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Academic Computing Plan

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Campus Computing Committee
June 30, 2002

Introduction:

This document has been developed by the Campus Computing Committee (CCC) as a plan for the improvement of academic computing at New Mexico Tech over the next two to three years. This plan is an update to our first academic computing plan, which was finished in the spring of 1995.

Over the past three years, we have accomplished nearly all of the goals of our first academic computing plan. We now have three computer classrooms, a number of public user areas, and a total of over 150 computers (Sun workstations, PC's, and Mac's) for student use. In addition, we have also greatly expanded the capacity of the computer center's server machines, provided video/data projectors in a number of lecture halls, increased the number of available laser printers, expanded the dial-in modem pool, provided Ethernet connectivity to faculty/staff offices and student dormitories, and added many software packages. Appendix A provides a summary of the current state of academic computing at Tech.

These improved academic computing facilities have made it possible for faculty to greatly expand the use of computing in their courses. Computer lab sections have been added to a number of courses, and several entirely new courses have been developed to make use of these facilities. Since virtually all students have computer accounts at the Tech Computer Center (TCC) or in departmental computer labs, many faculty members now regularly require students to make use of computers in homework assignments.

Now that we have brought our academic computing facilities up-to-date, there is an ongoing need to maintain and update these facilities-- equipment that was purchased three to four years ago should be replaced or upgraded. Our highest priority recommendation is to keep the TCC facilities up-to-date.

Rather than further expanding the TCC computer classrooms and public user areas, we feel that the next step should be to extend the TCC services to computers in faculty/staff offices and in the dormitories. In particular, the TCC should provide for campus wide access to files, printing, and software. This expansion of services is of little use if faculty don't have computers in their offices that can reasonably make use of these new services. Thus our second highest priority recommendation is to make sure that faculty members have reasonably up-to-date computers in their offices. The extension of TCC services to the rest of campus will also require expansion of the campus network bandwidth, an increase in TCC server resources, and an increase in TCC staff. The expansion of TCC services is addressed in recommendations 2, 3, 4, 5, and 6.

The remainder of the recommendations in this plan address issues left over from our first academic computing plan as well as some issues that have been raised in the CCC over the last two years.


Recommendations:

  1. State-of-the-art Facilities. Sustain the drive towards state-of-the-art computing facilities. Under the leadership of Mike Topliff, the TCC has evolved into a very responsive organization that has the facilities needed to support our academic work. We've been helped in this process by generous funding from the president's office for capital equipment purchases. This funding has amounted to $100,000-$200,000 per year. This increment should become a permanent part of the TCC budget. We'll need to continue investing in these facilities to replace outdated hardware, install new software, etc.
  2. Computers for Faculty. Make sure that the faculty have up-to-date computers and software. The survey results in Appendix B show that many of our faculty have less powerful computers in their offices than those in the TCC public user areas. It is unacceptable that many of our faculty members have had to purchase computers and software with their own funds. In order for faculty to make effective use of computers in their courses, faculty need up-to-date computers and software in their offices. Funding at the level of $60,000 per year would make it possible to purchase a $2,500 computer for each faculty member with a four year replacement cycle.
  3. Extended Networking Services. Extend networking services, including file access, printing, and access to software from the TCC to faculty/staff offices and to the dormitories. At least in the near term, this will be most readily accomplished by using Microsoft's SMB protocol and Apple's file sharing protocol over the campus network. This service is already in limited use, but needs to be fully supported by the TCC.
  4. Campus Network. Expand the campus network and TCC server capacity as needed to support recommendation 3. With increased use of the campus network, there will be a need for increased bandwidth and additional servers. ISD has indicated that it should be possible to support this without increasing charges for its existing 10 Mbits/second Ethernet service. The committee supports ISD's plan to provide a 100 Mbits/second Ethernet service. The TCC will also need additional server hardware to support the increased load.
  5. TCC Staffing. Increase TCC staff and office space to support these activities. As Appendix A shows, the TCC has grown from 5 full time staff to 8 full time staff in the last ten years, while the equipment managed by the TCC has seen an eight-fold increase. The staff is currently stretched to its limits, and morale is suffering.
  6. Computer Classrooms. Although our facilities are adequate for current needs, we expect that as enrollment increases and computer usage is increased in courses, we will need additional computer classrooms. We should plan for expansion of our academic computing facilities as part of any new building or renovation projects. In the near term, we should also find a portable solution to bring networked computers and projectors into conventional classrooms.
  7. Teaching. Encourage faculty to make effective use of computing in their courses. Implementation of the previous recommendations should definitely make it easier for faculty to prepare materials for use in the computer classrooms. Beyond this, it's important for the TCC to provide training and support to faculty. The Computing Committee should work with the Teaching Resources Committee to offer seminars on teaching with computers. Finally, the administration should reward faculty, in terms of tenure, promotion, and annual performance reviews, for efforts that result in demonstrable improvements in teaching.
  8. Research Computing. Enhance support for research computing. The committee feels that research computing is an area where Tech is having some trouble. It's becoming increasingly difficult to obtain equipment grants from major funding agencies. When grants are available, matching funds are almost always necessary. Furthermore, some important items are too expensive or difficult to manage for individual researchers. We feel that the TCC should become a home for such expensive and sharable equipment, such as workstations for scientific visualization, a high performance compute server, etc. Improvements in this area will also have a positive impact on teaching.
  9. Student Information System. It is vital that we put in place a new and more effective student information system.
  10. Single Point of Contact. Put in place a single point of contact accessible via email, telephone, and in person for reporting and tracking problems with the campus network and computer systems. Currently, users aren't always sure whether to report a problem or ask a question of the TCC or ISD.
  11. Diverse Computing Environment. The committee reiterates its support for a diverse computing environment including PC's, Macintosh's, and UNIX workstations. As the faculty survey shows, all of these architectures are widely used on campus. Each of these types of computers has a role to play in our instructional and research computing.
  12. Security. The computer center and ISD should take additional steps to improve the security of the campus network.

