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Investing Wisely in Information Technology: Asking the Right Questions This article was published in _CAUSE/EFFECT_, Volume 17,

Number 3, Fall 1994. It appeared originally in the summer 1993 issue of _Educational Record_, copyright 1993 by American Council on Education and Patricia Senn Breivik, and was reprinted by permission. Permission to copy or disseminate all or part of this material is granted provided that the copies are not made or distributed for commercial advantage and that this block of information appears as part of the article. To disseminate otherwise, or to republish, requires written permission from ACE and the author. For further information, contact Kelly Stern at ACE, One Dupont Circle, Washington, DC 20036-1193, phone 202-939-9383. CAUSE is the association for managing and using information resources in higher education, located at 4840 Pearl East Circle, Suite 302E, Boulder, CO 80301 USA, phone 303-4494430. VIEWPOINT INVESTING WISELY IN INFORMATION TECHNOLOGY: ASKING THE RIGHT QUESTIONS by Patricia Senn Breivik Budget limitations--coupled with a continuing information explosion and rapidly changing information technologies--are more than enough to give presidents and chief academic officers gray hairs. Some faculty fight with an almost religious fervor to maintain journal subscriptions for their departments; others fight to keep computer facilities from falling too far behind industry levels. What, if anything, can academic leaders do to position their campuses to make information resources work for, rather than against, them? At the opening session of the 1993 annual meeting of the American Council on Education, Michael Hooker, president of the University of Massachusetts, laid the groundwork for a thorough discussion of this question when he pointed to America's move toward a knowledge-based society and the need to understand its impact on the future of higher education. Ten years ago, Hoke Smith, president of Towson State University (TSU), raised the same issue in his fall address to faculty. He called for the establishment of a faculty committee "to evaluate our resources, to study the opportunities and threats which [the move toward a knowledge-based society] creates, to make initial recommendations to the appropriate university governing bodies, and to propose a permanent governance structure to assist in providing leadership in determining ways of relating to and using the electronic technological environment which is now developing as the basis of the Information Age."[1] President Smith's challenge was driven by a belief that the curriculum needed to change in order to prepare students for lives and careers in the Information Age. He wanted to

initiate discussions on how Towson State University should relate to the role of information in society, how it should explore or take advantage of the fact that information has economic value, and, most important, how it should reflect these issues within its academic programs. In turn, those concerns suggested another series of questions about how information should be structured and organized. WHERE ARE WE GOING AND HOW CAN I.T. HELP? Asking the right questions is exactly what academic officers must do if campuses are to make the best decisions about information technology,[2] but it seems that few administrators know what questions to ask. Inquiries to TSU from other campuses almost always focus on which systems are being used, which information units have been combined, how they are organized, and whether the organization has proven cost effective. To date, no one has asked whether TSU is better able to achieve its mission or priorities because of changes in information management. Perhaps this is not too surprising. The reform reports of the 1980s, with few exceptions, were written as if higher education existed apart from the information society. Only two reports addressed the implications of the information society for undergraduate learning. The first of these was Ernest Boyer's _College: The Undergraduate Experience in America_.[3] In it he writes, "At a college of quality there is a wide range of learning resources that enrich and extend classroom instruction and encourage students to become independent, self-directed learners."[4] Unfortunately, the report also documented how poorly most campuses would rate against such a criterion: "Today, about one out of every four undergraduates spends no time in the library during a normal week, and 65 percent use the library four hours or _less_ each week. Nearly one-quarter reported spending just one to two hours there each week. This means that about half of all the undergraduate students spend _no more than two hours_ in the library every week."[5] The second report addressed the implications for learning in an information society at both the K-12 and postsecondary levels. Written by a group of national leaders from schools and libraries, the final report of the American Library Association's Presidential Committee on Information Literacy echoed Boyer's concerns: "How our country deals with the realities of the Information Age will have enormous impact on our democratic way of life and on our nation's ability to compete internationally. Within America's information society, there also exists the potential of addressing many longstanding social and economic inequities. To reap such benefits, people as individuals and as a nation must be information literate. To be information literate, a person must be able to recognize when information is needed and have the ability to locate, evaluate, and use effectively the needed information.

