An organizational approach towards the development of educational computing in a university environment

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<ul><li><p>Compurers Educ. Vol. 14. No. 2, pp. 137-143. 1990 Printed in Great Britain. All rights reserved </p><p>0360-131590 S3.00 + 0.00 Copyright c 1990 Pergamon Press plc </p><p>AN ORGANIZATIONAL APPROACH TOWARDS THE DEVELOPMENT OF EDUCATIONAL COMPUTING IN A </p><p>UNIVERSITY ENVIRONMENT </p><p>ABDUL RAHMAN HAJI BIDIN* and GWYNXETH DRABBLE Computer Centre and *Language Department, Faculty of Educational Studies, </p><p>Universiti Pertanian Malaysia, 43400 UPM Serdang, Malaysia </p><p>(Receiwd 12 October 1988; revision received I5 April 1989) </p><p>Abstract-A strategic approach towards the development of educational computing in a university environment is to match the varying needs of users to the resources available. This may be done through sensitive, cooperative and effective management. A computer policy is needed, which takes into account issues of hardware, software, training, planned development and computer communications, and allows for progress through central planning and acquisition of facilities. This paper describes how successful development in educational computing has been achieved at Universiti Pertanian Malaysia using an organizational approach. This approach incorporates three factors (hardware, software and people- ware) into what may be known as orgware. It aims to bridge the gap between users and resources through the Management of the Computer Centre. </p><p>STATEMENT OF THE PROBLEM </p><p>In a university environment thousands of people may want to use the computer facilities. Computer users include researchers, lecturers, students, administrators and clerks and typists. These users have access to resources including computer professionals, hardware and software. In an educational institution users tend to be receptive to the introduction and use of micro-comput- ers . . . (but) end up drowned in all sorts of difficulties. Good courseware is scarce, and technical problems are frequent[l, p. 8.51. In this situation the key issues are not technical but organizational[2, p. 1451. Hence, an organizational approach to educational computing, which aims at overcoming these difficulties, is recommended. </p><p>In a laissez-faire situation, without a centrally administered organization, the number of microcomputers in a university tends to increase rapidly. This is because the unit cost of microcomputers is quite low, falling easily within the limits of many users budgetary authoriz- ations[3, p. 5031. These microcomputers tend to be bought one by one without an overall plan for their use.. . (This has two major disadvantages) not only will the costs get out of control but also the machines may not be able to work together[2, p. 1421. Such unmonitored acquisition may also lead to a number of small computer centres being set up within the university, causing unnecessary duplication of resources and leading to under-utilization of computer technology in some faculties, and lack of it in others. </p><p>THE ORGANIZATIONAL APPROACH TO EDUCATIONAL COMPUTING </p><p>Sound management is necessary to ensure full and optimal utilization of computer resources. At the Universiti Pertanian Malaysia (UPM), educational computing has been developed by bridging the gap between users and resources using an organizational approach. Such an approach combines the three organizational factors involved in the process of development (hardware, software and the users and computer professionals, who can be termed peopleware) into what we call orgware. </p><p>In the organizational approach, authority and responsibility are assigned to the Computer Centre Management to bridge the gap between users and resources and to define the pattern of computer </p><p>*Present address: Department of Control Engineering, University of Sheffield, Mappin Street, Sheffield Sl 3JD, England. </p><p>137 </p></li><li><p>138 ABDIX RAHMAN HAJI BIDIX and GWYSSTH DRABBLE </p><p>acquisition and development through a clearly defined computer policy. This approach aims to give present and potential users access to adequate hardware. appropriate software, reliable technical support, manuals in an appropriate language, and to provide the relevant training. </p><p>THE UPM COMPUTER POLICY </p><p>The Computer Policy is the cornerstone of computing at UPM and the source of the power and authority of the Computer Centre. The Computer Policy provides for computer facilities to be centralised and coordinated through academics and computer professionals working together, in the Computer Centre. The UPM Computer Policy, therefore, specifies a cooperative relationship between the user and the computer professional. The Computer Centre Management aims to coordinate, but not control, the use of the universitys computer facilities. The philosophy is to give computing power directly to all staff and students through making the computers readily available and obviously useful[4, p. 1661. </p><p>The UPM Computer Policy has three major objectives: </p><p>(i) to ensure an orderly and planned development of computer hardware and software through a process