Goal 6: Use Technology to Expand Access and Opportunities
Strategy 6.2: Invest in Robust/Flexible IT Infrastructure for Teaching, Research, and Administration
No university can remain competitive with its peers and on the cutting edge of knowledge creation and discovery without having world-class information technology infrastructure and services. Most faculty members now use the ANGEL course management system and incorporate technology to bring real-time events and other unique materials in their classrooms. For example, both new Dickinson School of Law buildings enjoy advanced audiovisual telecommunications capabilities that enable the law school to operate a sophisticated worldwide program of distance learning that has resulted in the school’s designation by the American Bar Association as the pilot project for assessing the role of distance education in legal education. Information technology has also become a fundamental component of research and creative activities from the tracking and display of nanoscale changes in biological systems to the design of theatre sets. Appropriate information infrastructure is now essential for the management of complex University administrative systems. In short, robust IT clearly is crucial to teaching, research, and administration.
Penn State must invest in a robust IT infrastructure to maintain its competitive edge. IT is very costly, and careful analysis is necessary to keep the University ahead of the curve without making expensive mistakes. Our IT infrastructure must be flexible enough to accommodate many different types of users in academic and administrative settings. Faculty represent a range of sophistication in terms of their uses and needs for IT in both teaching and research, and flexibility to serve those needs is critically important. The housing of large pieces of IT equipment for research applications should be shared as much as possible. Penn State administrative IT systems, while some of the best in higher education, are old and in serious need of replacement or upgrades. These IT needs must be properly staged to address the highest priority systems upgrades before crises emerge in the years ahead.
Retaining electronic information and data will also become increasingly important in the future as most communications and information transfer will be accomplished using IT networks. Highly decentralized systems with distributed responsibility and varying structures will not be conducive or efficient to store, catalog, and provide access to information from a wide variety of sources and types of information. Thus, Penn State must develop more centralized shared digital repositories and/or participate with other universities and organizations in the support of digital records. Penn State will need to support the efforts of University Libraries and Information Technology Services to create such digital repositories at Penn State for our unique purposes. In addition, Penn State must work with our peer institutions through such organizations as the Committee on Institutional Cooperation (the Big Ten universities plus the University of Chicago) and the Association of Research Libraries to support collaborative efforts to expand the scope and content of digital repositories and to share in the costs of development and maintenance of such systems.
Finally, the use of open educational resources initiatives will greatly expand the capabilities of Penn State faculty and students to avail themselves of the teaching, research, and service information technology capabilities of a much wider community of scholars, professionals, and users. It is simply too expensive to “re-invent the wheel” each time a new need or application arises, and higher education must increasingly shun the “not invented here” syndrome that discourages the adoption of new developments elsewhere. Faculty and students must be encouraged to contribute to such endeavors. Likewise, open-source software is becoming more widespread for an expanding range of academic and administrative uses in higher education and, where possible, should be incorporated into the IT infrastructure of Penn State.