Strategic Plan must address IT deficiencies

With the spring 2018 semester officially in session, we are now a mere four months away from Johnson State College (JSC) and Lyndon State College (LSC) officially merging under the umbrella of Northern Vermont University (NVU).

Regardless of whether you are students, faculty, staff, or administrators, there is bound to be a degree of apprehension within everyone involved. It’s only natural as our two institutions join forces, venturing into unknown territory. As NVU President Elaine Collins recently said, “There isn’t really a blueprint for what we’re trying to do here.”

What NVU does have is a “Strategic Plan,” which is a detailed list of the university’s priorities moving forward. While the “Strategic Plan” is multi-faceted, there is one specific theme I want to bring attention to– technology.

Several lines in the eight-page document reference how technology will be utilized and enhanced under the unification. Within a section entitled “Transformative Student Experience,” NVU states it will “simplify and streamline IT-related processes to enhance the student experience from inquiry to commencement.” Later on, under “Innovative Professional and Liberal Arts Education,” it is asserted that our institution will “elevate teaching and learning at NVU by providing faculty with training in relevant pedagogy and requisite technological tools.”

When reading these directives, it is essential to understand that they are far from the sole objective of the upcoming integration. The technology piece is only a fraction of what the administration is trying to accomplish.

Consequently, I think it is also important to acknowledge the many flaws that reside in our current technological resources and plague our day-to-day lives throughout the JSC campus.
When I first arrived at JSC in 2015, the hot issue was Wi-Fi signal strength. As I understand it, the administration removed access to cable television in most if not all dorms and installed more wireless internet routers in an effort to boost connectivity across campus. The results were mixed at best. I have found the Wi-Fi to be more tolerable this academic year, but still inevitably run into dead zones, speed snags, or am unable to connect to the network altogether. Although these glitches are less frequent, it still hasn’t prevented me from turning off the internet on my phone and resorting to sucking up my limited data plan instead.

Another consistent pain-in-the-ass has been the JSC Portal. Up until the current semester, the largest blemish was the random inability to log in and access the crucial information which it contains, in conjunction with the inevitable email from the IT Department notifying us all that the Portal was down yet again.

But with the latest update to Moodle, we now face a new setback in the seemingly endless login requests required to perform even the most basic tasks. As an iPhone user, it took me a mere day after the update to delete my JSC email account from the mail app because the only way it would function correctly was if I re-logged in every 15 minutes or so.

The final technological problem that is on the forefront of my mind is the status of the campus computers themselves, most of which are sorely outdated and in need of replacement. How much longer can we continue to creak along with technology lagging far behind that found in most of Vermont’s high schools?

The aforementioned problems unsurprisingly could cast doubt that NVU will be able to follow through on the new technological standards it has set for itself in the strategic plan. But if and when we are able to reach them, our educational experience would most certainly be significantly improved. And though I don’t expect to reap any of the benefits during my final two semesters here, I hope they come sooner than later.

They must if we are to fulfill the goals of this ambitious plan.