What's The Hype?
Across America, schools have taken dramatic measures to give their students the computer skills deemed essential in the high-tech economy. On many campuses, students can find techie goodies everywhere, from high-speed access in dorm rooms to hook-up stations around campus where they can plug in a laptop and whip off an e-mail, check grades, or schedule classes.
"All the residence halls have 'Ethernet per pillow' - that's high-speed access for every individual," says John Silvester, vice provost for scholarly technology and assist-ant professor of electrical engineering at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles.
Not only are colleges providing the access; some schools are providing the computers. Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, for instance, built the cost of an IBM ThinkPad into tuition. Still others are putting the onus on their students. According to a 2001 report by IDC, a market data firm in Framingham, Massachusetts, 51 percent of U.S. four-year colleges recommend that their students own a PC, and 6 percent actually require their students to own a PC. One such school is Western Carolina University.
"When these students graduate, there'll be a computer on their desk," says Frank Prochaska, WCU's associate vice chancellor for academic affairs and chair of the computer requirement implementation team. "It's like driving a car: Yes, you can learn to drive one without owning one, but in order to be a really good driver, you need 24-7 access to the equipment so you'll use it without thinking about it."
Everybody's Learning How
Even non-technical majors are jumping on the cyber-bandwagon. USC's campuswide media literacy program has taken term papers high tech. "Students are no longer expected to turn in a simple textual term paper, but rather produce a full multimedia presentation of their research findings in business and marketing classes," says USC's Silvester. "It's a much closer match to the expectations in the commercial world."
"Before college, all I'd really used was a word processor," says Sarah Safavi, a senior in economics at Claremont McKenna College, part of the Claremont Colleges in California. "Freshman year, I learned how to type and do HTML. Now, I'm on the computer two or three hours a day, and I manage my dorm's Web page."
Although her college is liberal arts, not one of the high-tech training grounds, it aspires to be fully "paperless and wireless" in coming years. "They want us to be able to keep up in the world and be comfortable using technology," she says.