this change. But it is the only sensible alternative, in the sense that anything else (other than no AV technology whatsoever) is not affordable.

I feel queasy thinking about this. But it is what we have to do. The other part of that makes me feel even queasier is that I'm defending supporting the course mangement system as a higher priority than supporting the labs or the smart classrooms. I will articulate my reasons for this over the next several weeks in this blog. But that doesn't mean the rest of the community will buy those reasons. Some fun.

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