FROM THE EDITOR
TERRY R. RAKES, Decision Line Editor, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University
In the last issue, we announced our plans to begin publishing Decision Line on Internet along with our printed version. While those of us who have Internet access and use it regularly probably take that access for granted, many institutions have been slow to provide widespread access. In the February 23, 1994 issue of the Chronicle of Higher Education, Thomas J. DeLoughry reports that ■in higher education■where the Internet got its start as a reasearch network 25 years ago■many are still wondering what all the fuss is about.■ Following is a reprint of that article.
UNCONNECTED HIGH NETWORK COSTS AND LOW INTEREST KEEP MANY OFF THE INTERNET
by Thomas J. DeLoughry, Reprinted from the Chronicle of Higher Education (February 23, 1994)
There can be no doubt that the Internet is hot.
Numerous articles about it have popped up in local newspapers and national magazines in the last year. Vice-President Gore is using it to field questions from the public. And bookstore shelves are straining under the weight of new books about it.
Most of the attention is driven by the burgeoning interest in the Internet among people in business, who constitute the fastest-growing group of users. Many of them have been drawn to the global web of networks in hopes of preparing their companies for the futuristic "data highway," which the Clinton Administration and communications companies have been loudly trumpeting.
But in higher education■where the Internet got its start as a research network 25 years ago■many are still wondering what all the fuss is about.
While some institutions, such as the College of Wooster and Lafayette College, boast of widespread access to the Internet through computers in every dormitory room and faculty office, hundreds of community colleges, small liberal-arts colleges, and urban universities remain without connections. In addition, tens of thousands of students, professors, and staff members do not have computer accounts on the campuses that are connected to the Internet.
"I would have thought it would have moved a little faster," Malcolm Getz of Vanderbilt University says of Internet use in higher education. Mr. Getz, the university's associate provost for information services and technology, estimates that only half of Vanderbilt's faculty and a quarter of its students use electronic mail, despite the administration's emphasis on technology. Officials on campuses that are not connected to the Internet say money is the main stumbling block. They are struggling to upgrade computers and extend campus networks before they can even contemplate off-campus links. Those at colleges that are connected say that more of their students and professors would be on line, were it not for the high cost of wiring faculty offices, the difficulty of using the network, and the inadequacy of campus training programs.
Computing administrators say they need to do a better job of demonstrating to faculty members how the Internet can be used to search remote libraries, communicate cheaply with colleagues around the world, engage in discussions on a wide range of topics, and gain access to resources that aid their teaching and research.
No reliable data exist on how many of the country's 3,300 colleges and universities are connected to the Internet. Officials at the National Science Foundation, which manages a key part of the system known as NSFNET, have identified 1,100 Internet addresses as belonging to U.S. colleges or universities. But officials are quick to point out that the number of institutions with access to the network is probably higher than that, because many on the list extend Internet service to smaller institutions in their areas.
Those who study computer use in higher education believe that the number of institutions connected to the network is probably above 2,000. A 1993 survey by the James Irvine Foundation Center for Scholarly Technology, at the University of Southern California, found that seven in ten institutions had connections either to the Internet or to BITNET, an international electronic-mail network. A 1993 study of subscribers to The Chronicle reached the same conclusion, finding that seven out of ten campuses were able to do "long-distance networking.''
Whatever the actual number of connected campuses, no one doubts that the figure is rising quickly.
Daniel VanBelleghem, associate program director of NSFNET, says the National Science Foundation has helped 100 to 120 colleges connect to the Internet in each of the last three years. The foundation offers grants of between $20,000 and $25,000 to institutions to help them offset the costs of connecting to the network.
``There are more and more people all the time,'' Mr. VanBelleghem says. "Three years ago I could have bored a lot of people talking about the Internet."
The NSF has seen trends in the types of institutions seeking assistance since it began helping universities get connected in 1986. Large research universities came first, followed by comprehensive universities and, most recently, small liberal-arts colleges and community colleges.
Historically black colleges, institutions serving American Indians, and those with large low-income populations have also got a late start, Mr. VanBelleghem says.
Andrew G. Reece, data-base manager in the office of academic affairs at Howard University, says the tremendous cost of wiring offices and dormitories has kept his university and several other historically black institutions from providing wide-scale access to the Internet. Howard's engineering college is connected to the network, he notes, but the rest of the university will not be on line until the summer.
Howard is now wiring its office buildings and dormitories and plans to offer Internet accounts to all faculty members and students. Some students are already developing a "Gopher server" that will provide Internet users with a menu of information about Howard, which Mr. Reece hopes will attract more students to the institution. "We know a lot of guidance counselors are tapping into Internet and using that to get information about what sorts of things are available on campuses," he says.
Among the small, liberal-arts colleges planning to join the Internet is Rockhurst College, where officials are waiting for a grant from the NSF to come through before making their connection.
Ron McCleary, director of computer services at Rockhurst, says the college has access to BITNET and has been working steadily over the years to bring more of its buildings on line by putting in network cables whenever a structure was renovated. "We're evolutionary, not revolutionary," he says, noting that small colleges do not have hundreds of thousands of dollars to wire all their offices and dormitories at once.
"For a school our size, we're making pretty good progress,■ Mr. McCleary says. "In some of the small colleges, the priorities have not been on high technology, so it's been hard to get funding for the hardware or the people you need." He urges his colleagues at institutions without Internet links to start working at their own pace to improve their campus networks so they are ready to connect. The issue, he adds, "isn't if you're going to go on the Internet; it's when you're going to go on the Internet."
Planning is already under way at Lane Community College, which typifies the growing interest in the Internet among two-year colleges. Officials at Lane cite pressure from faculty members and students as reasons for going on line.
"Our students in this area coming out of K through 12 have access to the Internet," says Linda Loft, coordinator of the college's computer-information-technology department. "They're coming here expecting to see that."
Ms. Loft blames budget constraints for the slow progress in networking at Lane. She also contends that two-year colleges have been running to catch up with four-year institutions ever since the 1980's, when Apple Computer Inc. and the International Business Machines Corporation concentrated on selling discounted machines to large universities. "From my standpoint, that has always been a sore point," she says.
Ronald D. Bleed, vice-chancellor of information technology for the Maricopa County Community College District, says the challenges facing two-year colleges are particularly daunting because they must make networks accessible to students who do not own computers and who do not spend a lot of time on campuses. He estimates that no more than 20 percent of the 100,000 students at the 10 colleges in his district are using the Internet. Computer accounts are given only to those students who need to use electronic mail in their classes.
One effective, but expensive, way to build the use of the Internet among students, Mr. Bleed says, is to increase the number of telephone lines coming into campus networks so that more students can dial in from their homes and jobs. At the same time, he adds, two-year colleges need to make sure that the computer laboratories on their campuses are hooked to the network and are accessible to students who do not have access to computers at their homes or workplaces.
The problem at many community colleges, Mr. Bleed says, is that the laboratories are full of computers that are not sophisticated enough for networking. He attributes the shortcomings to an attempt by administrators to serve "the masses" with as many computers as possible that were capable of running simple "skill building" programs.
Meanwhile, many of the larger colleges and universities that have been on the Internet for years are still struggling to get students and faculty members connected.
The University of Wyoming estimates that only 6,000 people out of a total of 14,000 students, faculty members, and staff members on its campus have computer accounts. Robert R. Aylward, Wyoming's associate director of information technology, blames the low participation, in part, on the $300 fee that the computer center must charge faculty members to connect their computers to the network.
"The way to really make this work well is for the university to commit to funding this like a utility," he says. "But the problem with that is, most public universities don't have the money."
At the University of Pittsburgh, where professors must pay $550 for a network connection, administrators have found a way around that hurdle. Warren Fugate, director of systems and networks, says 90 percent of Pitt's faculty members are on line because many of them got help from a university grant program that was established to pay networking costs for a limited number of professors each year. Eighty of the 119 people who applied last year were awarded grants, he adds.
On the other side of the coin are institutions that do not pass network costs on to faculty members and are overwhelmed by the demand for accounts. The State University of New York at Buffalo, for example, reports that professors who want their computers connected to the network must wait six months for service. "We've got a backlog on requests to be wired because we don't have money to hire the people to do it today," says Jim Gerland, manager of network-user support at the university.
Elsewhere, though, there is less enthusiasm, and computing administrators are wondering how to get more students and faculty members interested in the Internet. Several say they believe they need to provide more workshops aimed at showing professors that the network is valuable to them.
"What they really want to do is their research, and they don't see the Internet as a path to helping them do it," says Reade B. Nimick, Jr., director of the university computer center at the University of Rochester. He estimates that one-third of the faculty and and half of the students at Rochester are using the Internet.
"There's just fear out there that 'I'm going to get really bogged down trying to figure out some arcane set of commands,'" says Mr. Nimick. He suggests that new Internet tools, such as ``Gopher'' and "Mosaic," will make the network more attractive because they allow people to use a mouse■rather than commands■to navigate through all the information that's available.
Many other computing administrators agree, and they expect Internet usage to grow quickly in the next year or two. But few believe that any college will ever be able to claim that every single student, faculty member, and staff member is using the network.
Says SUNY'S Mr. Gerlan: "You'll always have that little population that can't understand it and that doesn't see the benefit of it."
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