Producing such a citizenry will require that schools and colleges appreciate and integrate the concept of information literacy into their learning programs and that they play a leadership role in equipping individuals and institutions to take advantage of the opportunities inherent within the information society."[6] To guide decision-making, it is important to have a goal or objective. Knowing that ensuring information-literate graduates is an institutional goal can go a long way toward providing a useful framework for making decisions about information technology. The Minnesota State University System provides a good recent example: "In 1990, a blue ribbon commission advised the board of directors of the seven public state universities of Minnesota and the people of Minnesota about the quality of education needed to prepare graduates and the state for the challenge of the new century. This group of 17 distinguished Minnesotans included farmers, corporate executives, labor leaders, public school educators, former legislators, civil rights activists, physicians, hospital administrators, and recent graduates of the universities. They defined the dynamic of the future as 'continuing and accelerating change.' Indeed, they said that 'change should not only be expected, but it may also be the only constant in our lives.' They defined the challenge of the universities to be the preparation of graduates to manage change. And they reminded the public 'that high-quality education is the strategic resource for Minnesota's future ...' "Shortly after the board of directors of the Minnesota universities adopted the commission's recommendations as the planning tool for the 1990s, an opportunity arose to use the goals defined, the indicators proposed, and the principles adopted in a tangible planning effort. The Minnesota legislature charged the university system with describing the academic library of the future, awarding it $200,000 to complete a report and present schematic drawings by November 1991 ... "As the task force appointed by the chancellor began its work, members decided to place the commission's vision of education for the new century at the center of their deliberations. They tried to think about what role the library would play in quality education as defined by the Commission. They began to conceptualize the library not as a building, but as an environment for helping faculty and students to achieve the goals for undergraduate education. They also saw the library's human and physical resources as means to facilitate students' demonstration that educational goals had been met."[7] Of course, in addition to their teaching/learning goals, campuses may identify other goals related to research and service that need to be factored into information technology decisions. The bottom line is that all of these decisions should be driven by institution-wide missions and priorities.

In no case should decision-making be based upon the "squeakiest" faculty wheel's desire for either more journal subscriptions or more computer power. Rather, the first question academic leaders should ask is, "How can information resources and technologies best support institutional priorities?" HOW SHALL WE ORGANIZE OUR SERVICES? The second question academic officers need to ask is, "How can we best organize our information resources and technologies to make the strongest contribution to the identified priorities?" Thus, if, like TSU and the Minnesota State University System, the priority is to enrich the undergraduate learning environment in order to graduate information-literate citizens, then administrators must find the arrangement of resources and services that best promotes faculty and student use of a range of information resources as an integral part of the learning process. This focus puts people first. It requires that information resources and technologies be accessible, user friendly, and coordinated. It requires that information resources be integrated and networked so that faculty members will be introduced to all the resources and services that support their particular courses' learning objectives. Faculty have many demands on their time and energy, and it is unrealistic to expect them to go to separate service points for computing, library, and media services. Moreover, even when faculty clearly understand information technology's role in addressing instructional goals, little can be accomplished if a proper faculty support structure is absent. The same questions so frequently asked about teaching incentives and rewards also generally apply to the integration of information technology and resources into the curriculum. For example, to encourage information technology and resource integration, TSU provides enhancement grants for faculty who want to use new technologies for their courses; promotion and tenure criteria are being reexamined. Similarly, if a goal is information literacy among all students, then those students must have access to computers for self-directed use, and training opportunities and software must be available to facilitate their use of computers and networks. Students also must have continual practice--both as part of the curriculum and as part of their extracurricular activities--in accessing and using information successfully in all its formats. In addition, both faculty and students must have ready access to information systems--24 hours a day, seven days a week, from dorm rooms, homes, offices, and classrooms. Facilitating access and use for faculty and students requires careful coordination or even a merger of information resources and services. Moreover, from an administrative viewpoint, coordinating or merging is also essential for effective financial planning. What academic officer has the educational background or experience to judge wisely among

stand-alone requests for funding from the various information units on campus? What academic officer is truly comfortable weighing not only the relative value of different schools' technology hardware and software needs, but also weighing those needs against a series of campus-wide needs? When information units and coordinated planning and operations are integrated, funding requests reflect a holistic approach to the provision and use of information on campus. Which information units should be coordinated or merged? Effective information management would bring together the library, academic and administrative computing, media, telephones, networking, and even institutional research. Reorganization is never easy, but the merging of information units raises particularly difficult questions. What should the reporting line for the merged operation be? On the one hand, the emphasis on directing all information systems toward the achievement of campus priorities argues for keeping the new unit under academic affairs; on the other hand, administrators may have serious concerns about relinquishing administrative computing to academic affairs. Creating a stand-alone unit with its own vice president would not be prudent during tight budget times, and librarians with faculty or quasi-faculty status might perceive a threat. But the greatest problem with a stand-alone unit would be achieving the degree of communion needed to effectively direct combined information units toward the achievement of academic goals such as information literacy. For example, would the head of the information services unit be allowed to participate in council of deans meetings? Would librarians be allowed to serve on curriculum and other faculty committees? If not, how would the need for close communication with academic units balance against the increasingly interrelated nature of information technology, in general, and of academic and administrative computing resources, in particular? An even more difficult challenge would be integrating staff from various information units. Computer, library, telecommunications, and media professionals rarely understand or appreciate one another's expertise and value to the educational process. But when managers--through team building and other activities--can integrate staff for planning and project implementation, benefits begin to emerge. When TSU librarians presented the shared, online University of Maryland System catalog, for example, the academic computing staff not only bought hardware and modified software to provide access to the catalog through the campus network, but also created online interlibrary loan forms for both books and journals. Now, when faculty or students working at home at 3:00 a.m. need journal article listings or books that are not owned by TSU, they can make immediate online requests for the materials. The complementary strengths of computing and librarian professionals at TSU also proved invaluable when a campus information system was developed; the programming efforts of the one were complemented by the information management skills of the other. Academic officers also must ask questions about the place of media services in coordinated or merged information units. On

