The University of Vermont has much that it can be proud of in terms of its current level of information technology. We have a well-established campus network in place, enabling access to electronic mail and the World Wide Web from student rooms and many faculty and staff offices. The network is nearly ubiquitous, and we continue to enhance its capabilities. Many entering students are already experienced computer users, and bring their own systems to campus. Increasing numbers of students expect to find an information technology infrastructure in place to support their needs. The expertise among our faculty and staff is constantly expanding. We do, however, have problems with considerable variability in the consistency and capabilities of hardware and software, and the level of training across the institution, but every institution faces similar challenges. UVM is in a better position than many of its sister institutions. Our research activities generally have the level of advanced technology they need, and are able to function well in a global environment. A number of our courses already rely on some level of information technology, from email to computer labs to multimedia presentations to web pages. The use of these technologies is growing. The library system has an advanced information gateway and is able to supply students and faculty with high-quality electronic resources. Some of our classrooms are equipped with network connections and computer equipment, though we have a long way to go on this front. The University has invested in distance education and in developing a state-wide network for educational use.
In summary, the University of Vermont has the basic structures in place to take advantage of advanced information technology. This has been achieved over several years, built by dedicated staff and informed, enthusiastic faculty. This is not to say that we have no challenges before us. In fact, we have many. A number of these are spelled out in this report. Nonetheless, we are not starting from ground level; being an educational leader in information technology is well within our grasp. Now we have to build on the foundation that we have created.
Six assumptions underlie our considerations:
Universities are gateways to our accumulated knowledge, our culture, our art, our science. Technology has always played a distinctive role in the growth of our intellectual culture by molding and extending the reach of our biological capabilities. Writing on stone tablets, the printing press, the recording of sounds and pictures, and the communication of all these over time and distance have each, in their turn, reshaped our society. The technological revolutions of past two decades are bringing all of this to the fingertips of each individual.
What will UVM's role be in shaping these revolutions and the coming generations? We must use these new tools to extend our reach in learning, teaching, and service. Further, we must ensure our graduates can understand and wield the tools for new powers of creativity. At the same time, we cannot just throw away the human core of our institution, that which differentiates us from the technology itself. In embracing these new approaches, we must also maintain our focus on our core missions, so that technology acts as an amplifier, not the originator of our creative spirit. We should not seek to replace our traditional approaches toward teaching and learning, rather, to enhance them with these new approaches.
As we are currently judged for the quality of our intellectual and social environment, so too will we be judged for our response to these technological changes. Recruitment of students and faculty will depend, in part, on both the interface and the substance which we give to the technological revolution as integrated into our core missions. Information technology, therefore, presents both opportunity and challenge. It will alter the learning environment, the where, when, and from whom of learning.
In this section we address four topics critical to our changing learning environment. The first is the enhancement of our current teaching by the creative application of IT capabilities. That is what will allow us to stand out as a leading institution in the years ahead. The second topic is extending the University beyond the classroom, adapting to the changing needs of society and our constituents. The third is the development of a learning/technology center, bringing together existing resources and extending those where needed, to provide the platform from which to grow the expertise and creative ideas required to apply existing and future technology to what we do. Finally, we stress the importance of involving our libraries as active partners in exploring this increasingly technological environment, based on the realization that technology is changing how we access and create knowledge, as much as it is changing our ability to transmit and create knowledge in the classroom. In creating this document we have been careful to heed President Ramaley's advice to "Be bold!" At the same time, we have tried to temper that boldness with steps designed to test new ideas before making major institutional investments.
Classroom learning is not just students listening to spoken words. Instructors have always enhanced their presentations with appropriate text and illustrations. Emerging capabilities enable a teacher to orchestrate a wide range of media, from sounds and simulations, to distant documents, to live events. These capabilities have enhanced the potential for learning as never before. Further, contact between student and teacher can be extended in time and space, beyond the boundaries of the traditional lecture hall. Students and faculty can now communicate electronically at all hours, and students have access to information, such as class notes, extra readings, extended examples, and so on, that until now have mainly been available through the classroom.
To best use available technologies, we need to have knowledgeable instructors, appropriate classrooms, and wide-area network access. We need to work with faculty to create courses that make effective use of these technologies. We cannot simply provide new technology and assume that an instructor is going to work through the implementation without help. Several members of our committee have had experience with applying newer technologies to our classes, and this experience has given us some insights into the problems that lie ahead. We are aware that we cannot simply tell everyone to adopt a new technology without any training. We are also aware that simply creating a web page or presenting a classroom demonstration with streaming audio will not necessarily enhance the learning experience for our students. On careful reflection, we feel that we need to establish and carefully evaluate selected projects that move the current levels of technology to the instructional program in ways that can be expected to add to the students' educational activities. What we learn from these projects will inform the next steps in the process and allow us to expand those activities to an even wider audience.
In addition to helping instructors make use of current and emerging technologies, classrooms must support technology-enabled instruction. There needs to be a computer and other display equipment available when the instructor walks into the class. There needs to be an active network connection available. When things go wrong, assistance must be readily available. Because the technology we seek is expensive and constantly changing, we again recommend a stepwise approach. We should focus efforts on providing high quality technology and support to a selected set of classrooms, then build on this experience to update the rest of the campus. These selected classrooms need to be in places where they can and will be used easily.
