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Electronic theses, dissertations required

By Susan Trulove

Spectrum Volume 19 Issue 16 - January 16, 1997

"This is the beginning of a new era for graduate study," said John Eaton of the electronic theses and dissertations project. Beginning with the spring '97 semester, electronic theses and dissertations (ETD) are required. That is, theses and dissertations must be submitted to the Graduate School in a format that will allow them to be placed on the library's server and accessed from the Internet.

"We are using computer-based technology to improve the content and availability of theses and dissertations," said Eaton, associate provost for graduate studies. He is working with Ed Fox of computer science and Gail McMillan of university libraries on the project. "ETD's can improve movement of ETD drafts between the student and the committee, teach students to use digital libraries and publish electronically, allow students to be more creative in their scholarship, and allow the knowledge contained in theses and dissertations to become widely available," Eaton said.

ETD's are produced using standard word-processing packages and delivered as portable document format (PDF) files to the Graduate School, where they are reviewed. They will be cataloged and archived by the library, and made available from the library to Internet users.

Eaton said, "Elimination of the hard copy will save the student money without a significant increase in effort, save shelf space in the library, make access to ETD's more rapid and less expensive, and fit into the electronic library of the future."

Access has already increased. Whereas hard copies of theses and dissertations circulate only two or three times per year, on average, for July and August 1996, there were 1,190 inquiries to the abstracts and 324 inquiries to the full text of the 50 Virginia Tech ETD's available at that time. "This is equal to 39 downloads per ETD per year, a more than 10-fold increase," Eaton said.

In addition to scholars from within the university, users of "edu" servers around the country have accessed Virginia Tech graduates' research, and there have been visits as well from military and commercial servers, and international Web users.

The ETD program does have protections for students and advisors concerned about journals that might consider electronic availability to be prior publication, and if there is concern regarding proprietary or patent information. "There is a delaying process for both of these contingencies," Eaton said. The project team is also working with publishers, who are generally supportive, to increase their understanding of the project.

The Graduate School is providing training and making how-to information available on the Internet (http://etd.vt.edu/etd/) to help students prepare their documents. More than a dozen workshops have already been held at on- and extended-campus sites.

The Web site contains information for universities who want to join the effort by making their students' theses and dissertations available, and for scholars who want to access the ETD library, as well as a workshop schedule, campus lab list, and submission information for students.

General workshops for students and programs for specific classes have been offered since spring 1996. The university is also purchasing 150 copies of Adobe Acrobat Pro to put in student computer labs to be used to convert documents to PDF files. Microsoft and Adobe have provided software for the project and IBM has provided equipment. The Web site how-to information means students will be able to find help any time of day or night they happen to be using the software, Eaton said.

If students have attended a workshop and read the Web information, and still have questions, they can send messages to etd@vt.edu.

There will be instances when students will not be required to submit full electronic theses and dissertations, Eaton said. "Architecture presently requires drawings that may not fit the electronic format, for example. Or a student and/or faculty member may believe that a scanned photo will not represent the information they are trying to present." However, he suggested that in these instances the document be submitted electronically and the reader referred to a separate printed document to view specific material.

A third instance when an ETD may not be required is when the student is away from campus and does not have access to the necessary technology, though many remote students may find electronic submission easier and less expensive than using post or courier services.

Virginia Tech developed and implemented the ETD concept in 1993 and is the first university to require ETD's. With regional and federal funding, Tech is making the process available to other universities. NC State has initiated a pilot ETD project and UVa is also beginning to accept ETD's, Eaton said. Other universities who are participating in some fashion in the project include Auburn, Clemson, Columbia, Florida Institute of Technology, Georgia Tech, Georgia, Illinois, Michigan Tech, Mississippi State, MIT, Ohio State, Portland State University, Utah, and Vanderbilt.

For more information, visit the ETD project home page at http://etd.vt.edu/etd/.