Of course, a key reason UB is embracing IT (Information Technology), aside from the fact that it makes doing many things so much easier, is that computers are here to stay. To be able to live in a world where computer use is commonplace, both on the job and in everyday life, students-regardless of their major-have to learn how to use and be comfortable with them.
Hilary Mitchell-Husted, a senior majoring in accounting, has already seen how learning to use Microsoft Access and Excel software at UB directly relates to her plans to become a CPA. "I had a summer job in the accounting department at Rich Products where I used Access, and I used Excel every single day for six out of the eight hours I was there," she says. She learned Access in Management Information Systems 351, where student teams worked together on an assignment to create a functional database.
In addition to incorporating well-known software programs to facilitate learning, many UB faculty, staff and even students come up with their own innovations. Before deciding to pursue a Ph.D. in learning and instruction in the Graduate School of Education, Logan Scott was an instructional designer at UB, assisting faculty by doing everything from building electronic bulletin boards to putting course syllabi and readings on the web. He created a web-based application that helps student teachers learn how to become reading clinicians. Scott took actual cases of children with reading problems and put them up on the web as simulated kids for grad students to diagnose. The program he built keeps a record of all the students' actions. The record is e-mailed to the professor, who gives the students feedback and shows them an actual clinician's diagnosis.
"Students get to see and hear kids with reading problems, and it amazes them," says Scott. "For some, it's the first time they've ever heard a seven- or nine-year-old kid who can't read a first-grade level story." Students benefit by gaining experience before they work with real kids, and they can complete eight cases per semester online, compared to only one or two off-line.
Chemistry professor Robert D. Allendoerfer was an early technology adopter. In 1994 he cocreated "Viz Quiz," an interactive multimedia project for tutoring, quizzing and evaluating homework. By fall 1997, he had put the textbook General Chemistry, by Darrell Ebbing, on the web. "Webbing, The Online Introductory Chemistry Text," as it's known around campus, is essential browsing for Chemistry 101–102 students.
Faculty are also adopting "community learning" to increase student-to-student and student–faculty interaction. For example, Maureen Jameson, UB associate professor of modern languages and literatures, uses electronic bulletin boards for out-of-class discussion and takes advantage of classrooms with computer projection capabilities to show text-related images and to work on students' writing skills in her French classes.
She explains: "Students hand in essays electronically, on disk or as attachments to e-mail. Exemplary papers can be displayed in their entirety, with, for instance, colored highlighting added to show skillful transitions between paragraphs, or to bring out the well-constructed parallels in a given passage. Excerpts can be taken from the less successful essays, say a sentence or two or three at a time-not of sufficient length for the author to be recognizable; highlighting can again be used to show excessive repetitions, inconsistency in verb tense, or whatever."
Jameson also teaches an honors course, Humanities 175 Literary Hypertexts, in which students take a literary work and create a web page that links certain words in the text to additional relevant information. For instance, Kevin Eye took Jameson's class and created a site around "Usher 2," a Ray Bradbury story (see links at end of article). "I use IT in all my courses now," says Jameson. "I haven't picked up a piece of chalk in two years."
Even simple e-mail messages are an effective way for faculty to share their unique experiences with students. In February, volcanologist and UB assistant professor of geology Tracy Gregg was on the research vehicle "Atlantis," studying underwater volcanoes in the Pacific Ocean about 500 miles southeast of Easter Island. She kept in contact with her students at UB by e-mail, telling stories of her dives while she was two miles under the ocean's surface in an 18-foot-long submersible vehicle; she also managed to grade their homework.
To help faculty develop multimedia and web-based course materials, the Educational Technology Center opened this past spring in 212 Capen. Its aim is to help faculty and other UB instructors design instructional technology applications and to develop web-based and multimedia courses, primarily for undergraduates. According to director David Willbern, UB professor of English and associate vice provost for educational technology, this fits in well with the university's IT mission. "When we vigorously encourage students to bring computers to campus, we have to provide courses that offer innovative and valuable uses of instructional technology," he says.
Libraries have always been on the leading edge of making information accessible via computers, so-not surprisingly-they are a major part of the "Wired World @ UB." But they, too, have changed and improved. BISON, the libraries' electronic information system, started out in 1990 as the library catalog and has since grown into today's comprehensive web-based system that allows access to full-text articles, books and a whole lot more.
But it's the Cybraries-public computing sites within the Oscar A. Silverman Undergraduate Library (UGL), Lockwood Memorial Library and Science and Engineering Library-that have received enthusiastic reviews since they opened at the start of the 1998–99 academic year. More than 170 state-of-the-art Sun workstations are wired for e-mail and Internet access and equipped with Windows NT, the Microsoft Office suite, CD-ROM drives, zip drive and necessary software. The first-floor south Cybrary in the Undergraduate Library is open 24 hours a day Monday through Thursday; the other sites in UGL and Lockwood are open 24 hours during exam times. More than 60 open ports are available for students to plug in their own laptop computers; plus there are stations for printing and scanning documents.
"The beauty of the new web-based library environment," says UGL director Margaret R. Wells, "is that students no longer have to spend hours poring over paper indexes, then running around to find paper copies of journal articles. Instead, they can simply use BISON and have more time left for study or leisure."
The future is now
UB is entering the next century with a great start on using new technology. However, as with any innovation, its value is sometimes questioned. "The debate about whether it is or it isn't [of value] is going to last a long time," says Logan Scott. "There is no definitive answer that will change people's beliefs. But, while we're debating it, technology is advancing rapidly. If people want to continue debating its usefulness, that's fine, but it's important to look at the best ways of using it."
If UB's wired accomplishments so far are any indication, our students, and in turn the entire UB community, are in for some exciting future developments.
Michele Kinnamon-who hasn't used a typewriter since 1986, when she heard there were Macintosh SE 30s in the English Department computer lab at Ohio University in Athens-is the web publications editor on the University at Buffalo Web Team.