Case 2: NICE—the Networked Instructional Computing/Communications Environment


DePaul University is experiencing tremendous growth in its student body and in the number of campuses on which it offers classes. DePaul is also experimenting with courses that are offered in a completely on-line environment (little or no planned physical meeting times during the course), with an eye toward perhaps offering complete degree programs online at some point in the future. Regardless of the delivery method for courses, the World Wide Web has become a huge factor in modern University education. The web provides faculty and students seemingly limitless resources. The web can be a tool for customized learning and certainly for more learner-centered instruction (where the focus is on learning, not teaching).

Your job, should you choose to accept this case, will be to develop an integrated environment that knits several existing tools and several tools-to-be-developed together into an environment that is highly customizable and supportive for faculty and students at the University.

Case Background

DePaul University is a level-3 4-year and graduate institution in Chicago, Illinois. There are approximately 17,000 students enrolled at DePaul, and approximately 2500 faculty and staff. Over half of the student body attend class on a part-time basis, and many courses are offered during the evenings and on weekends to accommodate these working students. The DePaul enterprise is distributed over six campuses in the Chicago area: Lake County, O’Hare, Naperville, Lincoln Park, Loop, and South Campus. The distributed nature of the campuses and the part-time nature of many of the students means that both faculty and students rely heavily on electronic tools for information distribution (syllabi, course materials/readings), communication, and learning.

DePaul faculty offices on all campuses are currently connected to a local area network with Novell 4.11. Faculty will be migrating to Netscape’s Messaging Server/Calendar Server/LDAP Server suite during the 1998 academic year. DePaul students have access to the web from computer labs on all campuses and from their homes either via the DePaul Online Internet Service or through an independent ISP. It is estimated that 92% of all DePaul students have access to computers and the Internet off campus, either from their home or office.

To support teaching and learning at DePaul, the Academic Technology Development group has been creating a number of web-based tools for faculty and students to use. These tools include:

In addition to these home-grown tools, group discussion tools such as HyperNews, Majordomo, Usenet News groups, and Internet Relay Chat are available to support learning.

The Problem

Prior to the summer of 1998, faculty have been constrained to a relatively closed version of the Apache Web Server, running on Condor (a Sun Microsystems Sparc 1000 E). The web server on Condor does not provide faculty and other individuals with access to cgi-bin, nor does it support FrontPage or other extensions, for security purposes. Two new NT-based web servers will be purchased and deployed during the summer of 1998, specifically for the purpose of serving course web pages and course web tools. These web servers open the door for faculty developing much more interactive web sites.

In spite of its limitations, approximately 150 of the 850 faculty at DePaul currently serve web pages from that machine. How will faculty utilization of the new NT-based servers be increased? Faculty knowledge of web-page creation is estimated to be quite low. There are training and educational opportunities for faculty, but these events are sparsely attended.

There are some general concerns about uniformity of web pages; that students should not have to learn a new navigational system or icon system for each course in which they are enrolled. How can NICE support some standard elements without constraining more creative faculty?

What other features are needed for the NICE environment? Your job, as the consultant team, is to investigate the needs/desires of the user community and define a feature list (e.g., objectives). You should then do a complete analysis and design on this problem, culminating in a mock-up for a new integrated environment for faculty and students to use.