An Information Technology Plan for the School of Education, University of Tasmania.

This plan was created in July-September 1996. It spans the period 1996-1999.

Summary of main recommendations:

  1. Adoption of minimum equipment standards for staff and students by end of 1997.
  2. Utilisation of digital technologies for first 50% of course delivery to facilitate distance/remote and flexible delivery by end of 1998.
  3. Electronic enrolment, information kiosks, speech input and automatic assessment to be piloted in '97-'98.
  4. Staff to be offered a lease-back contract to facilitate adoption of laptops.
  5. Equal reliance on PC and Mac platforms by end of 1998.
  6. Support for student personal computing - laptop docking stations and remote access facilities.
  7. Equal investment in staff and student computing resources in all departments.
  8. Beautification of student computing facilities to encourage a relaxed mood for advanced study.
  9. Staff workload equivalents to be determined for flexible delivery modes.
  10. Individual staff training to be agreed in combination with delivery mode assignments.
  11. Pilot marketing of courses by remote/flexible delivery to commence in Tasmania in 1997.

Current IT resources - hardware, software, liveware.

The School of Education has invested heavily in information technology equipment. Well over $1 million has been spent on hardware, and probably close to that figure on software if normal ratios are applied. This section briefly describes the sort of equipment held, and its disposition.

In terms of financial investment in hardware, an analysis of the asset register has been done. This should be taken as a guide only, since:

Table 1 - Original cost of computing equipment, and its disposition

NewnhamBurnie HobartSchool
Students$352,796 $0 $102,107 $454,903
Staff$149,393 $6,257 $202,549 $358,199
PC$58,162 $2,088 $16,878 $77,128
Mac$375,232 $2,980 $229,891 $608,103
Other/ancillary$68,795 $1,189 $57,887 $127,871
Desktop$365,162 $5,068 $224,564 $594,794
Laptop$68,232 $0 $22,205 $90,437
$502,189 $6,257 $304,656 $813,102

Table 1 shows that over $800,000 worth of processor units, scanners, printers etc has been purchased. Overall, 56% of expenditure has been on equipment for students, though there is a wide disparity in this proportion between the Newnham and Hobart based Departments of the School.

Table 2 - Number of processor units and their types

NewnhamBurnie HobartSchool
Students1330 35168
Staff483 55106
PC241 429
Mac1341 69204
Other/ancillary23 11741
Desktop1392 68209
Laptop190 524
1813 90274

Out of this investment, the School has obtained 233 computers and 41 other pieces of equipment, such as printers, scanners, networking hubs and the like. 87% of the computers are Macintoshes. 10% are laptops. 73% of the Newnham stock is for student use, whilst only 40% of the Hobart equipment is for student use.

Table 3 - Cost per item

Newnham Burnie Hobart School
Students $2,653 n/a $2,917 $2,708
Staff $3,112 $2,086 $3,683 $3,379
PC $2,423 $2,088 $4,220 $2,660
Mac $2,800 $2,980 $3,332 $2,981
Other/ancillary $2,991 $1,189 $3,405 $3,119
Desktop $2,627 $2,534 $3,302 $2,846
Laptop $3,591 n/a $4,441 $3,768

Table 3 shows the mean cost of a processor for students is $2,708, whilst staff presumably get better equipment (mean $3,379). Macintoshes cost about $321 more than PCs, though it could probably be argued that this represents similar value because PCs generally require additional cards to obtain the same degree of functionality (for networking, sound etc.). Desktop machines appear to cost less than laptops, though this calculation has been done on processor alone, and laptops include about $400 worth of screen and keyboard. Even allowing for this, laptops cost about 16% more than desktop computers.

Questions from this analysis emerge:

Change themes for the plan period.

Historical trends

Since the advent of the desktop computer at the end of the 1970's, this technology has been increasingly adopted in many spheres of human life. This increasing use of computers has been matched by a rapid development of the underlying technology. In effect, the computing power for a given cost has risen at about 150% per annum. Current trends are still proceeding at a similar rate.

To take advantage of this, computer technology can provide powerful ways for teaching and learning. Combined with this increase in computing power has been increasing software sophistication. Therefore, applications which previously required a large mainframe computer are now run on a machine that fits into a briefcase or pocket.

Initially, personal computers were available from a multitude of producers. IBM opened up the design of personal computers by making the plans for its PC freely available. A host of clone manufacturers emerged, and are still making upgraded copies of similar machines. 80% of the computers in the world correspond to this PC pattern. The next most popular design, from manufacturer Apple, occupies about 10% of the market.

One trend has been for manufacturers from these different backgrounds to differentiate their products more by the operating system software than the physical hardware. Therefore later model PCs and Macintoshes use the same processor (the PowerPC chip). Also, memory chips and disk drives are increasingly interchangeable between types of computer. However, the great preponderance of PCs has affected the range of software that is developed. This trend is already firmly entrenched, whilst the fusion of hardware platforms is still a long way off.

One good trend has been the recent emergence of a range of applications which are identical on both major platforms. Examples of these are Word 6, PowerPoint and Excel from Microsoft, and Netscape from Netscape Communications. Files produced on any platform with these applications, can be read on the other major platform. This means that the platform becomes irrelevant when the bulk of work in an organisation uses these kinds of applications.

It would therefore make good sense for a good proportion of our computers to be replaced by PCs. This would make no difference to the bulk of our operations, but would make it possible for students and staff to access a far wider range of applications. The implications would be some training requirements for staff, and restraint in the proliferation of sub-types would be beneficial. This would assist staff who run off-shore courses through the internet with interstate and overseas students.

Connection trends

The original desktop computers operated independently. In contrast, mainframe computers often had connections with fleets of user terminals, and with one another. Gradually these backgrounds have merged, until it has become recognised that most computers are more useful if they can exchange information with others.

