I.T. Times
Volume 3. No 1 Information Technology News of the University of California, Davis Fall 1994

Networking, Distance Learning, and Telecommuting All in One Package

by Vicki Suter, Distributed Computing Analysis and Support

In these budget-tight times, how can UC Davis fulfill its diverse missions of teaching, research, and public service while keeping on top of the dizzying developments in information network technology, finding new ways to provide distance education, and promoting collaboration between the university, community colleges, and K-12 education? Now imagine there was a way to accomplish all that while also fighting air pollution. That seemingly improbable collection of goals is precisely what the innovative research contract between the Division of Information Technology and the California Department of Transportation (CALTRANS) is designed to accomplish.

The UCD-CALTRANS Davis Community Network, Telecommuting and Distance Education Project benefits everyone involved. With the formation of the Davis Community Network (DCN), Davis residents are gaining access to a wide range of online services: e-mail, conferencing, public forums, local community bulletin boards, and global information networks, along with the training necessary to become self-reliant information technology users. The goals of the Department of Transportation - as well as the well-being of the public at large - are served by the telecommuting component of the plan, with its potential for cutting down traffic congestion and improving air quality.

The university benefits from the chance to have a joint group of I.T. personnel, including the DCN-CALTRANS project team and staffers from the Information Technology Campus Access Point (I.T.-CAP) and the Center for Advanced Information Technology (CAIT), test a wide range of new electronic communication and Internet tools. With the help of community volunteers, these groups pass along the benefit of their experience to faculty, staff and students.

At the same time, the contract sets up research agreements between the Division of Information Technology and a number of private vendors that allow the campus to pilot test ISDN and wireless connectivity without making risky capital investments in potentially unstable new technologies. These agreements formalize and extend I.T.'s informal practice of using loaner equipment for testing and evaluation, in that the new agreements have a longer (two-year) term and provide the opportunity to test in a real-world context, rather than in an evaluation lab. The results of these pilot tests will help I.T. extend the high-speed connectivity of Network 21 off campus and facilitate access to higher-end technologies.

In addition, the contract has helped forge new collaborative links between the university, the California Community Colleges Chancellor's Office, and the K-12 education sector that will not only help coordinate network planning and problem-solving in general, but in particular will help foster new approaches to providing distance education. This year the DCN-CALTRANS project team will work with technical and educational staff from the contract partners to test desktop video conferencing equipment and software in a pilot teaching project. The group plans to develop a full "curricular toolkit" of electronic communication tools and to rigorously evaluate how these tools might affect curricular development and learning. All of which demonstrates a point - that the university's research, teaching, and public service goals are not mutually exclusive and need not necessarily compete for ever-shrinking resources. Creative solutions like the UCD-Caltrans research project can serve the public and community service mission of the university while reaping significant benefits for the campus and, in this case, allowing the university to fully participate in the fast-moving world of electronic communications technology.