By Barry Kort
For the past few years, the Utah State University Information Technology (IT) Security Group has pushed hard to transfer all departmental Web servers to their exclusive operational control in central IT.
Among the holdouts against this trend were a pair of aging servers that had remained in operation in the Department of Journalism and Communications (JCOM), where the news and editorial contents of the Hard News Café are produced as part of the academic curriculum. In addition to providing archives of 12 years of stories from the annals of the Hard News Café, the older servers also supported a variety of other services including discussion forums for classes in media ethics, online journalism, public relations and social media.
All your servers belong to us.
Two weeks ago, USU IT Security abruptly shut down that pair of JCOM web servers, citing threats from those outside the academic community posting inappropriate commentary including spam promoting commercial products. According to officials in USU IT Security, Utah’s State Board of Regents has decreed that academic departments may no longer operate their own independent Web servers, and that going forward, all such online services must be operated through servers managed by Central IT. I was not able to find any such decree from the Board of Regents in the published policies of USU IT Security.
USU is not the only university in which academic departments are weighing their options on where to find suitable platforms supportive of their emerging and evolving needs. Without viable on-campus services, faculty predictably turn to off-campus services. Laura Gibbs at the University of Oklahoma reports that faculty there are increasingly looking to off-campus services to replace or supplant those traditionally provided either by local departmental servers or by the university’s central IT facility, to support their ongoing needs for Web publishing, social media, and collaborative computing. One issue of concern is maintaining long-term archives of students’ work, both for the benefit of current classes and for the benefit of students who worked hard to craft their e-portfolios.
As students and faculty lose the freedom to operate their own on-campus servers, they face two options. They can rely on services provided by Central IT, or they can turn to off-campus services such as Facebook, Google+, Blogger, WordPress and Ning. Already, several of the JCOM faculty use these to reach the public. The advent of Google+ has further attracted academics to adopt off-campus resources for social networking related to their field of study. Next week, Google+ plans to launch a new service called Hangout Academy, expressly designed to serve the needs of the academic community for 21st Century tools for online intercollegiate education.
I expect that academic departments at USU and at other colleges and universities around the country will turn away from the limited resources of Central IT and adopt better solutions offered by Google+ and other providers of cloud computing resources.
And that, I predict, will be a game changer, leaving Central IT managing an ever dwindling ghost town.
–Barry Kort is a pioneer in online learning communities and a long-time friend and collaborator with the JCOM faculty. For the past 15 years, he has helped the faculty to keep the Hard News Cafe in the forefront of online journalism.