This week, speculation has been mounting about the possible release of the iPad 2 this April—just one year after that of its groundbreaking predecessor. In a world where innovation and change in consumer technology are moving faster than ever, it’s becoming increasingly difficult for consumers to realistically keep up with every new product that promises to change their lives. Many are convinced that that next year’s new gadget is going to drastically improve our lives. But the truth is, these new tools only change how we do things, and not necessarily what those things are.
For the better part of history, universities’ most important resources were on paper. The university library was the lynchpin of this infrastructure, containing its vast wealth of information on millions of pages.
“Research took so much longer, Sigita Clark (SLL ’81) said. “Teachers would put holds on books so that people couldn’t take them out. For course selection, you would get a card that would be like your ticket. It was a paperwork nightmare.”
Compare Clark’s experience to that of Rob Pegoraro (SFS ’93), a technology columnist for Washington Post, who described the way laptops changed the typical college ritual of pulling all-nighters a decade later.
“Before the arrival of laptops, I remember people would bring an entire Mac Plus or Mac SE in some padded backpack and do their all-nighters in Lau … Maybe at the start of my senior year or my junior year people started showing up the first round of Mac PowerBooks.”
As we all know, nearly every student in Lauinger these days does his or her work on a laptop. Students still pull all-nighters, though, and run into very much the same problems as their predecessors from decades ago—a more portable computer will not make your argument stronger.
It was around the time of Pegoraro’s senior year that technological advancement really began to accelerate. Matthew Pescatore, a graduate of the University of Vermont, recalls how he and his classmates would use the landlines in their dorm rooms as underclassmen, but by the time he graduated in 2006, cell phones had almost completely replaced them.
So, we’ve got cell phones, laptops, Internet access. Getting work done should be a breeze these days, right? Wrong.
Though the tools have changed, the curriculum, largely, has not. Even though technology is advancing, we are still trying to solve the same problems.
It’s this kind of rapid obsolescence that poses such a dilemma to a university’s information technology infrastructure. Big moves need to be planned strategically so that the University doesn’t invest in something that’s deemed useless soon after its installation. It’s a good thing that whole Department of Public Safety officers on Segways never caught on.
During the late 90’s, the University invested millions of dollars in IT. Gelardin New Media Center opened in 2001, and simultaneously UIS installed e-podiums in labs. These are huge developments, which cost buckets of money to build and organize. When technology evolves as quickly as it does, it’s important to predict what can still be of value in five years. One year’s revolutionary innovation is the next year’s Sony Aibo.
It can be easy to cite other universities’ IT successes as their biggest advantage. We can gripe and complain that lack of a campus-wide wireless network puts us at a grand disadvantage to students at schools that do, but that would be missing the point. It’s better to focus on solving the problems at hand than to get bogged down in a game of catch-up.
We can close down the bookstore in favor of e-readers, digitize the library, and give every student an iPad, but nothing is going to read the books for you.
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