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Mandatory computer policy being developed

By Matthew Winston

Spectrum Volume 20 Issue 14 - December 4, 1997

On Aug. 25, Virginia Tech President Paul Torgersen announced to the Board of Visitors that beginning in the fall of 1998, all first-year students will be required to have a computer. Virginia Tech will be among only a few schools in the nation and the first in the Commonwealth to implement a mandatory computer policy for its students. Several colleges and departments at Virginia Tech already have a computer requirement policy in place. This new requirement will make the policy universal.
"We believe that it is essential that every Virginia Tech graduate be computer literate. It needs to be just like reading and writing--part of one's very nature. More and more of our coursework requires computer access and literacy. More and more of the real world requires the same," said Torgersen.
Following Torgersen's announcement, Provost Peggy Meszaros asked Ron Daniel, associate provost for undergraduate programs, and Erv Blythe, vice president for information systems, to co-chair a task force charged with the responsibility of implementing the transition plan required to support the computer requirement. The task force divided its work into two committees. The two committees mirror each other and there is significant interaction between the two.
The Implementation Committee, chaired by Blythe, consists of faculty members, staff members, and administrators from across many offices on campus and has as its primary charge addressing issues that will affect the operating functions to support the new policy. This group looks at a variety of issues such as network infrastructure; procurement and distribution; contracts with vendors; support and training; communication of requirements and expectations to students, parents, and faculty members; financial aid and scholarships; software and hardware requirements; fee structures; orientation integration; and personnel needs.
The Academic Advisory Committee has a similar charge. This group, made up mostly of faculty members, addresses similar issues, but concentrates more on the impact the requirement has on academic, curricular, support, and recruiting issues. The committee's responsibility is to ensure the curriculum adequately supports the academic requirement in all departments.
Ron Daniel says that a collaborative academic effort on the curricular level is the key component to making the requirement successful. "It is essential that we implement this policy in coordination with innovative curricula that promote and support computer and technology interaction," Daniel said. "We want to be sure that a wide range of courses taught by our faculty members will utilize challenging levels of interaction with instructional technology. These courses and learning experiences will be of great benefit to our students both during and beyond their education Virginia Tech."
"A significant aspect to the timing of our requirement at Virginia Tech is that we are well positioned to make this step," Daniel continued. "We know that about 70% of our students already arrive at Virginia Tech with computers. Approximately 1,325 of our faculty members have attended the Faculty Development Institute (FDI) over its initial four year cycle and are already utilizing instructional technologies. By the end of the 2001 academic year, an additional FDI cycle of 1,400 faculty participants is planned."
"Current planning discussions are also focusing on staff and GTA training sessions to complement the FDI efforts. These levels of past involvement and future commitment, coupled with the coming requirement, give us confidence that our teaching methods will evolve in synchronization with the expectations and skill levels of our students," Daniel added.
The Implementation Committee has already met several times, including at a two-day, off-campus project planning retreat, to iron out a plan to present to the president and Board of Visitors. The Academic Committee has also held meetings, both in small subgroups and as a committee as a whole, to look at issues surrounding the requirement. Daniel, who chairs the academic committee, has invited department heads from all the colleges to a breakfast meeting on Wednesday, Dec. 10, to gather more feedback and comments from the faculty on how to best accomplish the task.
"This is an enormous task which the university is not taking lightly," said Wayne Donald, associate director of administrative information systems. "We have done our best to construct our own implementation model to best fit the structure of Virginia Tech and meet the needs of our students. We have also consulted with some colleges on campus as well as with a few schools in the country which are trying to implement a computer requirement plan or have already done so."
Tech's College of Engineering began requiring computers for its students in 1984. Wake Forest University was the first privately funded school to implement a mandatory computer requirement for all of its students several years ago. Georgia Tech instituted a computer policy this past fall after conducting three years of study and planning. The University of Florida is planning to implement a mandatory computer policy for its first-year students beginning in fall 1998, like Virginia Tech.
"It took Georgia Tech three years to implement their plan. We are attempting to accomplish the same feat in just a few short months," Donald added. "And we have three times the number of students."
"However, a lot of people from all sectors of the university have worked extremely hard and quickly put their talents together in order to make this happen. We certainly anticipate the fall '98 transition to take place smoothly and effectively."
Although several components of the plan have already been completed, the task force is looking to have the plan presented to the Board of Visitors at its upcoming meeting in February.
Anyone having questions or suggestions they would like to see addressed by the task force, please send e-mail to Ron Daniel at rdaniel@vt.edu or Wayne Donald at wdonald@vt.edu.