Technology and CLAS

- Mike Conlon, Director for Information Resources

For the past three years I have had the pleasure of working on computing and networking issues for CLAS. I have met extraordinary people and worked on fascinating problems. Since 1993, about 2,000 computers in CLAS have been put on the Internet. I lead a team that manages the physical network (wires, hubs, repeaters, switches, routers) in 19 of the college's buildings; manages email and web services as well as assists local department support personnel and faculty in keeping computers and networks running smoothly.

Our college is incredibly diverse. Humanities, sciences and social sciences all have very different needs for computing and technology, but all have understood the need to be on the Internet for both email and web access. These technologies are necessary tools for scholarship and teaching.

In scholarship, email gives faculty the means to collaborate across institutions. Manuscripts, software, pictures, sounds recordings and more can be transmitted to distant colleagues. Developing research proposals and executing research plans now require the use of email. Most faculty use email both in the office and at home, communicating with their peers at all hours. The Web is also an essential tool for scholarship. Search engines find previous results and important discipline specific sites are all over the Web. Meta sites (sites that list other sites) are important editorial signposts on the web. I maintain the Virtual Library Statistics page, a resource for folks looking for academic statistical resources at our department's web server (see http://www.stat.ufl.edu/vlib/statistics.html).

In teaching, email has changed the way faculty interact with students. Unlike office hours, which are rarely used by students, email access to faculty opens up dialogs between students and faculty that did not exist previously. Email with students is a very rewarding way to extend teaching beyond the classroom. Web sites change the nature of available academic material. Unlike books, web pages need not be static. Ray Thomas in our geology department has created a fascinating on-line resource for Earth System Science (see http://ess.geology.ufl.edu/). Careful! This site is addictive - it demonstrates how the web can be used to access live resources, not just static hunks of text. In physics, Selman Hershfield has created an interactive web site to accompany Physics II (see http://www.phys.ufl.edu/~phy3054/.). This site uses on-line interactive lessons to allow students to solve problems in electrostatics, DC circuits, magnetism, and light.

In writing, the college has created the Networked Writing Environment (see http://www.ucet.ufl.edu/writing). Opened in the fall of 1994, this facility of five classrooms and 150 computers has hosted over 7,800 students and this fall another 2,600 students will receive their writing instruction in on-line classrooms. Each student has web access, email, word processing, library catalog access, a text-based virtual reality environment and more to develop skills as on-line writers, communicators and researchers. Many of our students have their first course at UF taught in one of these rooms. From their very first day, these students are exposed to modern technology and its impact on writing and the university.

This fall the college is adding to its technology commitments with two new programs - the Computer Assisted Language Laboratory and the new Center for Written and Oral Communication. The CALL will have 30 on-line computers with multi-media capability. We will be working with the language departments to upgrade faculty computing to enable foreign language text production as well as modern network access for email and web. The Center will stress speaking and writing in the disciplines and will be on-line as well as on the air. A cable television channel from the Center will reach dormitories and academic buildings on campus. It will join two foreign language channels we have placed on the campus cable system as well as a new academic advising channel to be added this fall.

Many of our departments are making strong commitments to technology-driven instruction and scholarship. The chemistry department is developing its Interactive Teaching Laboratory with computer simulations of chemical processes. Biological sciences is opening a new lab that combines traditional microscopy with multimedia presentations and on-line access. Physics operates a large undergraduate computing lab. Statistics is opening a new 40- seat Macintosh lab this fall for students of Introductory Statistics.

We are also beginning to explore the possibilities of distance learning afforded by these new technologies. The Electronic Learning Forum will be an on-line resource for distance learning pedagogy and a focal point for its development. We have the means to involve off-campus students in on-campus instruction. This exciting new possibility will be explored in the coming months.

I'm fortunate to be involved with the college and its energetic pursuit of using new technologies to facilitate its missions in teaching, research and service. I hope you have an opportunity to visit campus and see these facilities or cruise the web and see our electronic resources starting from the college home page at http://www.clas.ufl.edu.