X. Strategic Issues: Information Technology

X.  Information Technology

Within Western’s academic and cultural environment, there is perhaps no area in which change is occurring as rapidly as in the development of  information technology (IT).  As a research- intensive institution committed to innovation, it is vital that the University work to develop and maintain the infrastructure and support services necessary to take full advantage of the opportunities provided by new developments in this field.  Given its widely recognized potential for enhancing capabilities in teaching, research, and administration, IT can and must be fully engaged in all areas where it will enable, facilitate and extend our academic mission.

For our students, advances in information technology have already provided the means for enhancing learning opportunities, whether in the classroom, through distance courses, computer laboratories, or individual access points in academic buildings and residences. In recent years, Western has committed significant resources to upgrading instructional technology, by improving on- and off-campus network access, installing classroom computers and data projectors, providing connectivity for students at each seat, expanding technology for access in the Libraries, and in the construction of a number of general use computer laboratories. It is essential that the University continue to upgrade its capabilities in this area and to provide faculty, staff, and students with the support required to make maximum use of such facilities.  While recognizing that the responsibility for and control of the application of instructional technology must rest with the academic units involved, the University must further encourage and support the development of new and innovative course delivery methods throughout the institution, such as through the selective mandatory use of laptop computers in the classroom or the integration of wireless technologies into the campus network. Through judicious applications of new information technologies enabling broad access to University facilities, Western will be able to extend itself as an academic resource throughout and beyond Southwestern Ontario.

Information technology has also changed the face of research and scholarship at Western.  Evolution in the management, storage, analysis, and retrieval of information, has led to a tremendous increase in the use of technology-enabled methods of research in all fields of academic inquiry and, indeed, given rise to entirely new fields of inquiry, such as research on the human interaction with the new technology and on the pedagogy of on-line learning.  An explosion of scholarly publication has taken place in on-line journals, particularly in the science-technology-medicine sector. Indeed, electronic publication has compressed the lengthy and complex process of manuscript submission, review, editing and hard-copy publishing in peer-review journals and also facilitated an expansion of self-publication. This evolution has occurred against a background of escalating costs for printed materials and a consequent loss of purchasing power, which in the past has forced Western’s Libraries to reduce acquisitions and to cancel subscriptions to costly print-based academic journals.  The University must maximize the capacities of its technological infrastructure to ensure access to this wealth of information and scholarship for all members of the academic community, either from central facilities such as the Libraries, or from the individual scholar’s desktop.

The opportunities and challenges presented by new information technology also present themselves in administrative areas such as student and alumni records, human resources, financial management, and advancement.  The introduction of the PeopleSoft system has in fact already revolutionized the workplace for faculty, staff and administrators in all units across the University.  Despite the challenges, Western has undertaken this major project with a degree of success exemplary among North American universities. However, its final implementation will be vitally dependent upon the University’s ability to invest selectively in upgrades designed to improve the system, and to offer support and training to all staff so that they may become thoroughly familiar with the new technology and its capabilities.  This will involve not only translating existing processes to new formats, but also encouragement and support for fundamental changes in administrative practices and procedures designed to achieve optimal efficiency. 

The enabling role of information technology in both academic and administrative areas is integral to the development of the research-intensive university.  To ensure access to and effective use of IT at state-of-the-art levels across the institution, it is vital that Western continue to invest selectively in its IT infrastructure. The University must also establish clear directions for future IT development in innovative areas which will allow faculty, staff, and students to achieve the highest level of success in their learning and working environments. While this will require careful central planning, as in most areas of University operations, an appropriate balance must also be sought between centralized responsibilities and decentralized needs, objectives and cultures within the units.  It will also be a key responsibility of the University to ensure that the security of access and confidentiality of personal information is appropriately safeguarded.

Our Commitments:

13.  Western will continue to integrate information technology in appropriate and cost-effective ways into the teaching, research, and administrative activities of all who study and work in our learning environment.  Our University community will:

13.1  Maintain the central responsibility of Information Technology Services to plan, maintain and coordinate the growth and development of campus-wide IT infrastructure, including wireless network technologies, in consultation with existing IT infrastructure units within the Faculties and the broader community of IT users;

13.2  Encourage the development and use of instructional technology where academically appropriate, while retaining responsibility for course and program content within the academic units;

13.3  Encourage the development of undergraduate and graduate on-line programs where criteria for quality, demand and support can clearly be met;

13.4  Maintain its commitment to a technologically capable and sophisticated learning environment on the campus through continued investment in classroom upgrading, and the consolidation of resources among key service providers such as the Libraries, the Instructional Technology Resource Centre, and the Educational Development Office;

13.5  Expand opportunities for faculty to develop skills in teaching with instructional technology and recognize these accomplishments in the evaluation process;

13.6  Pursue the national Digital Library initiative and the Canadian National Site Licensing Project to ensure broad and appropriate access to materials across the full range of available formats as part of Western’s integral mission in research and scholarship; pursue opportunities to collaborate with other Ontario and Canadian universities and all levels of government in the development of shared, technology-based academic resources and initiatives;

13.7  In consultation with individual researchers, Faculties and units, and where appropriate, provide central coordination for major installations of research technology infrastructure;             work with grant applicants and grantees to maximally leverage investments in IT infrastructure across campus;

13.8  Ensure that information about the capabilities and services available through the University’s IT infrastructure is widely disseminated; work toward improving access and efficiency in Western’s newly acquired administrative information systems and ensure that work processes centrally and in the units reflect the advantages and opportunities provided by the new systems; pursue a policy of ongoing enhancement and upgrading of administrative systems software;

13.9  Provide opportunities for staff training to ensure optimum effectiveness and productivity in the use of new administrative information systems.