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Essentiality: The mission of the Office of Academic Information Technologies (AIT) at Iowa State is to support campus academics through information technology (IT). It seems in the “information age” of the research university that this mission truly is an essential element, especially in light of ISU’s institutional mission of enhancing learning, promoting discovery, and engaging constituents. Indeed, this mission cannot be accomplished currently without a robust IT infrastructure.
Quality: In rankings based on computing resources and services available to undergraduates, Iowa State was ranked 20th in the most recent (AIT, 2000) research university category of Yahoo’s “Most Wired” colleges and universities. While critics have questioned the usefulness of these types of ratings suggesting that thoroughness of application is really what is measured, it does show that the quality of information technology at ISU has been noticed in a peer rated study. Internally, where critics are usually the most vociferous, students, faculty, and staff have had both praise and disapproval. The harshest criticism of late have been the addition of a Microsoft Licensing Agreement which students believe to be a waste of their student fees (Iowa State Daily, 2002). Although quality, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder, the quality of IT as measured by peers, students, faculty, and staff is at least average and probably above average within Iowa State’s peer institutions.
Availability: AIT has taken pride over the years in giving students, faculty, and staff almost unlimited access to the university’s IT resources. The Durham Center for Computation and Telecommunications has been one of only a handful of buildings on campus open 24 hours, seven days a week. The supply of open computers within the Durham Center has usually outpaced demand except for small rush periods during the semester. Accessibility for disabled clients has also been a priority. Recent budget cuts have taken their toll on this availability however. During the last year, the center has reduced its open hours from 24 to 17 on weekdays and 14 on weekends, more closely mimicking the library’s open hours policy.
Another limitation has been levied upon a few heavy Internet users in the dormitories (Iowa State Daily, 2001). Because of this heavy use, at a cost to other, less intense users, a limit has been placed on the amount of information that can be downloaded from dorm computers.
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Need or Demand: At the current time, the demand for IT resources at Iowa State is huge and AIT is the unit responsible for supplying that demand. Internet usage alone doubles almost yearly. Email accounts, once viewed as a seldom-used benefit are now a requirement to keep up in academia. An outage of even 10 minutes has AIT phones ringing off the hook. With the demand demonstrated, it is also useful to note that the makeup of the demand is changing. While fewer students need to use an on campus lab because more students own their own computers, the way the students use their computers is changing dramatically. For instance, wireless connections will allow students access anywhere on campus.
Efficiency: Recent budget deficits insured the efficiency of AIT programs and services. Each new round of reductions begins a search for those areas that are least critical to the AIT mission of supporting campus academics through information technology. Open hours are one example. Even though the availability to resources is lower, the efficiency of how those existing open hours are used is much higher. Students served per hour and staff to student service is much higher than during the open 24 hour policy. Other services are comparable. Cost benefit analysis would show better efficiency but lower availability and choice to the AIT client however.
Outcomes: At first glance it would seem that outcome analysis would show an AIT clientele very happy with the level and quality of service provided to them. But is this the case? Should the programs AIT provides be continued based on “demonstrable positive influence on students” as Schuh (1996) suggests? There is no answer to that question as long as no quantifiable data exists. It should be a priority of AIT and the university to collect, analyze, and act on such an assessment.
Academic Information Technologies. (2000, April 17). Iowa State on "Most Wired" List. The Academic Information Technologies Newsletter. Retrieved March 4, 2002, from http://www.ait.iastate.edu/newsletter/200007/article9.html
McGrath, T. (2001, January 19). Policy limiting Internet use goes into effect. Iowa State Daily.
Paseka, N. (2002, February 21). GSB votes against expansion of Microsoft contract. Iowa State Daily.
Schuh, J.H. (1996). Planning and finance. In S.R. Komives, D.B. Woodard, Jr., and Associates). Student services: A handbook for the profession (pp. 458-475) (3rd ed.). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass)