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2005: The Year of the Digital Campus

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A little-known fact about the Taliban is that during their temporary rule in Afghanistan, those in power ordered late 19th and early 20th century books and documents of “nonconforming” cultures to be destroyed. After the Taliban’s fall three years ago, a New York University professor set out to recover these at-risk books with a team of students. Though a painstaking process, they are scanning large amounts of ancient materials into a digital library, making these once virtually inaccessible documents available on a global scale and changing history classes forever.

Today, learning is no longer bound to a fixed location such as a classroom. Thanks to some innovative technology trends, the educational landscape is transforming into a “digital campus” - an information-rich and seamlessly connected environment that brings the world to a student’s fingertips and lets the student move freely about the globe. This digital campus functions through the integration of a multiplicity of technologies in a unified network environment - a seamless, secure, collaborative environment for learning, achievement and administration that is available to everyone. The following are some of the benefits institutions can expect once they decide to go digital in 2005:

Greater Accessibility. At the core of the digital campus is an infrastructure that enables greater reliability, greater scalability and, most important, greater access. Universities have long been looking for a more accessible way to provide educational opportunities to a larger number of people of all ages in all areas of the world; e-learning has proved to be highly successful in making this happen. By establishing e-learning as a core competency, universities are truly revolutionizing the way we teach and learn, while strengthening their own viability through increased services and lower administrative costs.

Self-Service and Convenience. Through portals and single sign-on, students, staff, teachers and researchers have a single point of access for all of their informational needs. Gone are the days of students carrying around admissions handbooks to track courses or showing up during office hours to pick up a copy of the class syllabus that they may have missed. Portals are now providing access to all relevant campus information at a central, convenient hub. Students can research library titles while at a café, register for classes from their dorm rooms, as well as stay in touch with professors and other students no matter where they are.

Streamlining Back-Office Processes. Just as the portal makes life easier for students, teachers and faculty, administrators can also benefit by integrating disparate systems - such as human resources and accounting - within a single, unified architecture.

Resource and File Sharing. Through grid-computing technologies, academic institutions are becoming research machines. Currently, researchers are using the grid to share resources between departments and campuses throughout the world, taking them out of the basement and putting them into the spotlight.

Anytime, Anywhere Access. Providing mobility to students, teachers and administrators is critical to the success of a digital campus. Whether in a classroom or lab, at the library, or in a dorm room, smart cards and thin-client technology can offer students access to information in a secure, reliable environment. For example, schools are replacing PCs in their libraries with thin clients and smart cards for access to the Web and other research resources. Doing this provides students with anytime, anywhere access to information at all of their school libraries. In addition, schools no longer have to deal with the oftentimes costly maintenance and upkeep of their PCs. This kind of flexibility can enable universities to further develop and strengthen the use of electronic means to conduct university business and activities, while delivering huge cost savings and productivity benefits to students and teachers.

Digitization of Content and Critical Information Assets. Finally, digitizing content and critical information assets opens students and teachers to a new world in education. Just look at WGBH, the oldest public TV network in the world. They’ve repurposed their TV programs for video on demand, making it easy for students to call up news footage.

All of these technologies and solutions work together to create a unique learning and administrative environment that is rich in educational opportunities, as well as fully capable of providing the manageability and security required of every enterprisewide network. The next wave in education is here. It’s the digital campus, and it’s opening minds everywhere. Make 2005 your year to go digital.

This article originally appeared in the 12/01/2004 issue of THE Journal.

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