II. Concrete Goals

Dr. Bart Thurber & Dr. Jack W. Pope, University of San Diego

As these trends unfold in the 1990s, educators will find themselves more and more in control of information tools that will enable them to teach and do research in their discipline in a variety of new ways. It is our contention that these four long term trends present opportunities for both academic departments and university instructional computing services to effect wide ranging changes in how computing now fits in the university environment.

What are some concrete goals that computing services centers can adopt that will increase the effectiveness of computing in the academic disciplines? Here are at least three:

  1. Provide academic departments with local, preferably individual office, access to library catalog resources. Schools and colleges just embarking on the computerization process for the library holdings should involve faculty early in the process for review of the public access catalog and its searching and bibliographic strengths.

    In some sense, realization of this goal is inevitable. In fact, during 1988, there were 360 library automation systems being installed, with a 16% increase in installations over 1987.1 The overwhelming advantages of the electronic library catalog, coupled with the trend toward campus wide networks will make catalog access relatively easy over the next decade. But, the the issues involved in computerizing library holdings must be considered in the light of distributed network access from the beginning; otherwise, many of the benefits of the system are lost due to the difficulty in accessing the system. Computing services, whether or not they are involved in the management of the library system, must put a high priority on integrating the system into the campus network.

    As welcome a resource as this is, however, the advantage of cooperative efforts here offers more than just mere “facilitating access” to the institutional catalog. Cooperative strategies among libraries, computing centers, and telecommunication services should promote an integrated approach to knowledge and learning resources. For example, access to catalog holdings at other institutions via the campus net (usually maintained by the computing center or telecommunications) enhances the reach of the student as well as research scholar. As a specific case in point, many California institutions—in fact, any institutional node on the INTERNET—can now access the University of California System MELVYL library catalog.2 Instant access to catalog information from a bibliographic resource of this caliber fosters and encourages learning by providing common resources across campus.

    While we realize that many top level research institutions already have in place a highly distributed network access to library holdings, as smaller and medium institutions implement computerized catalogs, the access in faculty departments is critical. In fact, the campus network and the electronic library catalog complement each other in this process. The library catalog is an absolutely essential part of a discipline’s teaching and research mission; the more readily available it is, the more productive the department.

  2. Provide academic departments, preferably with the help of a support person in the department itself, with easy and ready access to computing systems sufficiently configured to support mature software applications and access to outside resources.

    The response to this need today is the “faculty microcomputer resource center” or similarly named facility. Faculty demands for a facility where they can review software of interest, receive training, and evaluate software within the discipline, have led colleges and universities to set up specific lab areas on campus where these needs are addressed. While a central resource can be effective, the faculty resource center is as much a product of budgetary constraint as it is a response to faculty needs. The problem, of course, with one central facility is that it cannot adequately meet the needs of all disciplines.

    As the trend to more powerful, but less expensive workstations continues, college and university computing centers should strive not just to provide central resource centers, but departmental or disciplinary instructional resource facilities for faculty and student research. This is particularly true for those departments and disciplines where computing resources are scarce. In order for disciplines to take advantage of the computer’s power to organize, display, and store information, computing tools themselves must be near at hand. While some institutions are providing each faculty member with a computer, the number of schools able or willing to implement such a policy is still small. A step in this direction would at least provide instructional computing support at the departmental level.

    The gradual result of this may indeed be the fragmentation of centralized computing services and the integration of computing services itself into separate disciplinary support structures. In many larger universities, there are already separate computing services areas for different schools or large departments. In the end though, this is indeed the goal that computing services should work toward. If computing is really to affect the teaching and learning process, the support structures must aim at the disciplinary level. Budget realities as well as economies of scale often lead to various organizational structures both centralized and decentralized. We contend, however, that regardless of the organizational structure, the support must be aimed at the level of the individual disciplines.

  3. Support institutional efforts to provide incentives for the effective use of computing in the disciplines.

    Much has been written on the subject of how to stimulate and foster creative involvement of faculty and students in the integration of new computing technologies in the learning process. Indeed, while this paper has concentrated primarily on the question of how computing power can be integrated with individual academic disciplines, there are broad research issues dealing with how we learn and how computing technology affects this learning process that must be explored even as we encourage the use of computing tools in these disciplines. Professor Alfred Bork, in his book “Personal Computers for Education”3, puts it this way:

    “A number of things are needed to propel us into the future. First, we need much more educational research involving the computer, including research on the general nature of the learning process and how to assist it. We still have far to go, and any coherent national plan for the future must greatly emphasize such research.”

