Volume 10, Number 12 February 21, 2003

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Campus ICT Plan a comprehensive initiative

Assoc. V-P Rick Bunt
Assoc. V-P
Rick Bunt

If anyone doubted that computers are now fundamental to nearly all functions at today's universities, Rick Bunt presented an overwhelmingly convincing argument Feb. 12.

The Associate Vice-President for Information & Communications Technology (ICT) unveiled his draft foundational document on ICT at the U of S to about 75 people at the noon-hour session in Place Riel Theatre.

And he left little room for anyone to think ICT isn't a core service that supports every University operation - from teaching, learning and research to business services, student services and administration.

Bunt's draft document gave a two-pronged message:

On the one hand the U of S is putting forward a lot of time, effort and money to address the need for more and better ICT infrastructure and support for faculty, staff and students.

But on the other hand, he said, much more needs to be done, and quickly, if the U of S is to provide the support needed for effective teaching, learning and research.

"If we are going to charge national-norm tuition, we have to provide national-norm services," he told the town hall audience.

And while gearing up everything from the wiring in buildings and server infrastructure to good, current desktop computers will cost a lot of money, Bunt said, "In the contemporary university, ICT is an investment, not an expense.

"Returns on that investment are not in savings of time or money, but in new services, new opportunities and the image we project of the U of S for students, faculty, staff and customers. We will not meet national and international standards in teaching, research or service unless we provide national- and international-standard ICT," Bunt said.

His presentation noted the U of S is increasing its investment in computer-related systems, and "external funding is helping us in some critical areas." The provincial government is supporting the extensive development of web-based courses, and both the provincial and federal governments are supporting the major $15-million USR-net project currently carrying out a major upgrading to the University's wiring and computer infrastructure.

He said the University's goals for ICT should be to:

  • Have ICT-literate students, faculty and staff.
  • Develop an ICT-rich environment for teaching, learning and research.
  • Have up-to-date systems to support business processes.
  • Offer a wide range of online services.
  • Have a reliable ICT infrastructure.
  • And provide reliable support for all users.

Bunt noted the developments in ICT won't all come from central administration.

"We have a federated model - ICT is a shared responsibility."

In the student computing area, he said there are now 1,230 student computing spots across campus, there are growing sites for wireless connection for student laptop computers to the campus network and Internet, classrooms are being fitted with multimedia consoles, and distance education methods like satellite courses and dozens of web-based courses are being mounted, the latter with extra provincial Technology Enhanced Learning (TEL) funding.

On support for research, Bunt said campus scientists need extensive and reliable electronic communications tools like e-mail, data transfer, video-conferencing, and other systems.

He said while high-performance computing isn't currently provided centrally, his area is supporting some of this type of service in Computing Science and Physics.

Bunt said the general system support for staff at their desktops across campus is extensive.

"We support more than 30,000 e-mail accounts for students, faculty, staff, sessional lecturers, and alumni - and we process over 40,000,000 e-mail messages per year," he said.

Right now there are more than 7,200 computers in more than 40 buildings at the U of S connected to the campus network.

These are all supported with things like e-mail SPAM blocking, constant virus scanning, and measures to prevent Internet-based attacks.

Bunt said he thinks work needs to be done to make desktop computing more consistent across campus, and also to develop more preparation to manage the risks to the campus computer network though things like floods, fires, system failures, and attacks.

At the town hall session, Council Budget Committee Chair Bernard Laarveld asked where the money will come from for such major computer support. Bunt replied that many of these initiatives are already underway, but added that he would hope the University "could possibly be spending some more, and we will be coming to the Budget Committee with proposals."

Acting Provost Ken Coates told the town hall meeting that this draft foundational document is "a starting point", and the document will be presented to Council for its consideration and approval.

For more information, contact communications.office@usask.ca

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