Computer study in the MidWest
The East and West Coasts of the U.S. may be known for high-tech industries, but it’s the Midwest that leads in high technology college education.
When all students and faculty have their own computers and easy access to the Internet, the college experience changes for the better. Students use the Internet for research and email, their Web pages and class presentations look professional, and software allows them to travel the galaxy, explore a molecule, or design a new machine. Some classes even have CD-ROMs instead of textbooks. Earth Science faculty use the Internet to display current weather maps, overhead cameras to display inorganic materials, and listservs to provide better communication. Biology classes use Internet resources, videodisc materials, overhead cameras and electronic image capture. Human performance classes use heart rate monitors that connect to the computers. Many classes use network resources to transfer daily assignments electronically and post course material on shared network space or the Web.
Daily computing gives students skills that employers in all fields want when they are hiring graduates. Interested students may work at the Computer Center Help Desk and Major in Information Technology, giving them both knowledge and experience for high-wage jobs after graduation. Future teachers who have computing experience are in demand, because they have more teaching tools and the knowledge to help older teachers. An estimated 90 percent of all jobs now require some computer skill. Imagine what it was like when only a few people had telephones or fax machines - communication was difficult, slow, and sometimes impossible. Universal access to these machines has changed the world. The same leap occurs when everyone has computers: no more waiting in line at a computer lab, no more storing your work on floppy disks. You can download the professor’s notes, rather than making your own, so that you can think about the material straight away instead of writing notes to think about later.
Student surveys consistently show that at least four out of five students at ‘notebook campuses’ recommend that all colleges provide computers for everyone. A similar number, rising every year, report that using computers increases their communication with others.
Students say the computers give them more choice and responsibility, a more supportive learning environment, greater interest in learning, more ability to integrate and organize knowledge, and more cooperation in the learning process.
No national study has yet provided a complete list of which colleges offer this kind of experience. Colleges that do so tend to be relatively small, primarily because such a major change is nearly impossible to make at a large institution.
Valley City State University maintains a list here that includes the following Midwest institutions: Columbus State Community College (OH), Northwest Technical Colleges (MN), University of Minnesota at Crookston, Mayville State University (ND), Valley City State University (ND), Concordia University in St. Paul (MN), University of Denver (CO), Northern Michigan University, Rasmussen College (MN), Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology (IN), St. Gregory’s College (OK), and Waldorf College (IA).
Students who want to analyze a college for its use of technology should ask both college personnel and current students such questions as:
- Do all students have full-time use of a computer?
- If so, how powerful is it? How much hard-drive storage does it have?
- How many classrooms have network outlets at every student seat?
- How many classrooms have electronic presentation equipment?
- How many professors expect students to use a computer as part of the instructional process?
- Does the university hire students for information technology jobs?
- How satisfied are current students with their access to and use of computers?
- Are there any limits on student use of email, Web, printing, or shared electronic storage space?
- Are dorm rooms wired for the Internet?
- What kind of technical support is available to students, at what hours and days of the week?
- What student services (such as registration, financial aid, or admissions) are available electronically?
As important as the technology itself has become, the most important feature is whether the college and its faculty understand that technology is not an end in itself - technology is a tool for learning. A key question, therefore, is, ‘Do professors use technology appropriately for teaching and learning?’ Current students are probably the best source of information on that question. If you don’t know any current students, go to the college’s Web site and send an email to the admissions office - ask them to put you in touch with some current students. You can do all your homework without a single postage stamp or long distance call!