Non-classroom learning will require different kinds of solutions, for example, wide access to high speed networking. This will require a substantial commitment to finding ways to provide appropriate, off-campus electronic access. The University has already made some important efforts along these lines. We have established a relationship with TogetherNet, allowing relatively inexpensive access to our facilities from off-campus, though at speeds limited by modem technology. We have issued an RFP for a new telephone system, and that has at least the potential of improving service. New cable technologies that will be developed over the next few years also have the potential to provide the connectivity we need. But as the newer technologies are evolving, we need to be planning for their introduction. We need to establish projects that will allow us to evaluate how best we can use those technologies when they become available.
It is becoming increasingly common for individuals to have their own basic computing devices. Therefore basic computer labs like those in Waterman and the Libraries will likely evolve to provide network connections, specialized equipment, and access to other technologies not available on basic personal computers. Again, we need to think ahead to how we will adapt to a changing environment.
Media and telecommunications technologies are enlarging what we understand to be the campus, the classroom, and the student/teacher relationship. Entire universities are being built without any traditional classrooms. The University of Phoenix is a good example, and by all reports it is doing well, addressing the needs of nontraditional students. Some institutions are combining courses taught by top faculty working at a variety of different institutions, and offering to students, on a nationwide basis, degree sequences based on these aggregations of courses. Education and policy leaders identify three environments in which students and faculty now work:
These changes are rapidly taking hold from the liberal arts to health science, and they will have an inevitable impact on the infrastructure of the University of Vermont.
Developments in the technology of media and communications not only expand what we teach, they change where and when we teach it, to whom we teach it, and how we teach it. The University is now significantly more accessible, in significant and interactive ways, to students and other clients who do not live in immediate proximity to it. Our products are no longer exclusively degree-oriented course sequences. We are starting to recognize that we have both an obligation and an opportunity to address the needs of our students, not only when they are in residence as undergraduates, but throughout the length of their professional lives. Access to our faculty and the results of their scholarship can be immediate.
As technologies converge, the concept of distance learning is slowly giving way to the concept of distributed learning. The traditional, and oversimplified paradigm of a teacher standing in front of 60 students, who are all working independently of each other, can be replaced by a more student-centered model. In this mode, the student sits in the center of an array of learning resources, including the instructor, the classroom experience, other students, library and Internet resources, other faculty, etc. In such an arrangement, the role of the faculty takes on significant new proportions. He or she becomes a guide as well as a content area expert, an orchestrator of resources as well as a subject area professional responsible for the generation of new knowledge. The critical thinking and analytic skills that faculty seek to model and instill in their students take on new dimensions given the scope and complexity of accessing new resources in unprecedented ways.
Even for on-campus students, there seems to be some general level of agreement that universities are moving toward more distributed learning environments. If we are going to move in this direction, we need to experiment with and evaluate ideas for distributed learning, such as courses that meet infrequently in traditional settings, and very frequently in electronic sessions. This requires new kinds of activities to stimulate student learning and new ways of communicating among students and faculty. We already have much of the technology we need to teach in different ways, but we must establish experimental and demonstration programs to develop these courses of the future. Distributed learning is very likely to become more a part of the educational environment over the next ten years, and we need to find ways to make it work.
The constraints of time and geography have been significantly reduced, though it is important to note they are not altogether eliminated. The demands of community, of peer relationships, of collegiality, and of a common, shared set of experiences, all important elements in the creation of a learning environment, dictate otherwise. Our reach, however, is dramatically extended. With this reach comes a new set of pedagogical responsibilities. We cannot duplicate the residential experience electronically, or replicate the in-person classroom experience with a virtual classroom. We must transform the learning experience for distant students if its outcomes are to be equivalent to those for the residential student.
As we work toward developing nontraditional educational experiences for on-campus students, we need to be expanding on those ideas to serve off-campus students. The experiences will be different, but they will have many things in common. We need to see which differences are important, which are inconsequential, and what adaptations we can make.
These are daunting tasks for a faculty already fully occupied with scholarship, teaching, and service within the confines of a traditional campus and semester model. To expand both of these dimensions is to invite chaos, unless we equip ourselves as an institution to support faculty in extending their teaching and scholarship beyond traditional boundaries. Putting the right technology on the ground is only the first step. The real challenges are in creating and sustaining the supports and rewards for faculty developing the skill sets required to use this technology, in identifying new audiences and partnerships whereby our reach is extended, and ensuring students' success, whether they are across the campus or across the continent.
