Oct 31 2006

What are University IT Staffs Working On?

Universities have a long history of using cutting-edge technology, and today's university IT leaders are ensuring that innovation continues by equipping faculty, students and researchers with the best available technology.

To prepare their students to compete in today's global economy, institutions of higher education must be at the forefront of technology use.

Remember the days before online or telephone class registration? It was a logistical nightmare, with students standing in long lines across campuses to register for classes.

In the 1990s, technology brought relief. Scheduling classes over the phone or on the Web was a huge timesaver for both students and university staff. Today, colleges continue to embrace new technology innovations that have the same impact. Classroom audiovisual equipment gives professors new ways of teaching, while new business software allows administrators to run college operations more efficiently.

Technology is playing an increasingly vital and strategic role on college campuses –and IT managers are leading the charge. Here's a look at what universities have told Ed Tech are their most important ongoing and future projects for 2006.

Drew University in Madison, N.J., is busy wiring classrooms with high-speed Internet access and building wireless networks across campus. In College Station, Texas, Texas A&M University is evaluating blade servers for faculty, students and researchers' high-powered computing needs. Meanwhile, New York's Columbia University plans to install a new course management system and deploy new business intelligence tools, so administrators can make sense of all the university's data and generate the reports they need to make better business decisions. (See "2006 Technology Outlook " on page 63.)

University IT staffs are also focusing on security, data backup and disaster recovery solutions, and are building Web portals that give faculty and staff one site to visit for all their computing needs. In addition, they're helping to increase the use of classroom technology by giving faculty the training and equipment they need to engage students.

Universities have a long history of using cutting-edge technology. Colleges are also breeding grounds for technology innovations, such as the creation of search engines.

Today, university IT leaders can ensure that innovation continues by equipping faculty, students and researchers with the best technology available. They are also in position to be innovators by giving the campus community new technology tools to improve education.

The emergence of e-learning, for example, can hep reverse the two-decade slide in America's world position in education. Twenty years ago, the United States ranked first in the percentage of 25- to 34-year-olds who earned college degrees. Now, the United States is ranked seventh, according to a recent study by the Paris-based Organization for Cooperation and Development.

E-learning, or online distance learning, can boost U.S. college enrollment by giving people another way to earn a degree. The technology is making education accessible to people who otherwise could not attend college because of their jobs or children, or because they live too far away from their college of choice.

Today's students are tomorrow's work force. Colleges need to stay at the forefront of technology, so students are prepared to enter the workforce and compete in a global market. If colleges like Columbia, Drew and Texas A&M are any indication, we have a bright future ahead.

Chris Rother is vice president of education sales for Vernon Hills, Ill.-based CDW·G, a leading technology provider to government and education.