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Task force sets requirements for next year's freshmen at Tech

By Matthew Winston

Spectrum Volume 20 Issue 28 - April 16, 1998

Virginia Tech's Computer Requirement Support Task Force recently cleared one of its major hurdles by determining the minimum hardware and software specifications needed to satisfy the computer requirement for incoming fall 1998 freshmen.
The task force, comprised of more than 200 Virginia Tech faculty and staff members, administrators and students, has been meeting regularly since October to implement a campus transition plan after President Paul Torgersen announced in August 1997 that all incoming freshmen would be required to own a personal computer.
"This endeavor has been a real case study in successful group dynamics," said Karen Torgersen, director of Undergraduate Admission and chair of the task force's Communications Sub-Committee. "I have served on many large committees before at the university, and never have I seen so many people come together and work so effectively as this group has. This group has accomplished a lot."
The task force examined many issues associated with making computers mandatory for Tech students. Among those were issues of hardware and software support, academic course considerations, student financial aid, and communications issues. The task force split into two groups, an administrative group and an academic group, to address these issues. One of the top priorities was to develop and adopt the baseline specifications for the students' machines.
"We feel really comfortable that the machines and software we require will enable our students to conduct their course work, research and studies successfully in Virginia Tech's computing environment," said John Husser, who heads the music department and chaired the academic group charged with determining the university minimum hardware and software specifications. "Our main consideration was making sure that each student would have a machine that would serve them well while at Virginia Tech, while ensuring they would not have to exhaust their bank accounts to do so. These machines are financially attainable."
Computers meeting the university baseline specifications will be available to students at the University Bookstore, Volume II and at the Northern Virginia Center in Fairfax. Students are not required to purchase their machines from the University Bookstore, but are strongly encouraged to make sure the machines they purchase or bring from home meet these baseline requirements. Otherwise, it will be extremely difficult to receive support from University Computing Support (User Services).
Torgersen said that securing the specs and the vendors was very important. "This is the information our prospective students and their parents are really anxious to receive. They want to know when they should buy their machines, what kind to buy, and where they should get them," she added. "We want our prospective students to have all the information needed to make their decision on whether or not to accept offers from Virginia Tech."
The committee produced a question-and-answer brochure which the admissions office mailed to every student offered admission, and to all Virginia Tech faculty and staff members. The brochure contains general information about the freshman computer requirement and lists a computer requirement hotline 1-2993), e-mail address: (computer.requirement@vt.edu), and web address: (http://www.compreq.vt.edu), where parents, students, and faculty and staff members can find answers to common and specific questions.
Specific questions about departmental requirements will be directed to a liaison located in each department. The Academic Committee has developed a comprehensive database with information about departmental contacts. These contacts and a list of additional frequently asked questions about the computer requirement can be found on the computer requirement web site.
Husser said that the committee chose both PC-based and Macintosh platforms with laptop and desktop options to give students the flexibility to choose the machine that will best suit their individual needs. Husser said general requirements apply to all students, but that some departments or colleges have more specific requirements beyond those specified by the university committee.
Virginia Tech is the first college or university in Virginia and one of the first public schools in the nation to require computer ownership of its students. Other schools, like Longwood College and the University of Florida, also have plans to implement a computer requirement for its students beginning fall 1998.
Information sessions with details about the computer requirement are being provided to prospective students and parents by the Office of Undergraduate Admissions. Information sessions designed for the faculty will occur later this semester, and a session designed for personnel who work with students outside of the classroom will be in June. This effort, led by the Academic Advisory Committee, is designed to inform university personnel about the implications of the new computer requirement in teaching. The committee recognizes that there are many ways to integrate technology into teaching and they support diversity in course instruction.
Faculty members having questions about the new computer requirement and how it will affect them are encouraged to attend one of the information sessions and have their questions addressed.
Two information sessions have already been set. The first is scheduled for Monday, May 4, from 2 to 3:30 p.m. in 100 Hancock. The second session is scheduled for Tuesday, May 5, from 8:30 to 10 a.m. in the Donaldson Brown auditorium. For more information about these sessions, contact Dianna Benton at diannalu@vt.edu.
The configurations seleacted represent baseline units that will allow students to operate effectively in the Virginia Tech computing environment. Other configurations (with slower processors and/or less RAM) may or may not run efficiently and will certainly "age" faster than the configurations selected. The specified configurations will allow for the successful completion of academic work assigned by the faculty. Microsoft has announced plans to release Windows 98 mid-summer. When it is released, University Computing Support will support it.
Virginia Tech will provide each incoming student with some additional software used frequently by Virginia Tech students, and faculty and staff members. Additional software which may be required for specifics courses will be determined by each academic department.