LTS budget cuts affecting students

Sometimes, senior Dan Coughlin will come to campus early to finish or print off an assignment before class, only to spend most of the time looking for an available computer.

In those cases, he’s found a computer just in time to hand in the assignment and narrowly miss a deadline.

“If you can figure that out, you can usually get access,” Coughlin said. “If you’re on the fly looking for a computer, it can get hectic.”

This hasn’t really been an issue in other semesters, he said, but since Learning and Technology Services cut 120 computers from the general access lab rotation last semester, the difference in availability is noticeable.

LTS Director Craig Mey said the computer reductions were based on mathematical capacity, not convenience.

Shutting down the three labs was part of a series of cuts LTS made in response to the administration’s mandate last spring to cut $645,155 from its budget.

“They kind of took the hit for academics last year,” said Matt Sias, Student Senate’s webmaster. “It’s not exactly the ideal condition for LTS to be expanding right now.”

As technology advances and more professors incorporate it in their lesson plans, a short-staffed LTS is trying to think of new ways to provide sufficient service with a tighter budget. Those include a pilot program for virtual lab software, shifting to more online video training rather than in-person tutorials or limiting how often professors can bring in Building Information Technology Skills staff for in-class training.

If the financial climate for LTS and BITS continues, software releases and online documentation updates might be delayed or sacrificed, said Rick Mickelson, BITS and help desk manager.

“I think if we give up some of the stuff we do, students are going to be hurt in the long run,” Mickelson said.

Jacob Kampen, the director of Student Senate’s Information Technology Commission, said plenty of other students have complained about lab-computer availability.

“I think the complaints are going up as the semester progresses,” Kampen said.

In response, Kampen said the Senate’s IT Commission is planning to install one or more stand-up computer stations to supplement the LTS budget.

“We want to pay for it because we have the money,” Kampen said. “We definitely want to fund projects that have high student demand.”

Kampen said the commission is working with campus leaders to install an eight-computer station with a printer on the first floor of Hibbard by finals week.

Because more students bring their own computers to UW-Eau Claire, LTS is also working on piloting a virtual lab program that would allow students to access campus software from their laptops.

Even with lab virtualization, Sias said he’d like to keep at least some of the computer labs.

“Lab virtualization is cool, but it’d be nice if we could do that alongside labs,” Sias said.

In the meantime, Chancellor Brian Levin-Stankevich said he’d like to see University Senate execute a campus plan for technology and include it as one of the gold arrow priorities for next year.

“Regrettably, we don’t have a coherent plan going forward with technology,” Levin-Stankevich said at the March 16 Chancellor Roundtable.

In Levin-Stankevich’s Dec. 14, 2009 response to the PEEQ (Program to Evaluate and Enhance Quality) goals, he recommended increasing the number of courses using “online, hybrid and/or handheld technology.”

Mickelson said that the faculty trend to incorporate more technology-based projects would put more pressure on BITS for software or equipment training, especially with a limited budget.

“To me, that signals that the demand on a unit like BITS will continue to increase,” Mickelson said.

According to a 2009 Educase Center for Applied Research study, 45 percent of respondents said they thought their professors use and are equipped to use IT effectively for instruction. Only a third said their professors provide them with adequate IT training. ECAR reported that these findings are consistent among institutions.

No matter how we get there, it’s clear that Eau Claire needs to continue to evolve to meet technology needs, Coughlin said.

“You just have to assume more ready and available access to technology on campus.”