of centralized acquisition and frequent consultation with present and potential users; </p><p>(ii) to optimize the use of computer facilities through the use of scheduling and a functional distribution of computers between users which assigns different groups of users to different types of computers according to their operational needs; </p><p>(iii) to fully utilize the Management Information Systems (MIS) developed by the university staff. This is done through systematic training and end-user support. </p><p>The UPM Computer Policy takes five factors into account, as illustrated in Fig. 1. Hardware issues concern acquisition, standardization and maintenance of the computing </p><p>machinery. Acquisition of hardware is centralized, which facilitates standardization. Standardiz- ation means that many computer units are interchangeable, allowing for the provision of back-up units in cases of emergency. Standardization has the added advantage that users throughout the university become familiar with the same machines which makes training easier. Centralized acquisition also gives the university better negotiating power with vendors, resulting in better maintenance services from suppliers due to bulk purchase. </p><p>Software issues involve the acquisition and standardization of software, information sharing, database administration, software licensing and copyright, and the development and maintenance of Management Information Systems. Centralized acquisition of software helps avoid duplication of purchase. Standardization on a specific software environment such as UNIX and MS DOS gives users easier access to software as it shares a common language. Information sharing heips avoid dupiication of effort, and a centrally administered database administration means that updates need only be made once to give up-to-date info~ation to all educational administrators concerned. </p><p>Communicotionr </p><p>Fig. I. Factors considered in the UPM Computer Policy. </p></li><li><p>An organizational approach towards computing in a university environment 139 </p><p>Development issues include forward planning of computerization and the prioritization of users projects. </p><p>Training involves giving staff the confidence and skills necessary to use the facilities available. Computer communications means the development of networking and external computer- </p><p>mediated communication, both inside the university and with researchers within the country and overseas. </p><p>THE ORGANIZATIONAL APPROACH TO EDUCATIONAL COMPUTING AT UPM </p><p>The UPM Computer Policy is impIemented using the organizational approach to educationaf computing. The policy has four essential ingredients: </p><p>(i) centralized acquisition, leading to the accumulation of good technical resources, including adequate computer hardware and appropriate software. Such a policy has also facilitated the sharing of software and networking of machines; </p><p>(ii) academic drive from academics within the Computer Centre itself who liaise with academics from all the faculties so that computing of an appropriate nature may be included into a wide range of academic programs; </p><p>{iii) institutional support such as the technicians who make things happen. The Computer Centre at UPM is governed by a Board comprising of top academic and administrative staff. This board gives the Computer Centre the power and authority it needs to match users with facilities, and to ensure the successful implementation of development plans. Sensitivity to the needs of users is a key factor in this; </p><p>(iv) communication, collaboration and cooperation between the staff of the Computer Centre and the users. The gap between the technical staff of the Centre itself and the non- technical users has been bridged by managers who have both knowledge of the technical systems and an awareness of the social, organizational, management, and political issues involved. </p><p>The UPM Computer Centre is organized into four Divisions under the Director, as illustrated in Fig. 2. </p><p>(i) The computer-based education division </p><p>The computer-based education division liaises with faculties in order to identify the technical input most appropriate to their needs. Current and potential needs are thoroughly explored in informal interviews between the Director and the lecturers concerned. </p><p>(ii) The system operation division </p><p>The system operation division is primarily responsible for the operation of ail the computer technology in the university. This division provides support for users throughout the university in the form of technical support, computer maintenance and a computer advisory service. The advisory service has technical staff available full-time to heIp staff and students in need of practical </p><p>Director </p><p>i- I </p><p>Computer- Software </p><p>based Syr tern develo~ent Development </p><p>qwatlon and and educatlon maintenance training </p><p>i </p><p>Fig. 2. Organization of the UPM Computer Centre. </p></li><li><p>140 </p><p>3000 </p><p>0 E 2500 </p><p>\ r 2000 t </p><p>= 6 1500 </p><p>P 1000 </p><p>500 </p><p>0 </p><p>AEIDCL RAHMAN HAJ~~ BIDW and GWYNXTH DRAFIEILE </p><p>LZi M = mamframe 0 P : programming h9 A : applications </p><p>M M P M P M PAMPAMPA </p><p>Type of usage </p><p>Fig. 3. Changing patterns of computer usage. </p><p>assistance in handling the hardware and software. This division also contributes to planned development by making an inventory of the computing facilities throughout UPM and networking them into the universitys computer network (UPMnet). UPMnet links UPM lecturers with other academics and researchers within the country and throughout the world. The system operation division is also responsible for regulating computer activities by scheduling computer usage in the Computer Centre. Computer users at the Computer Centre at UPM are assigned to different types of computers according to their needs. </p><p>Figure 3 shows how trends in computer usage have changed. Over the 6-year period in question, three kinds of computers were used: the mainframe (M) which was used for number crunching and statistical analysis; the ICL multi-user microcomputers (P) which were used for programming; and the ALR microcomputers (A), used for PC applications software. </p><p>Initial trends were for computers to be used for data-processing and for programming on the mainframe computer. The marked increase in the number of microcomputer users (P and A) reflects the growing versatility and popularity of microcomputers. For example, from 1983 to 1985 the number of mainframe users decreased by 34.5% despite the fact that the overall number of computer users increased by 21% because some users switched to the ICL microcomputers for programming previously done on the mainframe. </p><p>From 1986 to 1988, the overall number of computer users increased by 85%, but the number of users of the ALR microcomputers increased by 800% as faculties not traditionally associated with computers introduced computing into their curriculums, and an increasing number of users began using applications packages for computer-assisted instruction and business studies. The advantage of centralized acquisition was to give UPM maximum flexibility to react quickly and sensitively to these changing needs of users. </p><p>(iii) The software development and maintenance division </p><p>The software development and maintenance division is responsible for developing and maintaining application software. Software for educational computing is tailored to meet the needs of users in the faculties and in the Registrars and Bursars Departments. This software is mainly concerned with features of educational administration, such as finance and accounts, registration, and examination records. The software division is also responsible for running this software in the departmental computer systems, and checking the integrity of data. Cataloging and referencing software has also been adapted for the use of researchers, through the library. </p><p>(iv) The development and training division </p><p>The development and training division is responsible for computer development, standardization and training. Computer acquisition is done through capacity planning, using input from the </p></li><li><p>An organizational approach towards computing in a university environment 141 </p><p>computer-based education division. This division performs an intensive evaluation of hardware and software before purchase with the focus on: </p><p>(i) cost-effectiveness; (ii) flexibility in applications; (iii) a balance between generalizability and specific needs; (iv) strategies to ensure maximum utilization of existing resources while new ones are added. </p><p>Lower costs and improved maintenance services are negotiated with vendors, and a back-to-back maintenance relationship involving the technical staff at the Computer Centre is established. </p><p>There has been a rapid, but planned, development in computing at UPM since the introduction of the Computer Centre in 1982. Because of its centralized function a large amount of high-quality equipment has been acquired, equipment used by staff and students throughout the university. The number of terminals and microcomputers on campus increased by 432% from 70 in 1983 to 373 in 1987. At the time of writing computing facilities at UPM include one mainframe computer, five minicomputers, and over 400 microcomputers and terminals. Many of these computers are available at the Computer Centre for the use of the universitys staff and students. </p><p>The development and training division is also responsible for setting up training courses in computing for the professional development of the university academic and administrative staff and the public. Training is a vital element in ensuring the continued use of computing facilities, as staff will generally not venture into using computers without it, often citing lack of confidence as an inhibiting factor[5, p. 1761. One effect of in-service training courses, offered regularly at UPM, is the increase in personal confidence which was necessary to get them started using a microcomputer[S, p. 1761. </p><p>BENEFITS OF THE ORGANIZATIONAL APPROACH </p><p>The Organizational Approach has the following advantages: </p><p>(i) different faculties and departments are able to get unpreju...</p></li></ul>


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