four-year campuses, media services often lack the avid faculty champions afforded to library and computing services. Satellite programs, compressed and interactive video, and teleconferences are relatively big-ticket items that can enhance a variety of academic programs. Therefore, in an environment where students have spent more hours watching television than attending classes, leaders charged with teaching/learning responsibilities must ensure that media resources and services are neither overlooked nor undervalued. WHERE SHOULD WE PUT OUR INFORMATION TECHNOLOGY RESOURCES? Once the organizational question has been resolved, the third and final question academic officers must ask is, "How can we best deploy our limited human and fiscal information technology resources so that all graduates are information literate?" The answer to this question will change from year to year. To arrive at the best answer year after year (or budget cut after budget cut) will require that campus information specialists not only undertake strategic planning efforts, but also keep them current. All their requests for resources and/or reallocations must reflect campus priorities. Indeed, if specialists cannot (or will not) provide a coordinated approach in directing information resources and technologies toward campus priorities, or if they are unable to articulate their recommendations in terms lay people can understand, another question must be asked: "What must occur for them to be able to build an integrated information infrastructure for their campus?" The strategic plan for information technology should incorporate hardware, networks, software (including development), databases (including development), maintenance, training, user support and education, and adequate staffing. Of these necessary elements, obtaining adequate staffing presents the greatest challenge. Most information specialists would agree that regardless of budget limitations, it is almost always easier to get new or upgraded hardware or software than new staff. This situation is further exacerbated by the current widespread criticism of the growth in higher education's administrative staff. A recent article in _The Chronicle of Higher Education_ zeroed in on the dilemma: "This growth reflects legitimate demand for professionals to complement faculty in terms of how students learn now," said W. Lee Hanson, professor of economics at the University of Wisconsin. "It's just a more complicated world than it was 15 years ago, and you need these professionals."[8] But few systems or states make such distinctions among nonteaching positions, and so at the very time information technology is sought after to mitigate some of the effects of budget and program cuts, the human resources needed to pursue technical alternatives are rendered unavailable. The need for

training and technical support in refocusing curriculum material for distance education is as necessary as the fiberoptic linkages for campus computer networks and for video hook-ups between campuses. A strategic plan must orchestrate these overlapping needs with the elements listed above into a meaningful whole for planning and budgeting purposes. Recently, TSU Provost Robert Caret summarized Towson State's experience in answering these three questions: "Information is information regardless of the form it comes in, and academics need access to information in order to be academics. If you take this approach in administrative decision-making, however you set it up organizationally, you will be creating campuses that work and campuses that are healthy. If you don't, I think you'll have problems in the future. People will flock to those campuses where access to information is available. Information and knowledge result in power to the individual. We must provide that information and knowledge."[9] ==================================================== Footnotes: 1 Hoke L. Smith, _The State of the University: An Address to the Faculty_, Towson State University, 15 September 1983. 2 In this article, _information technology_ is defined as the whole range of information resources, including books and journals. 3 Ernest L. Boyer, _College: The Undergraduate Experience_ (New York: Harper Collins, 1987). 4 Ibid., p. 160. 5 Ibid. 6 American Library Association Presidential Committee on Information Literacy, _Final Report_ (Chicago: American Library Association, 1989). Single free copies may be obtained by writing to ALA, 50 E. Huron St., Chicago, IL 60611. 7 Linda Bunnell Jones, "Linking Undergraduate Education and Libraries: Minnesota's Approach," _New Directions for Higher Education_ 78 (Summer 1992): 27, 30. 8 Julie L. Nicklin and Goldie Blumenstyk, "Number of NonTeaching Staff Members Continues to Grow in Higher Education," _The Chronicle of Higher Education_, 6 January 1993, pp. A43-46. 9 Interview with Robert Caret, 23 June 1992. ************************************************

Patricia Senn Breivik is Associate Vice President for Information Resources at the Towson State University campus of the University of Maryland System, chair of the National Forum on Information Literacy, and president-elect of the Association of College & Research Libraries. ************************************************ Acknowledgments: The author gratefully acknowledges the help of Eleanore 0. Hofstetter, Associate Director of Public Services, Albert S. Cook Library, Towson State University, in preparing this article. Investing Wisely in Information Technology: Asking the Right Questions