Virginia Tech Report: CNI's Assessing the Academic Networked Environment Project

Article excerpt

Virginia Tech is one of nine institutions participating in CNI's Assessing the Academic Networked Environment Project, which has been developed to field test measures of the impact of networks and networked information resources on higher education institutions. Some of the specific issues that the institutions are addressing include: access to and use of networked information resources and services affecting teaching and learning, how and where users connect to the network, frequency of use of information resources on the library web, effectiveness of electronic help services compared to print or in person help services, and annual information technology expenditures on the campus. The project will result in an annotated compendium of the assessment measures that were tested in the course of this project, including commentary on their utility and value, and a description of the methodology used to collect and analyze the data for specific measures.

In recent times most institutions of higher education have had to reconsider policies and procedures in the face of close scrutiny by the public at large. Traditions such as tenure, shared governance, and the focus on conventional degree programs are being challenged and often modified as a result of pressure from governing boards and state legislators. Rising costs and declining budgets demand increased efficiency while changing demographics require programs that are responsive to a more diverse population of learners. The result is that academia is being compelled to operate more like industry. Trustees and governors mandate greater efficiency, clearer goals, and oversight procedures, such as post- tenure review processes and proficiency standards. Reductions in state support at a number of public universities combined with additional regulation are leading a renegotiation of institutional roles as state agencies. Both the benefits and constraints that state support imposes are being reconsidered in light of new economic realities. And, while technology is not the cause of these phenomena, computing and telecommunications technology (the network) is perceived by many to be the vehicle that will enable higher education to respond to its critics and garner sufficient revenue to remain viable.

Challenged not only by participation in the CNI Assessing the Academic Networked Environment Project but also by the need to demonstrate accountability in the environment described above, Virginia Tech's Information Systems project participants submitted the following preliminary plan for evaluating various aspects of our network activities and services. The benefits that we expected to gain from this process are the:

* development of systematic, regular assessment techniques;

* collection of baseline data;

* evolution of longitudinal data collection;

* establishment of a collaborative relationship among disparate IS units;

* improvement in planning and decision-making ability; and

* opportunity to work with colleagues at other institutions.

Blacksburg, Virginia-Virginia Tech Technology Infrastructure

Virginia Tech's computing environment is distributed; all resident students and most faculty and staff have access to a data connection, and off-campus students can access the network through the campus modem pool. Most students, faculty, and staff have personal computers which they use for e-mail, WWW, word processing, administrative tasks, and computation. There are public computer labs on campus, and some departments have computer labs for special applications, but most computing is done from the user's home or office. There are no "shell" accounts or computer clusters, so each user requires a TCP/IP connection at his desktop. About half the residence halls and most of the faculty and staff offices are wired for 10BaseT Ethernet. The rest use SLIP or PPP to access e-mail, Web pages, and other networked resources. …