The reasons that have emerged for this are many. They include the use of computers for email (time and distance independent exchanging of textual messages) and for accessing the world-wide-web. Also, the transfer of files which can include new applications, relies upon networking. Increasingly, new research ideas and data are shared using computer networking.

Slow speed networks are suitable for short text messages. Increasingly, students and staff have felt constrained by this limitation, and use graphics, sounds and movies in their exchanges. Desk-top video is another application which relies upon high speed networking.

Currently, Education computer laboratories are connected into the University network with UTP cables. These are capable of delivering 100Mbps, but are in fact delivering much slower speeds because of the limitations of the current hubs they are wired into. However, many staff computers are still linked with AppleTalk cables, which can barely provide 250kbps. There is an urgent need to upgrade these later networking points.

Personal trends

As computers have become used in more aspects of human life, they have entered the home in vast numbers. And for information workers such as students and lecturers, this leads to a need to share data between home and workplace computers. For small amounts of data, this can be done using floppy disks, or on a dynamic basis with larger files, using modem connections.

However, this division between home and work is increasingly arduous. (Colleagues in other institutions frequently interact with others and students from home beyond working hours). It requires additional technical skills in both places to ensure both remain compatible. As datafiles get bigger, it becomes harder to exchange them using floppy disks. A fusion of the two regimes seems inevitable, as computing becomes more personal.

There are several approaches to this personalisation of computing. One approach being used by students is to centralise their data on the fileserver. This means that any computer on the University network can be connected to the fileserver, and turned into their 'own machine'. This approach requires good security on the server, and reliable backup service.

Another approach being trialed by some staff is to carry a laptop wherever they need computing. This means that intellectual resources can be used at home, in the office, in the lecture theatre, or at an interstate conference. This requires good physical security, and the wide availability of networking sockets or wireless networking points.

It is of course possible for both approaches to be combined.

Flexible delivery trends.

The University is responding to the needs of students by offering courses on a more flexible basis. Course material is distributed electronically, and some assessments are offered automatically. Some staff are producing sophisticated multi-media systems to deliver learning activities. This can be effectively used to promote independent learning for students. These require significantly more powerful computers. RAM upgrades may help to upgrade some of the existing stock.

Another aspect of these multi-media learning materials is the inclusion of audio to supplement text and graphics. Current shared laboratories and offices are not designed to cope with higher ambient nose levels. In addition, spoken input to computers is now reaching maturity, and is replacing the keyboard for people who find them difficult. Desktop video will add to the level of ambient noise in computer use.

The technology needs to be deployed where there is a strong argument for it improving efficiency, delivery of service to clients (especially students) or the quality of job satisfaction. Electronic enrolments may be one such application worthy of consideration, as might be a series of student information kiosks for timetabling and other information.

Implications for staff and students.

Staff are exploring ways of using modern computer technology to facilitate teaching, learning and course promotion. As a result, some inquiries about our courses seen on the WEB have come from interstate and overseas. Staff have already started using some of these flexible delivery techniques. For instance they have already in 1996:

While several staff in the faculty of education have pioneered impressive academic activities by making full use of modern computer technology to work in a changing world, many other staff are interested in exploring its potential and need assistance in understanding some technical and instructional aspects involved. For instance, the knowledge and skills required are:

Implied changes to current facilities and practices.

As indicated in the previous section, it is obvious that modern computer technology has started to become an important tool for some staff in the Faculty of Education at this university. Depending on their level of computer literacy and desire to experiment with computers, particularly with multimedia and hypermedia, there are implied changes for staff to engage in:

1)- Producing digital materials :

2)- Communicating with students electronically: As each student has their own email address, interaction with students individually or in groups can be quick, effective and even more 'personal' than the traditional notes on a noticeboard or 'waiting for the next class'. Email contact and conferencing can be used to supplement face-to-face teaching. It is therefore important for staff to be aware of different functions and relative advantages of internet-based communication for teaching and learning.

3)- Automation of assessment: Essay , test and final examination are the traditional assessment methods. Computer technology can provide staff facilities to maintain these methods of assessment but make them less time-consuming and more secure in terms of assessment and feedback. Assignments can be submitted via the internet and feedback can be recorded accordingly. The greatest problem with test and examination via the internet is the question of control (or simply cheating). Students can help each other with the test without the awareness of the examiner.

4)- Computer-based research: Apart from statistics packages used for data analysis in research, modern computer technology provides stimulating facilities for literature search, research inquiry and contact, publishing, questionnaire etc. Staff should be assisted to make full use of these facilities to enhance their research profiles and participate in an electronically-based research culture.

5)- Computer security: Computer security awareness should be the first introduction to staff before a computer is made available to them. Unfortunately, this does not happen in many institutions. Lack of computer security can be extremely costly to users as well as their institutions. A computer security guideline and policy should be drawn. Staff should be introduced to aspects of computer security which are relevant to their working context.

6)- Flexible delivery: Adoption of many of these techniques will obviate the need for students to be tied to a specific timetable or schedule. This can have serious implications for the way in which the work-load for staff is spread through the year, and can open up opportunities for students to study at times and in places that suit them best. For example, a student may elect to do 3 units in 3 successive weeks in May, or utilise this flexibility in other ways.

A detailed program for IT development.

The following IT development program is suggested for implementation in the next three years:

1997 Program

Minimum computing equipment recommendations by end of 1997:

ProcessorRAM Hard DiscServer Space Network connection
for Staff68040

OR PowerPC 605

OR Pentium

8M

16M

12M

200Mbytes 50M10Mbits/s UTP
for Students68030

OR PowerPC 605

OR i486

4M

12M

8M

200Mbytes 10M10Mbits/s UTP

1998 Program

1999 Program