Relationship to the Strategic Plan:

There are a number of strategies contained in New Mexico Tech's strategic plan that are related to the recommendations contained in this academic computing plan. Recommendations 3 and 4 in this plan are strongly related to strategy 29, "All parts of the institute will be connected electronically ..." Although the use of email is now widespread, we need to further integrate the campus network by providing network access to files, printers, and software. This will also help us in achieving strategy 26, "Sharing of information by departments and divisions..." Recommendations 1 through 7 are all clearly in support of strategy 4, "Instructional approaches for undergraduate education will routinely include hands-on experience..." Finally, a new student information system will help us greatly in providing student services under strategy 11, "... improvements will be made in the delivery of all student services."

Appendix A. The State of Tech Computer Center.

The following table summarizes the history and current status of the TCC. As can be seen from the table, there's been an eight-fold increase the number of computers managed by the TCC over the last 10 years, while the full and part time staff has grown from about 9 FTE to about 12 FTE. The average age of the TCC equipment grew steadily from 1987 to 1992, when a slow turn around in the average age began.


TCC Resources

               1987 1988 1989 1990 1991 1992 1993 1994 1995 1996 1997 1998 1999 2000 2001 2002 2003 2004
 Computers (1)   30   30   30   30   53   43   56   79  132  176  190  190  194  197  237  237  237  255
      Avg. Age  3.3  4.3  5.3 6.33 4.66 4.56 4.52 3.65 3.13  2.1  3.0 3.85 4.64 4.42 3.37 3.57 3.97 4.55

Enrollment FTE 1017  978  929 1009 1081 1303 1367 1316 1277 1257 1202 1220 1274 1324 1324 1438 1342 1387
  FTE/Computer 33.9 32.6 30.9 33.6 20.4 30.3 24.4 16.6  9.7  7.1  6.3  6.3  6.6  6.7  5.6  6.1  5.7  5.4

      Printers    3    3    3    3    3    3    3    7   10   12   13   17   21   21   24   24   24   24
Projector-Fixed   0    0    0    0    0    0    0    0    0    0    3    4    4    7   10   10   10   10
Projector-Portable     0    0    0    0    0    0    0    0    0    0    5    6    6    3    3    3    2

        Modems    5    5    5    5    5   23   23   23   36   48   96  120  120  120  120  120  120  120
     FTE/Modem  203  195  185  201  216   56   59   57   35   26   12   10   11   11   11   11   11   11


Comp Equipment   38   38   38   38   61   69   82  109  178  236  302  336  345  351  394  394  394  411
     Staff FTE    5    5    4    4    4    4    4 4.75 6.75 7.75 7.75 7.75 7.75 7.75 7.75 7.75 7.75 7.75
   Student FTE 4.31 4.22 4.14 4.07 4.14 4.07 3.99 3.92 6.28 4.62 4.34 4.34 4.34 4.34 4.34 4.34 4.34 4.34
  Total Staff  9.31 9.22 8.14 8.07 8.14 8.07 7.99 8.67 13.0 12.3 12.0 12.0 12.0 12.0 12.0 12.0 12.0 12.0

   Equip/Staff 4.08 4.11 4.66 4.70 7.48 8.55 10.2 12.5 13.6 19.0 25.2 28.0 28.7 29.2 32.8 32.8 32.8 34.2

 Dorm Ethernet    0    0    0    0    0    0    0    0   24  192  535  535  535  679  679  679  679  679  
 Faculty Ether    0    0    0    0    0    0    0    0   57   83  110  115  120  120  120  123  123  123

 All Equipment   38   38   38   38   61   69   82  109  259  511  947  986 1000 1030 1073 1076 1076 1093
Equipment/Staf 4.08 4.11 4.66 4.70 7.48 8.55 10.2 12.5 19.8 41.3 78.9 82.1 83.3 85.5 89.4 89.6 89.6 91.0

(1) Includes public machines, servers, and staff computers

Appendix B. Results of a Survey of Faculty.

This appendix summarizes the results of a survey of Tech faculty. Faculty were asked about the computer that they use in their office- many faculty members have additional computers in their laboratories, at home, and elsewhere. These computers are not included in this survey. A total of 90 faculty members responded to the survey.

Note that although the average age of the computers was reported as 2.4 years, over 20% of the faculty have computers that are over four years old. Also note that about 20% of the faculty are using operating systems (Windows 3.11, DOS, and Next) that cannot effectively connect to the TCC and make use of the TCC network services. The balance of Windows (54%), Macintosh (24%), and UNIX (20%) machines shows that none of these architectures have fallen out of favor at NMT. About 20% of our faculty have purchased computers for their offices with "other" funds. In nearly all cases, this means personal funds.


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Brian Borchers
Last updated: 2005/02/15 20:52:03 UT
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