    “We also need much more practice developing computer-based learning materials and using them in classes.”

    Thus, institutional efforts to stimulate the use of computing in academia, should stimulate instructional pedagogy studies as well as learning disciplinary content.

Naturally, forces both within as well as outside higher education affect the degree of commitment of the university community to trying new technologies in their teaching and research. While institutions of higher learning cannot determine market forces driving software development and distribution, they can become involved in national efforts which focus the attention of hardware and software vendors on issues of direct importance to education. The efforts of national educational organizations such as EDUCOM in the United States have certainly been instrumental in causing software developers to rethink software licensing and update strategies. Thus, educational institutions in general, and academic computing services in particular, should strongly support regional and national efforts to focus attention on issues concerning the development and availability of instructional computing tools.

But, having said this, how can an institution internally encourage and foster the creative use of technology in its teaching and research mission? There is no easy answer. Some schools have a stated policy of strong institutional support for instructional computing, while others leave the appropriate use of computing technology up to the individual disciplines without any encouragement or help. Budgetary factors can and do play a significant role in the support of instructional computing. The degree of institutional support for the use of technology in education and research is a decision best made by the institution itself in light of the many factors—political issues, environment, finance, constituency, etc.—that drive its institutional goals.

That being said, however, institutions of higher learning must come to grips with key issues relating to academic computing. The FIPSE Technology Study Group report, “Ivory Towers, Silicon Basements”, recommends: “Our experience suggests that institutions particularly need to address two of these internal barriers:

  1. insufficient student access to computing, and
  2. insufficient technical support for faculty who wish to modify or even develop software for teaching.4

In our mind, the faculty support issue will become even more critical over the next decade. While not understating the need for increased student access to computing, the real educational gains in the use of computing in teaching and research depend essentially on the willingness of the teacher to use the new tools of technology in his or her teaching and research. The authors contend that colleges and universities must begin to center support structures for instructional computing on the teaching and research faculty. Thus, academic computing services must encourage this strategy by fostering cooperative computing efforts both at the institutional policy level and within academic disciplines themselves.

There are many reasons for this conviction, but primarily, the trend to higher end individual workstations and increasingly easy to use software development tools mentioned earlier as a trend evolving in the 1990s will, with appropriate institutional support, attract faculty to develop applications for teaching and research. The concept of the “scholar’s workstation” will mature in the 1990s. The proof, of course, remains to be demonstrated, but signs of the maturation are already here. Ronald Weissman of Brown University, in a recent review of workstation trends5, writes:

“When compared with today’s microcomputers, scholar’s workstations would inexpensively support more storage, higher quality networking, and significantly improved display technologies. …When compared with today’s UNIX workstations, scholar’s workstations would have significantly improved software environments, allowing different applications to be integrated in order to create discipline-specific workstations sharing common data across a set of related tools.… “

As evidence of the maturing trend, Weissman continues:

“The period from 1986 through third quarter 1988 saw significant innovation throughout the desktop computing industry… offering users a new generation of technology. …[including] the introduction of: Apple’s Macintosh II family; IBM’s PS/2 family; the introduction of OS/2 by IBM and Microsoft; Sun’s adoption of RISC technology in the form of the powerful SPARC product family; Digital’s low cost MicroVAX workstations; and the introduction of the NeXT computer.”

While Weissman notes lessened progress in 1989 and a suggests rethinking software architecture goals for the workstation environment; but it is clear that workstation hardware and software capabilities will significantly improve over the new few years. In short, the next decade holds great promise for educational computing. College and university computing services should recognize the potential of new workstation technologies to impact teaching and research. Cooperative strategies with faculty to develop discipline specific tools for teaching and research must be a primary focus of academic computing services over the near future.


  1. Library Journal, April 1, 1989, pp. 41-43.
  2. CERFnet News, June-July, 1989 Vol. 1, N. 4; August-September, 1989, Vol. 1, N.5
  3. Alfred Bork, Personal Computers for Education, (New York: Harper and Row, Publishers, Inc., 1985), pp. 4-5, 160-174.
  4. Steven W. Gilbert and Diane Pelkus Balestri, et al, Ivory Towers, Silicon Basements, (EDUCOM/Academic Computing Software Initiative Monograph Series, 1988), p77.
  5. Ronald F. E.Weissman, In Search of the Scholar’s Workstation: Recent Trends and Software Challenges, (Academic Computing, September ,1989), pp. 28-30, 59-64.