September 11, 2012

Cornell Professors, Students Provide Input for New IT Plan

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More than 300 professors, faculty and administrators gathered for an all-day conference Tuesday to give their input on the University’s strategic plan for information technology. Once created, the plan will guide the evolution of the field at Cornell over the next five years.

The purpose of the IT strategic plan is to create a long-term vision for the University’s IT department, identify priorities for the University’s budget and develop career plans for IT staff, according to the University’s website. Although the University published a strategic plan to guide improvement in other departments in 2010, it is still developing its plan to strengthen Cornell technology.

The purpose of Tuesday’s conference was to include the Cornell community’s concerns, goals and ideas in the plan, according to Ted Dodds, the University’s chief information officer and vice president for information technologies.

“My goal is to make sure that all of you, today, have an opportunity for your voices to be heard,” Dodds said. “I don’t think that an IT strategic plan can happen without having all of the voices of the community heard.”

Dodds said the University, as a whole, needs to start thinking about its future in the technological arena.

“I am one of those people that rolls their eyes when I hear ‘strategic plan,’” he said. “But I actually think that we are well-positioned today to really start thinking … a few years down the road where we want to be with IT, how we want it to be different and how we should interweave our aspirational goals for IT into Cornell’s strategic plan that the University published back in 2010.”

Prof. John Henderson ’67, anthropology, said he was initially skeptical about the idea of holding a conference to help develop the IT strategic plan.

“My expectations coming in [to the conference] were essentially that this would be a bureaucratic exercise to validate something that was already decided. The first presentation makes me think that that will be less … true than I thought,” Henderson said.

Henderson said one of the main challenges in developing the strategic plan is to adequately address the concerns of a community with a wide variety of IT needs.

“The problem is … figuring out how to keep several hundred faculty members doing different things happy,” he said.

University Ombudsman Charles Walcott ’59 said the University needs to focus on creating an organized system for all of its technology.

“IT affects everybody at the University one way or another, from the libraries to the classrooms, the administration … I think the great issue that the University is struggling with is how to organize this,” Walcott said.

Walcott also highlighted the importance of integrating technology with education.

“We need to find ways of involving technology in instruction and make things more efficient,” he said. “[Technology] is all a changing game.”

Shami Chatterjee Ph.D. ’03, a research associate in the Department of Astronomy, said that the conference presented an opportunity for Cornellians to gather to discuss the future of IT at the University.

“It’s overdue, because our data needs and resource needs have been exploding,” Chatterjee said. “It is past time for a centralized conversation about what is going to happen.”

During the conference, Dodds proposed connecting Cornell’s satellite campuses –– such as the New York City tech campus  –– with the Ithaca campus via technology.

“We have this huge opportunity in New York City with the tech campus to actually invent new things, new ways of doing IT … that could then somewhat be retrofitted back into the home campus,” he said.

Dodds also said that, in the future, Cornell will have a chance to “completely rethink the way we do IT support” by having its Ithaca campus, NYC schools and several academic units in the five boroughs of the city collaborate with each other.

Dodds also highlighted some problems facing the University’s IT services in classrooms.

“We know from our faculty survey that the basic classroom technology infrastructure we have today is not meeting our needs. It is inconsistent and varies from room to room. It is difficult to us … if it breaks, we are not sure who fixes it,” he said. “So there is a huge need … for us to make some investments in classroom technology.”

Dodds also said that students and professors have encountered difficulties using Blackboard, the University’s online education software.

“We know that the current version of … Blackboard is hard for people to use,” he said. “In fact, feasibility of Cornell systems is one of the key goals we have to work at. It is too hard for people to use some of our systems relative to what their expectations are and should be.”

Original Author: Jonathan Swartz

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