The instructional activities discussed above are only the first step in transforming how we provide services to our students. As new capabilities in information technology begin to transform the way faculty and students interact, and as we gain experience with new approaches, development and utilization of these new approaches will greatly benefit from clearly identifiable, highly capable, common facilities. While it would be advantageous to begin implementation immediately on a limited basis, we cannot continue on a shoestring approach for long. As we expand on our experience, the faculty will need a technology resource center to help them enhance their own strengths with new information technology approaches. Students will continue to require access to high quality facilities for their own directed and independent studies. The resources we currently make available to faculty and students are physically scattered, and often separately administered. The experience we gain with the projects outlined above will help us see how best to bring those services together, but the need to consolidate services will become critical as we expand our efforts. Finally, the face we put on our technological efforts is often inconsistent, and our capacities diluted, so that those students and parents looking for this aspect of a modern education perceive there is far less at UVM than at some of our peer institutions. All of these issues could be addressed with the establishment of a new academic technology center on campus, the Learning Gateway.
The purpose of this center would be to support faculty and students as they work to incorporate new kinds of technology into what they do. We cannot expect large numbers of faculty to have the expertise to do this development work completely on their own, nor can we expect that most students can use the available technology to best advantage to create their own education. We already have considerable expertise on campus, though it is scattered across many different locations and is often unrecognized by many. We have faculty with good, creative ideas, but they tend to work in isolation. We have staff with considerable expertise and a surpassing breadth of knowledge. These two groups need to be brought together in an environment that promotes creative approaches to instruction. Students should be included in those efforts, both for what they have to offer, and for what they have to learn. At the same time, we cannot create the resource we need simply by moving around the players. We will need additional resources if we are to accomplish our task. The level of new resources must be assessed, along with the sources of funds necessary to provide them.
This Learning Gateway facility will bring greater identity to UVM's technological investments. It will be dedicated to exploration and research into new modes of teaching and learning, and to transforming our scholarly communication system. We envision this Gateway will be the focal point for academic technology, and a point of intersection for faculty, students, University Libraries, and CIT. It will build on what we have described above, to take us the important additional step toward providing a dynamic learning environment for our students.
The central roles of the Learning Gateway will include:
As a first step in realizing a comprehensive approach to developing the Learning Gateway, the Digital Media Lab of the Distance Learning Network will be designated as a prototype technology-based teaching and learning center, open to faculty, staff and students in campus-based programs as well as those engaged in distance delivery courses. This prototype center will be a collaborative endeavor, drawing upon the active participation and expertise of faculty and staff in Academic Computing, the Libraries, the Distance Learning Network, and related efforts based in the colleges and schools. Responsibility for financial support and administrative oversight will be shared between the CLIO and the Division of Continuing Education. As technology-based programs both on campus and in the Distance Learning Network grow, the more fully conceived Learning Gateway will become a necessity. Lessons learned from this prototype center will inform planning for the larger Gateway project.
In this increasingly technological information environment, our libraries are in a period of significant transition. In fact, library personnel are among the most technologically sophisticated members of the University community. We need to build on that strength. Changes in higher education, information technology, teaching methods, learning styles, community needs and the international information environment all affect the ways in which library and information services are planned, perceived, and delivered. The Libraries are now providing a full range of services in two settings, one with traditional print-based collections and another taking full advantage of electronic information resources. Library acquisitions are characterized by an increasing emphasis on networked access to information resources, but the development of core print collections to support curricular programs and research needs remains important. There is an expanding role for library faculty and staff in teaching users how to identify, select, evaluate, retrieve, and interpret information resources relevant to their needs. There is, additionally, an enhanced capacity for the library to create, organize, and disseminate select sets of electronic information (e.g., gateways to Internet resources).
The development of the technological capacities of the UVM Libraries in this changing information landscape is a continuing concern. Experimentation with new modes of information delivery have yielded important tools, such as Sage and VTMEDNET, which are now accepted as central features of UVM's information environment. There are many challenges in advancing the integration of information technology across the institution, as the Libraries attempt to make more sophisticated systems work within an environment characterized by multiple platforms and uneven levels of capacity at the desktop.
Another challenge is the ten year old NOTIS system, which provides both the LUIS online catalog and the integrated library system supporting library operations. While we have been able to enhance this system on numerous occasions over the past decade to meet new needs and utilize advanced technology, the marketplace has moved well beyond our present capabilities to new products based upon advanced technologies. An immediate investment in upgrading or replacing this core system is essential to meet the present information needs of the institution, as well as to move forward in the new information environment.
The University of Vermont is at a critical juncture in the development of institutional resources, that of planning a major library expansion. The changing demands on the University require a library that combines the strengths of traditional functions with new roles in teaching, learning, and technology. To reflect this shifting paradigm, we need to explore with the faculty and students a new vision for the library as a center for teaching and learning, as a institution focal point for information technology, and as a place supporting people, their interaction and their inquiry. In light of the growing impact of technology on both information resources and publishing patterns, new approaches to planning for growth in on site book collections also need to be investigated. Planning must include utmost flexibility to provide for ongoing responsiveness to a changing environment, as well as an enhanced role in the learning community. A commitment to the ubiquitous delivery of information regardless of format or medium, to collaboration in the support of students and faculty engaged in academic endeavors, and to the encouragement of intellectual interaction for all members of the university community should guide the development effort. We recommend that any planning for enhanced library facilities be coordinated with the concepts outlined in the Learning Gateway Center discussed above.