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WISP Objectives
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WISP Objectives

The project objectives for Phase I of the project include:

an analysis of costs and staffing implications that can be used to shape a sustainable model for web support;

the creation of training models and online tutorials for web usage;

an evaluation of practices and appropriate software tools for web page design and maintenance at small colleges; and

the identification of web application areas suitable for collaborative development during Phase II of the project;

a demonstration that collaborative efforts can leverage the resources of small colleges and help them address the problem of rapid technology transitions.

Analysis of costs and staffing implications —— A crucial objective of the project is to provide an analysis of the overall costs and staffing requirements of web technology in order to help guide strategic planning, for ourselves as well as other small colleges. Working with an external evaluator, we will attempt to determine both the initial and ongoing costs of various development and support strategies. In particular, we will explore questions such as: What are the long-term hardware, software, networking, staffing and related costs for maintaining a robust web site in a small college? Can the implementation of web technology help to reduce costs elsewhere in the IT or the college operating budget? How do the costs of in-house web support (for page design, maintenance, system management, and other tasks) compare with the costs for outsourcing those same tasks? Does widespread campus use of the web entail hidden costs for academic and administrative departments? If so, what is the nature and magnitude of those costs? Are cost-reduction strategies that involve vendors or advertisers appropriate and/or practical for private liberal arts colleges? Should liberal arts colleges use strategies such as student portal pages to generate revenues?

Creation of a training model and online tutorials —— One of the most challenging aspects of web management lies in the fact that members of the college community, not the technical staff, are ultimately responsible for providing the content of their own web pages. A goal of this project is to create online tutorials to help members of the college community modify their pages with little or no technical assistance. In conjunction with the creation of web page templates, such tutorials could reduce the burden on technical support staff and thereby contribute to a long-term sustainable model of web management. Key questions for our investigation include: How can we use the pedagogical expertise of our colleges to improve training methods? What are the critical skills of web page maintenance and how can they best be presented to members of the college community? What is the right balance between in-class and self-directed study? How can new technologies be incorporated into an effective training model? What is the role of online documentation in training? How will these models translate into other training situations, such as campus orientation for new employees or introductions to web resources for faculty and students?

Evaluation of practices and appropriate software tools for web page design and maintenance at small colleges —— This aspect of the project includes research into the tools and technological approaches employed at the four institutions as well as more than fifty national liberal arts colleges. The purpose of this evaluation is to assess the degree of suitability, the comparative ease of use, and the real costs —— both initial and ongoing —— of web technology methods and tools that are currently available (or expected to be used) during the course of the project. We will examine the tradeoffs between outsourcing web page design and doing all design and implementation in-house. Expertise requirements for in-house web development will be carefully scrutinized. We will look at the issue of how to balance the responsibilities of end-users and those of technical staff with respect to the creation and the maintenance of web pages. We will also explore the question of how best to use (and train) students to participate in the maintenance of departmental and/or institutional web pages.

Identification of web application areas suitable for collaborative development during Phase II of the project—— While some academic and administrative areas already make good use of web technology, other areas have yet to be explored. During Phase I of the project, we will conduct an assessment of prospective academic and administrative uses of the web, identifying potential areas of cost-savings as well as areas where alternative methods of information exchange may be preferable. We will determine whether such needs can best be met by commercial software products, sharing of campus-developed web pages, or some other means. In conducting this study we will take into account the cultures, institutional priorities, legal issues, security concerns, and cost-benefit tradeoffs of greatest concern to small liberal arts colleges.

Demonstration that collaborative efforts can leverage the resources of small liberal arts colleges —— Although there is a widely held assumption that collaboration can help small colleges deal with technological innovation more cost-effectively than "going it alone," there are relatively few cases where this has actually been demonstrated. For the most part, small college technology collaborations have been limited to local or regional partnerships. The proposed project seeks to demonstrate that collaboration can yield significant benefits for addressing the complexities of technology innovation, despite the fact that the participating institutions are geographically dispersed. Use of the web adds a new dimension to collaboration and may make it possible for small colleges across the nation to achieve economies of scale previously unavailable.

In order to investigate the effectiveness of this type of collaboration, the four participating institutions will co-develop several demonstration web modules for use by faculty, students, and staff. The development of such modules will provide us with a "live" framework for testing the tools, models, methods, and training strategies that may be of greatest value to small liberal arts colleges. The selection of modules will be determined by the degree to which they meet the needs of the participating institutions, the lack of commercially available alternative solutions, and the potential for broad dissemination to other liberal arts colleges. The types of demonstration modules we are considering include templates and tutorials for complex web page construction and multimedia databases.

Templates and tutorials for complex web page construction —— At present, the creation of web pages for complex, tasks such as conducting a survey, accessing a database, or launching a statistical package, requires specialized and sophisticated programming beyond the skill level of most students, faculty, and staff. The demand for such pages, however, is increasing steadily. In order to meet this demand, we will develop a sample library of templates, web-forms, scripts, and wizards that will allow users to build their own web pages with little or no technical assistance.

Academic multimedia databases —— As more and more faculty incorporate sounds, images, videos, and other forms of multimedia into their teaching it becomes increasingly important to develop seamless methods for storing, searching, and retrieving these materials. Web technology provides an ideal way to make all three of these tasks easy for both faculty and students. As part of the project, we will identify data standards and technical infrastructure requirements to support digital multimedia collections for individual and shared use. The infrastructure will include the database packages already in use on our campuses and templates for creating and maintaining multimedia databases via the web. Common standards and tools will facilitate searches across different databases and make the use and maintenance of multimedia materials substantially easier for faculty and students alike.

Mechanisms for Collaboration

In order to achieve the objectives outlined above, the four institutions are collaborating in a variety of different ways including:

multi-institutional task forces;

joint training events for technical staff.

site visits and staff exchanges;

planning, development, and evaluation meetings; and

online information sharing via the web and other means.