In addition to those general trends, there are some specific observations that characterize information technology in U.S. colleges and universities. The current standard data networking technology is Ethernet (Munson, 1995). However, there are institutions (like RIC and CCRI) that are still using older technologies like asynchronous networks that run at much slower speeds. Recent data from CAUSE (1994a) indicate that about 7 percent of universities and colleges are already implementing modern networking and telecommunications technologies (Fast Ethernet, ATM, FDDI and ISDN). Figure 1 indicates that approximately 70 percent of all colleges and universities are planning to implement Fast Ethernet or Asynchronous Transfer Mode (ATM). For research and doctoral granting institutions, about 15 percent have already implemented ATM and more than 90 percent plan to implement ATM in the future. Discussions with computer directors and telecommunications/networking engineers at institutions of higher education indicate that many are planning to pass over technologies like Fiber Distributed Data Interface (FDDI) because they are opting for greater bandwidth and flexibility that ATM offers.
The current use and plans for various peripheral technologies that are associated with telecommunications and networks are summarized in Figure 2. As expected, peripheral equipment (which is relatively inexpensive) like optical character readers and image scanners are already widely used and likely to be available at almost all institutions. Kiosks that offer users a variety of computing and telecommunications services are likely to see widespread use throughout campuses (HEIRA, 1994). Institution identification cards with "mag stripes" are already being used in 32 percent of institutions and are likely to be introduced at most colleges and universities in the future. Figure 3 lists various data applications that have been implemented or are planned at colleges and universities. That graphic indicates that about 93 percent of institutions are planning or have implemented Electronic Data Interchange (EDI) applications.
In addition to those characteristic technologies and applications, many institutions have developed Campus-Wide Information Systems (CWIS), and have provided various Internet resources and information servers. During the past decade, the Internet/Bitnet have been the foundation for communications in higher education. The Internet Protocol, TCP/IP, is the most widely used data network protocol in post-secondary institutions (Munson, 1995) and the use of E-mail, Gopher, and other Internet resources has been growing exponentially. Figure 4 displays the use of CWIS systems, Gopher servers and World Wide Web (WWW) servers in higher education. As one would expect, research and doctoral institutions have the greatest use of CWIS, Gopher and WWW servers. Data from CAUSE, the University of Minnesota (where Gopher software originated) and the University of Illinois (where one of the major WWW software packages, Mosaic, was created) indicate that there has been tremendous growth in the numbers of institutions with Gopher servers and WWW servers.
Many institutions report that they are engaged in the development and use of distance learning networks and/or broadcasting. Distance learning can vary from simple closed circuit television broadcasts of college workshops or courses to series of fully interactive courses (using two-way audio/video) that lead to college degrees. Initially, distance learning was spawned from the need to offer college level courses over vast geographic distances in a cost effective manner. Thus, several of the large western states have been the pioneers of distance learning education. More recently, however, institutions are using distance learning facilities to generate revenues by developing courses, programs and in a few instances entire college experiences. Figure 5 indicates that 57 percent of all institutions have some type of distance learning applications.
Public systems of higher education that have aggressively pursued distance learning programs include the North Dakota State University system, the Utah state schools, the Oregon system of higher education, and the University of Maine system. North Dakota's Interactive Video Network (IVN) offers 65 interactive college level courses in 21 subjects; these include 12 complete associate's and bachelor's degree programs. Many of those courses are in nursing, health related fields, business, and education. Utah has created a communications network that uses a closed-circuit television (microwave) system, Instructional Television Fixed Service (ITFS) and satellites to provide public institutions of higher education and K-12 schools with an audio/video network. Eighty-two courses and degree programs in criminal justice and psychology offered at the higher education level. Oregon initiated a higher education distance learning network, EdNet, in 1981 that has grown to offer more than 100 college courses and staff development programs. The higher education portion of EdNet uses satellites and wireless technologies to bring interactive courses to every state college campus. Most of the courses offered on EdNet are in nursing, education, business, management and agriculture. In the fall of 1995, Oregon will downlink courses for a complete Master of Library Science degree program that has been developed by Emporia State College, in Kansas. Oregon administrators estimate that there will be significant cost savings from purchasing the library science distance education courses rather than creating an entirely new program. In addition, Oregon faculty are developing several distance learning courses that they expect to sell to other universities and colleges. Currently, Maine offers 170 distance learning courses at 105 sites throughout the state. The Maine distance learning network connects the seven state institutions of higher education. The hub of the network, the University of Maine at Augusta, currently offers associate's degree programs and two master's degree programs (library science and industrial technology) and will offer four distance learning bachelor's degrees and four additional master's degrees beginning in the fall of 1995.
In addition to institutions of higher education that have supplemented their traditional curriculum with distance learning courses, technology has spawned fully electronic institutions like Phoenix University, a business school located in Phoenix, Arizona. Note, Phoenix University is an regionally accredited institution of higher education. According to Steklow (New York Times, Sept. 12, 1994) Phoenix University has approximately 18,000 students enrolled with more than 1,000 of those receiving complete college degrees via microcomputers with modems. Phoenix offers six-week distance learning courses that typically meet once per week for four hours at various sites. Only minimal interaction occurs between students and faculty. All instructors are part-time, non-tenured contractors who are paid about $1,000 to $1,200 per course. Various accreditation agencies have questioned the quality of the courses and degree programs offered by Phoenix -- The American Assembly of Collegiate Schools of Business describe the distance learning experiences at Phoenix to be "kind of like McEducation." Nevertheless, the demand for such degree programs appears to be growing. During 1994, Phoenix expanded its distance learning sites to California, New Mexico, Utah, Colorado, Nevada and Hawaii.
In order to determine the current state of telecommunications resources and networks for Rhode Island public institutions of higher education, a set of state-of-the-art institutions in voice and data networks were selected: The University of Delaware (UD) for the University of Rhode Island, San Francisco State University (SFSU) for Rhode Island College, and the Maricopa Community College (MCC) for the Community College of Rhode Island. CAUSE recently awarded the University of Delaware with its 1994 Award for Excellence in Networking. Maricopa Community College received the CAUSE 1993 Award for Excellence in Networking and San Francisco State University received honorable mention in 1993. Note that the CAUSE awards "recognize exemplary campuswide network planning, management, and accessibility, as well as effective use of the campuswide network to enhance teaching, learning, research, administration, and community service." Detailed comparisons of the UD, SFSU and MCC networks to the URI, RIC and CCRI networks are made in the following section of this report.
Proceed to next section
Return to Table of Contents