UCI May Require All Students to Own Computers

TIMES STAFF WRITER

UC Irvine officials are considering proposals to make information technology skills a requirement for undergraduates and to obligate all students to own personal computers.

These are among the recommendations of a campus task force created to find ways to give UCI students cutting-edge computer skills.

Last September, Chancellor Laurel L. Wilkening urged changes at UCI that would propel the campus into the ranks of the top 50 research institutions by the year 2000. She declared that future graduates must be prepared to "survive and prosper in the electronic information age."

Now, a group of 28 faculty and staff members are making their first pitch to Wilkening. They suggest that a course involving computer research--one that teaches how to use on-line databases and CD-ROMs, for example--become mandatory at UCI.

"The technology presents new opportunities for rethinking how we teach, from customizing teaching for students' needs to accessing library data," said Tim Standish, chairman of UCI's information and computer science department.

"Students who enroll today are going to be expecting opportunities like that in a university they choose," Standish said.

In an evolving plan, the educational technology task force also suggests that each student be required to own a computer, beginning with the entering class of 2000.

When Sonoma State University and Cal Poly San Luis Obispo announced a requirement that all entering freshmen have computers next fall, some questioned whether that was fair for poor students.

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"People at other universities have made a serious error in that respect that we would not like to make," Standish said. "You'd never want to do this prematurely--before the faculty routinely use [computer technology] and it's a part of the curriculum--or it's a waste and a financial strain."

Dennis Aigner, dean of the UCI Graduate School of Management, said that about 70% of UCI's graduate business students are already required to purchase laptop computers. UCI's two business programs for working professionals include the cost of a computer in the tuition.

Classrooms at the business school are wired for computer hookups, and professors use software packages that allow students to download the latest class notes and charts.

High-tech literacy "is one of our biggest selling points," Aigner said. "We market that very aggressively."

Aigner said selected educational technology, such as interviews with corporate executives recorded on CD-ROMs and visual displays on computer screens relating to professors' lectures, help reach students who don't necessarily learn best by reading.

Students who graduate with information technology skills are coveted in the job market, Aigner said.

Questions still abound over how computers may affect UCI's undergraduate education.

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Standish said creating a "21st-Century information skills" requirement--to accompany requirements that students take classes in multicultural and international issues, math, natural sciences and more--would mean starting classes that involve exercises in computer research.

The task force made several other recommendations: put course schedules and student forms on-line; encourage faculty members to get research grants in educational technology, and motivate departments to find ways to include more computer use at home and in assignments.

Faculty members will discuss possible curriculum changes in the coming months, and task force members will figure out how much a new thrust in information technology might cost before they present a more refined plan to Wilkening in December, Standish said.

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