II. Enhancing Communication and Collaboration

UVM has in place a comprehensive infrastructure for electronic communication. The campus network is uniform, widely available and routinely used; microcomputers are found in most offices; electronic mail and Web facilities are robust and widely accessible. Most of us make good use of these, but we must do more to leverage our significant investment. Communication, collaboration and maintenance of skills are often impeded by inconsistent and incompatible implementations of some elements of information technology.

IT Coherence

The task of improving the compatibility, consistency and availability of UVM's information technology must be engaged at the highest level, and will be among the first tasks addressed by the CLIO. UVM needs a coherent information technology infrastructure. Although administrative and academic missions are different, the basic IT infrastructure (electronic communications, document creation, etc.) is essentially identical.

Exploration and research into alternate and emerging technologies must be fostered. We must leverage our investment in this important work. Exploratory activities should be coordinated to avoid duplication and to ensure a cohesive system. Recommendations and other results will be shared.

Opportunities for setting standards in institutional communication systems, such as email, document sharing and calendaring, will be actively pursued. Solutions from our existing test beds will be seriously considered for broader adoption. Our choices of common IT solutions should:

Imposing consistency is not intended to limit our flexibility, but we must appreciate the difference between choices that empower us and those that are essentially arbitrary.

Because of the rapid advancement of technology, the solutions we choose will be constrained in number for efficiency, but must not be static. Exploration of emerging technologies and updating of existing standards must be ongoing activities.

Establishing and Maintaining the IT Floor

There is a basic level of IT infrastructure, tools and training necessary to effectively participate in our electronic community. We must regularly define and redefine this minimum set of services, and strive to keep all community members above this "IT floor".

Supporting Divergent Technologies

The standard issue hardware and software will not meet all needs. While exploration is encouraged, units experimenting with alternative technologies should seek to work in collaboration with other units. These units should expect to provide their own support until such time as that technology is adopted as an institutional standard.

Required actions:

Although this approach will certainly not solve all the problems associated with IT coherence and evolving software technology, we think it will ease the burden of transition, leverage support resources, enhance productivity, lower support costs, and improve our ability to collaborate.

Building and Maintaining Essential IT Skills

No matter how much time and money we dedicate to acquiring the latest information technology, if we do not have sufficient skills to employ it, our investments will be largely wasted. Our success depends on people understanding what tools are available at UVM and how to use them effectively.

Development and IT

We do not have a coherent program for developing IT skills for members of the University community. There are a number of groups involved in IT instruction, but their efforts are designed for specific constituencies and are largely uncoordinated. There are specific gaps, such as in the area of instructional technology. Assessment of the needs of students, faculty and staff for IT instruction and training is required, as well as an evaluation of the effectiveness of current programs in meeting these needs. The coordination of these offerings, together with a more coherent approach to planning for a comprehensive program of training and instruction is needed.

Required actions:

We support and endorse the efforts of the IT Professional Development Task Force which, under the guidance of Pam Brown and Dean Williams, is developing a coordinated, responsive curriculum for IT professional development.

Leveraging Our Skills

Today, many people at UVM are frustrated by the gap between what they need to know to participate in our IT-based environment, and the knowledge they have been able to acquire. This problem could be alleviated by having more people providing more IT education, more time for employees to attend courses and more money devoted to professional development. While we agree that professional development of all types must be a priority, this is only part of the solution. We also need to make our information technology environment more consistent to help assure that the skills we acquire are widely applicable. Rather than attempting to teach everyone all the answers, we must make it possible for people to be successful in discovering their own answers. To further this goal, all systems, documentation, on-line help facilities, and education we provide must be geared towards consistency and self-guided learning skills.

Required actions:

Supporting the IT Infrastructure

Ideally, IT infrastructure will be so effectively and transparently implemented that we rarely think about it. It should just be there, consistently available and natural to use. It should be apparent where to get support, what support is available, how it will be provided and how much it will cost (if anything). When our basic IT tools do not work (or are counter-intuitive), prompt, reliable support must be available. To that end:

Who Provides Support?

Currently, IT is supported by a combination of dedicated (decentralized) and shared (centralized) support staff. Each support model has advantages and disadvantages. The local support model typically has the advantages of being:

On the other hand this model:

Our current mix of dedicated and shared support structures is viable, but could be improved through better coordination.

Required actions:

Web Development Team: Building Community and Communication

World Wide Web technology presents UVM with significant opportunities to advance our teaching, research and service missions. Although UVM was an early adopter of Web technology and has some outstanding examples of Web-based resources, our current approach to this technology, which does not formally coordinate or develop our broad collection of web pages, is causing us to fall behind our peer institutions. Web technology offers effective and consistent ways to do many different things. Making investments in this high leverage arena will serve us well. A properly designed university web site can be utilized to deliver online, course related information to scholars, deliver attractive and accessible public information to a broad audience, and improve the efficiency and effectiveness of all current and prospective members of the University community by giving them direct access to institutional information.

Coordination of web policy development and monitoring of official UVM Web links will ensure the quality of this comprehensive information tool. To be effective, the team must include staff with both technical expertise and graphics design experience.

As with many of the approaches we propose, the development of a new UVM web site must be a collaborative effort, attracting the energy and creativity of many contributors. Leadership and coordination of these efforts will be provided by the Web Development Team, but collaboration with many units will be necessary for success. Major stakeholders in the current UVM Web environment will continue to play specialized roles. For example, CIT will retain responsibility for Web training and for managing the central Web server hardware and software, and the Libraries and other units will continue to develop Web-based information resources. The expertise of University Marketing is essential to these efforts.

The Web Development Team will report to the CLIO, as part of the learning and information enterprise. The improvement of UVM's presence on the Web is critical to many current, important university efforts, however, and should not await the appointment of a new senior administrator. In order to make immediate progress reworking the UVM web site, we recommend this team be established as soon as possible, under the direction of the Provost.

Required actions: