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Queen's University
 

Scholar-Centred Computing, Phase III

Approved March 30, 2000
February 08, 2000

SITC members 1999-2000:
S Akl, N Bunn, L Monkman, A Pollard, A Schumann, R Shenton, M Singh, M Szewczuk (Chair), D Tso, S Yagi


Table of Contents


1.0 Introduction

The purpose of the Scholar-Centred Computing Phase III document is to implement a long-term, coherent strategy for developing a progressive information technology and computing environment at Queen's University with minimal cost, effort and error. The Senate Information Technology Committee (SITC) believes that such a strategy will be vital for ensuring that a suitable information technology framework exists to serve the teaching, learning, research and administrative needs of the Queen's community.

2.0 Background

The Inevitability

Computers and information technology are transforming our society as fundamentally as the industrial revolution did. Information technology has become essential for all areas of research, business, health care and education, and has provided opportunities that could not even be considered in the past. It has enabled innovation and provided new methods for stimulating learning at all levels of our educational systems. Queen's University has a strong commitment to the liberal arts, and applied and health sciences combined with the belief that we are preparing students for the world of their future. Fundamental to liberal arts and sciences is the development of competencies in accessing, processing, and communicating information. Information technology clearly is a powerful tool to support and extend the effectiveness of these central educational goals. Students, faculty and staff today use information technology tools routinely to access information, process information, and communicate. The following examples illustrate the inevitabililty of the transformation to information technology:

  • On March 26, 1999, Prime Minister Jean Chrétien announced that the federal government is investing $15 million in on-line classroom projects to be developed by Canadian teachers and students. The investment is directed to Industry Canada's SchoolNet GrassRoots, a pilot project since 1996, which has already resulted in nearly 2,000 on-line projects involving some 500,000 students. The provinces and territories are welcoming the program as part of their strategies to integrate information and communications technologies in learning.

  • In elementary and secondary schools in the U.S. and Canada, virtually every school has at least one computer, and the average is one computer for every 10 students. More than 10% of U.S. high schools have a computer-to-student ratio of one for every three students, and the number of computers in colleges is increasing at an accelerating rate of about one computer per classroom per year.

  • The World Wide Web has swept into schools and universities as swiftly as it has into general public awareness. Within only a few years, virtually all North American universities and colleges have established a presence on the Web, and are using it for research, learning and administration.

  • At Queen's, close to 100% of students, faculty and staff have electronic mail addresses (e-mail), and most use them regularly. High-speed network connections are in place in residence rooms, public and semi-public computing sites, offices, laboratories, libraries, and even out in the surrounding community. Remarkably, the great majority of students already own their computers, or intend to purchase one during their time at Queen's.

The only remaining questions are how quickly, how completely, how efficiently, how cost-effectively, and how deeply will we incorporate computers, digital communications and other information technology into the Queen's community in order to keep pace with the demands of our technology-wise society.

The Challenge

The mission of Queen's University is to build on the strength that is Queen's - students, faculty, staff and alumni - to be among the best of internationally known universities in Canada. In order to achieve this goal, the Queen's community must have equitable access to a powerful, well-managed technological infrastructure, consisting of a responsive network system, electronic services, information systems and computational resources.

Each member of the Queen's community should have the opportunity to be innovative and creative by using a strong information technology infrastructure to better meet personal and institutional goals. The University must provide adequate training and support so as to foster innovation, creativity and effective use of technology. Individuals must have the skills and knowledge necessary to appreciate how information technology can best serve them in their study and work. Queen's University should adopt these new emerging technologies that are appropriate for our environment, according to agreed-upon guidelines and standards. There must be enough flexibility for the Queen's community to embrace these technologies selectively, responsibly and accountably to govern the acquisition, the development, the management and the use of  information technology.

Equitable access, efficiency and effectiveness, and harmonization of institutional and individual requirements are the main principles on which the recommendations for Scholar-Centred Computing Phase III are based.

Fulfilling the recommendations outlined in Scholar-Centred Computing Phase III will require changes in attitude, reallocation of resources, and rethinking how we do our scholarly work at Queen's. Many developments, however, are still underway and are subject to numerous problems which impede their progress (see Appendix 2, "Problems - Today's and Tomorrow's). The rapid pace with which information technology is changing will continue regardless of actions taken at Queen's. In order to sustain a world-class leadership position in the use of technology, timely action must be taken in a number of areas. We must take advantage of the wealth of knowledge, creativity and energy at Queen's to achieve these goals successfully.

In presenting Scholar-Centred Computing Phase III, the Senate Information Technology Committee is proposing an approach that will transform Queen's into an information technology-wise university.

Clearly, the costs of implementing all of the initiatives recommended here could be quite high. Everyone exploring the potential of information technology should examine the broad range of activities that are currently under way. We hope that these ideas will help people understand the opportunities and costs of moving forward with these initiatives, and that these initiatives have the potential to significantly improve Queen's teaching, learning and working environment.

We now summarize below the recommendations with a brief introduction to each.

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3.0 Recommendations for future needs and priorities

The Scholar-Centred Computing vision, as conceived in 1990, has to a great extent become reality in 1999, at least in terms of the existence and maturity of the technologies that we now enjoy. The University's economic situation and the fundamental requirement to maintain excellence with fewer resources will likely increase the dependency on technology, and in some cases the diminishing effectiveness of more traditional methods and processes may make it necessary to adopt certain technologies because they have become the definitive way rather than mere alternatives. Information technology has become an integral part of the Queen's broader learning environment, but its role in that capacity has been and will continue to be to support the core activities of that University. It is a means not an end.

In drafting this new Scholar-Centred Computing document, the Senate Information Technology Committee recognized that one of the key objectives for subsequent planning and decision-making was achieving a sense of balance. Supporting diversity was one of the original goals of Scholar Centred Computing. Diversity, however, can be expensive to sustain, since complexity increases with diversity, and more complex technology infrastructures cost more to maintain and support. We should strive to achieve a balance between stabilizing and bolstering the existing technology framework, while at the same time facilitating innovation and selective adoption of new technologies as they appear over the horizon. We must also seek to allocate resources such that all constituents have suitable access to core or essential systems and services, while at the same time preserving faculty, departmental and individual freedom to choose which technologies will be adopted beyond those that are essential.

The strategic goals of our plan and subsequent recommendations are:

  1. Identify the process for defining essential or core services required by all constituents (e.g., network infrastructure, electronic mail, internet access, etc.).
  2. Identify the process for defining the responsibilities of the institution, the faculties, the departments and individuals in the development, maintenance and use of the Queens information technology framework.
  3. Provide equitable access to computing, networking and information resources.
  4. Facilitate the adoption of a more learner-centred educational model.
  5. Foster innovation, the adoption of appropriate new technologies and the continued development of the Queen's IT infrastructure.

Core Technology Services

The purpose of Scholar-Centred Computing is to facilitate access to and the use of computing services and facilities which can meet the needs of the academic, research and administrative areas of the University. These needs are very diverse, and it is impossible to provide the full spectrum of services that the Queen's community might require. It is vital, however, that adequate funding and support be provided for those systems and services that are deemed to be essential, and that all members of the Queen's community should have access to these essential, or core, systems and services.

As more IT services become core, and our dependency on them increases, the University must have a long-term funding strategy that will ensure that an appropriate foundation of core services is preserved. It is clear that this will mean increased funding for IT systems, services and staffing across campus. To enable more effective curriculum and/or business planning, the Queen's community must understand what the core infrastructure will be, and what will not be provided without additional resources. In close consultation with the Senate Information Technology Committee (SITC) and the Administrative Computing Steering Committee (ACSC), ITS will on an annual basis determine which systems and services are to be classified as core or essential. The parameters of a service must be considered in this determination, such as the hours of availability or the capacity of a given service. For example, while the primary link between the Queen's network and the rest of the Internet is clearly a core service and is normally available 24 hours a day, its capacity for data traffic will always be limited by the speed of the connection.

Recommendation #1

Information Technology Services in consultation with the Senate Information Technology Committee and the Administrative Computing Steering Committee should annually identify those systems and services that are core to the needs of the University, and the Senate Budget Review Committee in its review of the annual University budget allocations should examine the adequacy of resources to maintain these core services . Information Technology Services should continue to be the primary provider of core systems and services.

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Infrastructure Issues and Responsibilities

Infrastructure can be defined as the information technology resources required to support teaching and learning, research, and administrative activities. Infrastructure responsibilities encompass managing the technical infrastructure, managing the workplace or workstation, user support and training, service and budgetary planning, and coordination. Due to the highly distributed nature of the Queen's infrastructure, and the associated diversity, overall responsibility for managing the infrastructure must also be relatively distributed. Limited resources and lack of sufficient expertise, however, impose limits on the degree to which a unit or individual can assume responsibility for the technology framework in place. Furthermore, the benefits of IT standards and the desire for greater institutional efficiency underscore the importance of some degree of institutional planning and centralized responsibility. The management of the infrastructure and the distribution of responsibility for it will define the framework by which computing and networking resources are organized and made available, and within which services may be provided.

In the interests of cost-effectiveness and group-level productivity, the University should support the ongoing development of the campus workstation infrastructure with some consideration given to mechanisms, approaches and services necessary to encourage the adoption of group-level systems and solutions. SITC believes that the following are important goals for the University:

  • greater collaboration among learning, research and administrative groups
  • improving the productivity of a group as well as the individuals in it
  • optimizing IT funding through workgroup technologies

Recommendation #2

All Units in consultation with Information Technology Services should identify their information technology requirements that will meet the present and future needs of the unit and the individuals within it. Information Technology Services will assist, where feasible, in the co-ordination and appropriate management of the technical infrastructure, user support, training, and security required to facilitate the effective use of information technology for the unit's activities.

 

Security and Privacy

Queen's University is committed to providing, supporting and to proactively promoting network security at a state of the art level. Queen's University recognizes that, due to the fast developments in the Information Technology sector, network security and its implementation need to be regularly reviewed and if necessary revised, and that a demonstrable and continuous effort is necessary to maintain and to provide network security on the Queen's University network.

Individuals' legitimate rights to freedom of expression, confidentiality and privacy must be recognized in our increasingly electronic workplace. Queen's University is committed to the protection of the privacy of those who work and study here as outlined in Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Guidelines (approved by Senate, May 26, 1999, and by Board of Trustees, October 1, 1999).

Recommendation #3

The Senate Information Technology Committee should develop a policy on network security, and Information Technology Services with the appropriate administrative University officers should regularly review and assess the current state of network security and establish the concepts and strategies on the implementation and maintenance of security on the Queen's University network.

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Equitable Access: Workstation Provision and Renewal

(a) Faculty Workstations:

Currently, faculty members are faced with a range of funding sources with which to equip themselves with suitable workstation or portable computers, and this varies significantly from one faculty or department to another. Faculty can apply to advisory research committees, use professional development allowances or devote portions of university administered research grants, or university research grants, to purchase or lease a workstation computer to use for their work. Computer acquisition that is based on a competitive or discretionary model has the following key limitations:

  1. some faculty must apply or make proposals to acquire funds from numerous funding envelopes, and spend considerable time doing so that might be better spent on research and teaching
  2. some faculty are disadvantaged when there are fewer funding opportunities or when discretion does not favour their situation

We have reached a stage where all faculty members should have a suitable desktop or portable computer or workstation to be able to fulfil their role at Queen's.

(b) Staff Workstations:

Since the first personal computers arrived at Queen's in the early eighties, the fulfillment of personal computing equipment needs has been based on some combination of discretion and opportunity. Since it is no longer possible for a staff member in an administrative role to function without a suitable workstation or portable computer, the University must establish an acquisition and renewal program that regularizes the process by which administrative staff are provided with suitable workstation systems. The rationale behind this is that the workstation computer is no different from a telephone, much as electronic mail is no different than voice mail, and that a centralized approach to providing these equipment and services is necessary. The objective is to ensure that each staff member has equitable access to a suitable workstation or portable computer (personal workstation) with which to carry out their tasks and activities.

Recommendation #4

The Principal, Vice-Principals, Deans and Directors should ensure that appropriate funding envelopes are established so that all faculty, librarians and support staff are equipped with access to a suitable 'personal workstation' and network connection, where appropriate, and that these processes should have provisions for regular renewal of the equipment as technology continues to change.

(c) Student Workstations:

The public and semi-public sites continue to be a critical service and resource for students, and in particular for those students who do not have their own computer. It is vital that Scholar-Centred Computing funding continue to be available at a similar if not greater level. It is important to realize that these sites provide more than word-processing for students; the advent of QCard, QLink and QLine as network-based services for students has created demand for many locations on campus where students can use such services.

A secondary function for these sites that should be encouraged and supported is their use as sites for holding classes and conducting workshops for University courses requiring the use of computers and the network. As more courses move in this direction, the need for multiple locations where there are a number of workstation computers and a projection system for demonstration will continue to increase. Thus, it is important that suitable funding be available for specialized equipment as well as the usual workstation computers and printers.

Students conducting research and teaching at Queen's must be provided, in general by their supervisor and department, with appropriate access to information technology resources to fulfil their task in research and teaching. In defining information technology requirements, consideration should be given to the adoption of group level systems to increase productivity, to foster team spirit and to lower cost. Information Technology Services will provide support where feasible.

Increasingly, students will have to use the network on and off campus to obtain information about registration, to participate in courses, and to conduct research. Students must have access to and knowledge of how to use computers and the network.

Recommendation #5

The Director of Information Technology Services and the Vice-Principal (Academic) should ensure that Scholar-Centred Computing funding levels for public and semi-public computing sites are adequate. Provisions should be made for a regular assessment, and if appropriate, renewal and increase of the information technology infrastructure offered to and used by students as the demand for information technology continues to change.

(d) Library:

The opening of Stauffer Library and the more recent renovation of Douglas Library have in effect increased the number of general-use networked workstations on campus. The microcomputers intended for student and faculty use in the libraries were funded from the building or renovation capital budgets in each case. The Library lacks adequate funding to replace or upgrade hundreds of computer workstations that are quite heavily used. The Library needs to develop a replacement and renewal plan for public-use workstations in the libraries and to seek funding for this program so as to preserve a reasonable level of service and equipment currency.

Academic research libraries are now experiencing the transformative impact of the evolving digital library which is characterized by the networked distribution of information resources directly to the user's desktop, independent of geography, and by revolutionary new information retrieval capabilities. Libraries of the future, while maintaining print collections, will focus increasingly on providing access to information through new technology which requires a continuing investment in computing and telecommunications capabilities. Electronic infrastructure and access tools are now as essential as the information content itself.

Recommendation #6

The University Librarian and the Vice-Principal (Academic) should ensure the establishment of an appropriate level of operational funding to facilitate access to electronic library resources.

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Support Staff Training

Adequate user support and opportunities for training can facilitate the effective use of information technology systems. In addition to the ongoing formal support and training provided through the Learning Technology Unit (LTU) and the Instructional Development Centre (IDC), the University must encourage support staff to pursue personal development through training opportunities in information technology systems. This philosophy must be fully supported by the Vice Principals, Deans, Department Heads and the Staff Association. This support and training must be relevant to the working demands and styles of each individual. In particular, providing release time for the support staff, designing appropriate training programs for them, and recognizing their participation in these programs would foster and facilitate not only personal growth but also would contribute to a more effective working environment.

Recommendation #7

All Unit Heads in consultation with the Associate Vice-Principal (Human Resources and Organizational Effectiveness) should establish local support staff expertise in information technology, where appropriate, by identifying the core computing skills required by the unit and by providing release time to permit support staff to take advantage of information technology training programs as part of their job responsibilities. For new or emerging applications and systems, Information Technology Services should identify cost-effective training programs to assist and establish the required technical knowledge and skills throughout the Queen's community.

Special Needs Provisions

Equitable access for people who have sight, movement or learning impairments or disabilities is also critical, as no person should be denied access to at least the base or core set of services. The University should ensure that such special needs are addressed in budget planning and services offered on campus. Special government grants are available for people to purchase computers with adaptive technology equipment, however the University should ensure that when grants are insufficient, alternate funding should be secured to cover such shortfalls. The University should ensure that consulting and assistance are provided to students, faculty and staff who must use various adaptive or specialized technology in order to participate in essential services and use core systems. It is important that all students and employees be aware of the services available for special needs technologies.

Recommendation #8

The Principal, Vice-Principals and the University Advisor on Equity should ensure that processes and resources are in place to ensure that special needs students and employees have access to core technology services. The Senate Budget Review Committee, in consultation with the Senate Information Technology Committee, in reviewing annual University budget allocations should examine the adequacy of funding designated for a suitable range of core technology services for special needs students and employees, and that these services are delivered in an integrated manner so as to achieve greater cohesiveness and equitable access to these services.

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Teaching and Learning Environment

In the new millennium, there will be rapid increases in the applications of information technology in the teaching and learning environments. We must ensure that this technology does not impede the high quality of teaching that Queen's provides. In order to sustain a world-class position of leadership in this area, we must strive for the successful integration of information technology into university teaching practice by facilitating flexible delivery for private study, tutorials, laboratories, distance education and classroom presentation. We need to provide direction for the infrastructure support of information technology in the teaching and learning environment. In this context, the infrastructure support would involve the teaching classrooms and lab environments, the resources (technical and conceptual) to support course preparation and delivery and interaction with the students, and the administrative and financial support required to initiate and successfully implement innovations in the use of teaching and learning technologies.

All individuals with teaching responsibilities (e.g., professors, staff, graduate students) will require access to appropriate resources to make effective and efficient use of information technology for their particular mode and style of teaching delivery, and the essential assessment of student response and interaction. The development of new teaching and learning facilities, personnel resources to support pedagogically useful software and instructional techniques, and help in the creation of new teaching materials must be planned and coordinated at the institutional level. Another important part of this picture is the recognition that cost-effective use of information technology would require different models for delivery of pedagogical materials.

  • Can we make use of the same teaching material in different contexts (e.g., on campus, distance education, courses for-credit, and continuing education)?
  • What are the new roles and responsibilities of the professors, the teaching staff and the students in light of what this new technology will enable us to do?

In the near future, professors will be facing more demands to respond to the new technology-enabled teaching opportunities. Unfortunately, the barrier of time required to learn the changing technology, closely followed by the time required to create materials using these systems, prevents their widespread acceptance and use. However, many members of the teaching staff are now utilizing these new teaching tools. To successfully meet these demands, Deans, Directors and Departmental Heads should ensure appropriate evaluation, recognition and reward for new scholarly accomplishments in the creative use of information technology in teaching and learning.

In order to foster faculty knowledge of and interest in the use of technology in teaching and learning and to monitor appropriate educational developments within Queen's, the Senate Information Technology Committee recommends the establishment of an Advisory Committee on Educational Technology to provide appropriate advice on how developments in educational technology will affect teaching and learning effectiveness at Queen's.

Recommendation #9

The Vice-Principal (Academic) should establish an Advisory Committee on Educational Technology to advise faculty on how developments in educational technology might affect teaching and learning effectiveness.

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4.0 Conclusions

Information technology is an enabler, providing new approaches for supporting or enhancing certain core activities, or opening the door to entirely new initiatives. Future developments in the information technology industry can provide opportunities for enhancing the Queen's teaching, research, and working environment. The University must be in a position to participate in these opportunities.

There will be steady increases in the application of information technology in all aspects of the university workplace and learning. The Principal, Vice-Principals and Deans should encourage the development of innovation in the uses of information technologies in the academic, research and administrative areas. Queen's must sustain a position of leadership in this area, which will attract students with outstanding potential and diverse backgrounds, and strengthen an environment of exceptional research and teaching.

In the eight years since Scholar-Centred Computing was introduced to Queen's University, there have been dramatic changes. Change is inherent and expected in the technology industry, but at that time we did not foresee or account for the major changes in higher education that are now upon us, particularly the changes in government funding and the resulting budgetary constraints. Among Canadian universities, Queen's has a very well developed networking and telecommunications infrastructure, and continues to lead in many areas. Our dependency on information technology for teaching, learning, research and administrative functions has grown dramatically, particularly due to the fiscal changes of recent years. Like many organizations, however, Queen's is now faced with several key challenges that stand in the way of our being able to obtain maximum benefit from our network and information infrastructures. The Senate Information Technology Committee believes that it is imperative that these challenges and issues be addressed. Furthermore, in the new millennium, we need to be guided by a strategic plan and a vision for information technology that will help us maintain our leadership position in higher education.

Each member of the Queen's community must be satisfied with this electronic infrastructure. The University must provide adequate training and support so that innovation, creation and progress will be successful. Individuals must have the skills and knowledge necessary to appreciate how information technology can best serve them in their study and work. Individuals must contribute to the development, use and work within the infrastructure in a responsible fashion. The University must recognize individuals' legitimate rights to freedom of expression and privacy in our increasingly electronic workplace.

Equitable access, efficiency and effectiveness, and harmonization of institutional and individual requirements are the main principles on which these recommendations for the Scholar-Centred Computing Phase III are based.

Appendix - 1: Scholar-Centred Computing Review

At a conceptual level, Scholar-Centred Computing states that the primary objective becomes the delivery of effective computer-based applications and services to the workstation. The computer becomes a personal helper, assisting in information gathering, analysis, and presentation as well as a wide range of personal productivity applications. The ability to access and move information quickly and easily is essential to Scholar-Centred Computing. In such a user-centred model, a workstation or portable computer provides a convenient and easy-to-use interface, and the network provides a conduit to other systems which offer a myriad of services, information, or specialized computational abilities. The user sees and accesses the technology infrastructure through their workstation or portable computer and network connection, and is no longer limited in access to data etc. on their own computer.

In March 1990, the Senate Computing and Communications Committee published a document entitled Scholar-Centred Computing at Queen's - The Next Generation. This document represented several years of discussion and consultation with members of the University community, and has been the basis for the planning and funding of a broad range of information technology services and initiatives during the subsequent eight years. As a strategic technology plan, Scholar-Centred Computing has served us well, and many individuals and units have achieved much of the vision that it set out for Queen's at the beginning of the decade.

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Scholar-Centred Computing - Summary of Goals and Objectives

As a strategic plan, Scholar-Centred Computing identified key objectives and made recommendations for a broad range of computing and communication technologies. The plan was designed to encourage and facilitate orderly and flexible development of the Queen's University computing and information environment for the 1990's.

The plan and recommendations embraced both academic and administrative computing, as both were considered essential to the vision of Scholar-Centred Computing, and the distinction between the two was blurring. As a result, although the word scholar is a cornerstone of the strategy, its vision was intended to apply to and embrace all Queen's sectors and constituents.

Supporting diversity was recognized as a critical requirement for information technology planning and service provision. The idea was to ensure that a person's workstation provided an environment that could be tailored to the needs of the individual. The essence of the Scholar-Centred Computing vision was to strive for a distributed computing model that was adaptable to an ever-changing technology environment, and that would enable and encourage collaborative work across disciplines.

Scholar-Centred Computing - Key Recommendations

  1. Support diversity - Ensure services and support are consistent across the three workstation alternatives (Unix, Macintosh, DOS/Windows); Distribute funding and resources to support microcomputers, high-powered workstations, and central systems, so as to achieve a balance.
  2. Ensure suitable staffing resources are provided - a distributed computing framework necessitates a different staffing model than that of the mainframe environment; ensure suitable expertise is developed in specialty areas such as Unix, network management, etc.
  3. Regular expansion and improvement of the campus network - demand for both capabilities and performance were expected to increase steadily; development of both the campus network and the links to the Internet are equally critical.
  4. Ensure suitable access is provided for all constituents - while many people have their own workstation, ensure suitable labs etc. are provided for those that don't, for specialized, or very recent equipment, and for teaching or research purposes.
  5. Facilitate the use of information technologies in the Library and its services - many of the recent developments in technology will be of direct benefit to the mission and services of the University's library and its patrons; funding would be needed for increases in storage, processing power, and new software to maximize access to holdings etc
  6. Pursue central network services to maximize the investment and benefit - leverage the campus network as an asset through central backup services, common file systems, etc.
  7. Manage the transition from the mainframe computing model to a more distributed framework - redistribute funding and staffing to provide suitable support for workstation and portable computing, while preserving some resource to ensure critical central systems continue to function effectively; focus areas will be high performance computing, the administrative mainframe, and the network infrastructure.
  8. Encourage and support innovation in teaching, learning, research, and administrative work - technology can be used as an innovation enabler; funding and planning should present good opportunities for innovation, or allow the individual or group to find a better way; facilitating innovation can be achieved through seed programs or funding assistance.

Scholar-Centred Computing Phase I - Achievements

The following briefly summarizes the notable achievements of Phase I. For additional information, refer to the document Scholar Centred Computing - Continuing Development, dated March 30, 1995.

  1. Upgrades to and consolidation of Queen's academic and administrative mainframe systems and services
  2. Ongoing expansion and enhancement of the Queen's network infrastructure and links to external networks such as the Internet.
  3. Expansion, improvement and renewal of the public computing sites or labs (over 350 systems)
  4. Delivery of new services via the network such as central backup, Unix-based services such as Qlink and Jeff-Lab, various Queen's intranet servers, and enhanced dial-in or remote access
  5. Funding for network connections for faculty, and file or information servers for departments
  6. Introduction of new technologies and training in selected areas
  7. Establishment of an Instructional Technology Unit (now called the Learning Technology Unit) to provide a resource for faculty seeking to apply technology to the learning environment in courses

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Scholar-Centred Computing Phase II - Achievements

The document Scholar-Centred Computing -- Continuing Development was submitted to Senate in March 1995, as a revision to the original document, Scholar-Centred Computing, which was endorsed by Senate in March 1990. The main thrust of this second phase was to build upon the major achievements during Phase I, and to ensure that the investment that brought about these achievements was preserved. The key objectives of phase II, and the progress made in each of these areas, are summarized below.

Maintain and improve the network infrastructure

A robust, responsive network is the heart of the Scholar Centred Computing vision, and the success of the SCC plan depends on the quality and evolution of our network and its links to the rest of the world more than any other factor. Consequently, a considerable amount of planning and funding has been devoted to solidifying, expanding and enhancing the speed, reliability and services the network provides. Examples of such initiatives include:

  1. introduction of virtual switching and ATM technologies to allow better management, security and performance to be realized
  2. extension of the campus network into all University Residences buildings
  3. expansion of the campus network into the community through a partnership with a commercial network provider
  4. speed of the Queen's-Internet link has quadrupled.
  5. Participation in the national UniNet networking initiative, providing a high-speed alternate Internet link for research and numerous high-bandwidth services such as videoconferencing
  6. Expansion of the Queen's remote or dial-in access services, including the introduction of the self-funding Toll Dial-in service for more reliable and available access

Deliver on the concept of device-independent information service

The most significant information technology development in the 1990's was the arrival of the World Wide Web, and the associated web browsers, web servers, web standards etc. The Web pushed the Internet into the mainstream, to the point where it has become a household term in a matter of only a few years. For organizations like Queen's, the web also represents an enormous opportunity to deliver a range of services through a uniform interface, which is precisely what was envisioned in the early years of Scholar-Centred Computing, under the cornerstone term device independent information service. This is vital to the success of SCC, and to the fulfillment of the objective that we must support diversity, which has become very challenging in this period of diminishing resources. Microcomputers or workstations based on Microsoft Windows, Apple Macintosh or Unix operating systems are all legitimate computing platforms under Scholar-Centred Computing. Delivery of information and computational services to all three platforms is significantly enhanced and simplified by the standard interface that a mainstream web browser can provide. The web has become an important part of the foundation upon which Queen's can provide services on and off campus. The Library, for example, has fully embraced the web browser as the primary tool for accessing library resources and services, and other services units have engaged in developing web-based services.

In a similar fashion, the range and level of administrative computing services was significantly enhanced by the introduction of GQL as a common tool for accessing and analyzing institutional information and data in multiple data warehouses. Scholar-Centred Computing funding has been instrumental in the establishment of the data warehouse model and services now enjoyed by many people at Queen's.

Improve academic computing

During the past three years, academic computing has continued to migrate away from the central VM mainframe system to personal computers, Unix workstations, central Unix facilities and specialized computational systems such as the IBM SP2. Scholar-Centred Computing funding has been essential in this transition, with the following notable achievements and improvements:

  1. The Jeff-Lab Unix facility has undergone several upgrades and improvements, providing a rich academic computing facility for teaching and research.
  2. There are over 350 microcomputers and workstations in eighteen public and semi-public computing sites. Substantial annual funding for upgrades to or replacement of these systems has been a major function of Scholar-Centred Computing, benefiting faculty and students who need access to relatively current workstation computers and the network.
  3. A Graduate Student Connect initiative, much like the Faculty Connect initiative that took place during SCC Phase I, was conducted under Phase II. Twelve department participated, and 150 graduate students were provided with network connections on campus.
  4. QLINK, the student e-mail and internet service established during Phase I, has been expanded, upgraded and improved numerous times during Phase II, providing a central resource base for student services such as e-mail and personal web space. For example, the disk space allocation per student has increased tenfold since QLINK was first established
  5. The Departmental Server program continues to provide a framework of servers for departments or groups of departments, enabling departments to establish and manage web servers, share file storage and printers and offer specialized software to their students, staff and faculty.
  6. The IBM SP2 scalable parallel system for large scale data and numerical analysis provides a specialized resource for researchers, and is maintained with SCC funding.

Support information technology in the classroom

Information technology is playing an increasingly important role in teaching and learning, both within the classroom and to augment class time. SCC funding has made it possible to provide services through the Learning Technology Unit (LTU), fund the Faculty Associates program whereby a small number of faculty are funded to assist their peers with the use of technology, and provide workshops, summer LTU programs, etc. SCC funding has also been used to provide World Wide Web development resources for instructors and their courses, through student employment in web development positions.

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Success of Scholar Centred Computing Overall

The ability to deliver academic and administrative computing services at the user's preferred location and in the style of the user's preferred workstation is central to the vision of the SCC plan. It is fundamentally an efficiency issue. If we do not provide information in a consistent way across platforms, we force users to master each system that supplies the information they use. It would be counter productive for the institution as a whole to step away from the goals of the SCC plan.

Plans to refresh academic computing at all levels (i.e., the departmental servers, the public sites, and the numerically intensive computing facility) represent ongoing maintenance of the computing infrastructure and the learning environment; they are an essential investment for education and research at Queen's. Our students cannot take part in the information age unless we provide them with first-class facilities, and we cannot compete as a research-intensive university without adequate support for resources such as high performance computing, digital document delivery, and ongoing network expansion. We believe that information technology can improve the quality of the learning process, and can be leveraged to improve distance education offerings.

To date, Scholar-Centred Computing has been remarkably successful. Its vision has made it possible for Queen's to provide services such as the Library's on-line catalogue, QCARD and QLINK. It has allowed us to participate fully in the broad benefits of the World Wide Web, and develop an effective framework of data warehouses for decision support and analysis. Moreover, it has provided an infrastructure that has permitted our faculty, staff and students to keep pace with the rapidly changing technology landscape, and thus positions Queen's to take full advantage of the developments yet to come.

It is important that further planning consider all constituencies, and ensure that participation in the new networked environment be as widespread as possible. Failure to build on the success of Scholar-Centred Computing will compromise eight years of work and the major investment underlying it. Queen's ability to recruit and retain the highest quality students and faculty will be severely eroded if we do not invest in further development of Scholar-Centred Computing at a similar if not greater level than in the past.

Appendix - 2: Problems - Today's and Tomorrow's

During the past three or four years, there have been a number of fundamental changes in the use of information technology in higher education and research:

  • Information technology has become mainstream - it can be used effectively in virtually any discipline and for many scholarly activities.
  • Electronic communication and information search and retrieval are used as much as word-processing, the mainstay of computing in the 1980's. The Internet and the rapid growth and acceptance of the world wide web as a global communications framework, represents a milestone as significant as the invention of the printing press.
  • Being technology-literate has become a standard requirement for teaching, research, and working in just about any discipline, and is expected of graduates from most university programs.
  • Opportunities for replacing, upgrading, or repairing computing equipment are more infrequent, if not gone altogether.
  • Faculty and staff are enduring much greater workloads, as the result of downsizing and workforce reduction in the past few years.

The general success of Scholar-Centred Computing has given rise to problems that must be grappled with before Queen's can flourish as a technology-enabled institution in the new millennium.

The vision of Scholar-Centred Computing has been achieved to a considerable extent by many faculties, schools, departments, and individuals. Unfortunately, there are more than a handful of departments, groups or individuals who have not kept pace with the changes in the past eight years, and are still unable to realize most of the benefits of that vision. In general, all but a few are in a position to keep up with the relentless change of the computing and networking industries, and the desire to exploit new technologies as they are introduced. This is a systemic problem faced by many organizations today, and not just those in the education sector. The process must become one of selective deployment of new technologies that will make a difference, rather than simply because they're there.

There is a clear need to achieve a better balance between developing and maintaining a useful and reliable technology infrastructure, and to facilitate innovation and application of new enabling technologies, as they appear over the horizon. Many organizations are struggling with maintaining this balance between ensuring a stable base and tackling new initiatives that have the potential to make a difference in how effective the organization can become.

Through Scholar-Centred Computing initiatives and ongoing core funding, Queen's has implemented, maintained, and advanced its centrally-administered networking framework, which while far from ultimate, is still envied by other universities. The network has replaced the mainframe computer as the cornerstone of the information technology infrastructure, but only in the central planning and budgetary focus. The distributed computing model consists of three key elements: the network, the workstation (or laptop) computer, and the person using the networked computer. While there is some limited budgetary provision for maintaining and upgrading the network, there is in really no central planning or budgetary structure for the provision and renewal of personal computers and training or skill development for the faculty, staff, and students. As the pace of change increases, as does the need to conduct renewal more frequently, the lack of a cohesive strategy in these areas is becoming a greater problem, and prevents many Queen's people and units from taking advantage of effective new technologies.

For planning and budgeting purposes, there are four key areas to focus on: the centrally provided infrastructure, the workstation computing device, training and re-training, and development.

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Central IT Infrastructure

The central IT infrastructure consists of the campus backbone network, building wiring and distribution systems, the link(s) to the Internet, the mainframe systems, centrally managed servers, and certain departmental servers funded through Scholar-Centred Computing in the past. It is important to consider both academic and administrative IT resources, as the lines between them continue to blur, and many faculty, staff and students are dependent upon both. The issues faced in this first area include:

  • renewal of aging or malfunctioning equipment some of which has outlived its expected lifetime

  • permitting further expansion to address increasing demand or the need for better quality, or both

  • providing new or specialized technologies to stimulate and facilitate higher levels of research, learning and administrative effectiveness

  • provision of these base services to all sectors, groups or units

The fourth of these issues is particularly important if all members of the Queen's community must have access to these base infrastructure resources to fulfill their role within the University.

Workstation Computing Infrastructure

There are four categories of workstation deployment or use to consider: administrative or office use, public access locations (i.e. public computing labs or sites), faculty members and students. The most fundamental issues faced by the University boil down to:

  • provision mechanisms - how do people acquire their personal workstation of computer
  • renewal strategies (or lack thereof) - computers typically last between two and four years

Other than the public computing sites, where a structured renewal program funded by Scholar-Centred Computing has been in place for many years, the acquisition of workstation computer technology has been based almost entirely on distributed decision making and an assortment of funding sources. More often than not, these acquisitions were driven more by opportunity than by a cohesive planning process. Of course, in numerous instances, limited funds left the unit or individual with few options and often some key selection criteria were disregarded.

Another identifiable deficiency in the typical workstation computer acquisition process is no cohesive mechanism to re-deploy used but still functional computers in other areas of the University where the class of machine needed is lower.

Training and Retraining

For the most part, the University has not invested adequately in the third and most important element of the distributed computing model the person using the system. With several notable exceptions, very little training, and almost no retraining is available to an individual to allow them to achieve a level of comfort and proficiency that permits them to use the technology to its maximum potential. Over time, providing training in how to use computers and networks has traditionally been the responsibility of Information Technology Services. More recently, the Library has developed a training program that is satisfying a clear need, and the Applied Science Faculty have created curriculum elements that ensure their students have above average understanding and competency.

Most students, many faculty, and numerous staff members have had little opportunity to attend courses or use self-directed learning resources. Regardless of where the burden of responsibility falls, the University cannot expect to introduce new technologies without suitable investment and allowances for appropriate and timely training. Department heads and administrators must appreciate the folly in providing a staff member with a $2,500 computer, and not arranging training or providing release time to acquire the necessary training.

Development and Innovation

To focus all our energy, funding, and attention on achieving a more desirable level of stability and proficiency in the existing distributed computing infrastructure, and ignore new developments that might facilitate innovation or improvements in efficiency or effectiveness, would be dangerous. Exploring new technologies to assess which have a place at Queen's or will provide some benefit, demands funding and a commitment of peoples' time. To forego this will most likely mean we will be unable or poorly positioned to accommodate or encourage innovation.

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