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NAS study says IT will re-shape research universities

A National Academy of Sciences (NAS) study released recently says information technology (IT) is radically changing research universities and will have a dramatic effect on how students learn.

Van Houweling, Duderstadt and Atkins. (Photo courtesy of the U-M Washington, D.C., office)

The report, entitled "Preparing for the Revolution: Information Technology and the Future of the Research University," was unveiled Nov. 7 at a Washington, D.C., luncheon. There, former U-M President James Duderstadt, along with Dan Atkins and Doug Van Houweling of the School of Information, discussed its findings.

Duderstadt, who chaired the group that assembled the report, said the study focuses on three themes: scenarios for IT policy in the future, the implications for research universities, and the potential roles for government in protecting the contributions of research universities to the national interest.

"One of the main forces will be students demanding new ways of learning," Duderstadt said. He said the impact of the IT revolution will be "rapid, profound and unpredictable," and said the pace of change will continue to accelerate.

Atkins, who chairs a National Science Foundation cyber infrastructure task force, said sensor technology will revolutionize the collection of data. He also said there will be new abilities to work in different times and places by researchers. "We should consider that learning will be seen as a communal process," he said.

Van Houweling, who heads up Internet 2, said the full impact of IT "will be felt when it affects how people learn together." He said technology necessarily
will re-structure how institutions deliver on their responsibilities, and he added that students will demand that universities focus on this technology. Information increasingly can be customized to meet students' learning idiosyncrasies, which will require a "higher level of institutional thinking" about how to meet those demands, he said.

Atkins added that one challenge will be to balance the needs for university openness, while at the same time protecting copyright.

Duderstadt concluded by saying that the NAS discussion on IT and its impact will continue. "The technology is changing so fast, it will be hard to write a report that won't be obsolete by the time it is printed," he said.

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