Volume 77
Number 4

Health for All

Fear of Flying

Flying II: High Anxiety

Virtual Vietnam

Uncovering the Past

Wired New World

Enigma: Physics Band

Emory University

Association of Emory Alumni

Current News and Events

Emory Report



Sports Updates





















































A DECADE AGO, college freshmen came to campus fairly clueless. They probably arrived armed with a stack of friendly form letters from the admissions office and might have written a note to their assigned roommate or exchanged phone calls over the summer. Otherwise, they were landing on a new and utterly unfamiliar shore.

Not anymore. When freshman Nidhi Jain arrived at Emory College this fall, she was ahead of the game. She already had met many of her classmates. She had chatted with her roommate and knew who would bring the TV, who would bring the coffee maker, and that their dorm room would be decorated in blue. She had figured out which freshman seminar she wanted to take and learned how to avoid PE 101. She had even signed on to join the staff of the student newspaper, the Emory Wheel, to cover the technology beat.

Jain had been making good use of her knowledge of information technology (IT) all summer. Thanks to computers and the Internet, Emory’s crop of incoming students can log on and find out practically everything about the University, from the location of campus ATMs to the schedule of religious services. Using the University’s Web site and LearnLink online community, they can learn about student organizations, courses, professors, Greek life, libraries, and campus events. They can discover where to park, where to buy a cheeseburger, and where to go if they’re sick. They can meet other incoming freshmen and even solicit advice from upperclassmen about which dorm has the biggest rooms and which freshman biology professor gives the hardest tests.

“It was great, because once we got full access to LearnLink, we could really get a taste of Emory life,” Jain says. “We could meet and greet with other students. Professors would answer questions. I felt I really had a head start coming here. I learned so much I didn’t feel lost.”

Gaining an early advantage is only the beginning. Over the last dozen years, the presence of information technology on college campuses has steadily increased until it touches almost every aspect of the student experience. IT is used in the classroom, for academic assignments, for research, and in every imaginable kind of personal and social exchange. Computers have become so integrated into students’ lives that they can hardly imagine existence without them.

“I could not be at Emory without a computer,” says senior Austin “Trae” Cooper, a computer science and creative writing major who works for Emory’s Information Technology Division. “I mean, I’d be living in the computer lab.”


TODAY’S FRESHMEN have grown up with personal computers and have often used them since early in their education, says Donald E. Harris, chief information officer and vice provost for information technology at Emory. “To say they ‘hit the ground running’ is an understatement,” Harris says.

In addition to helping new students feel at home at Emory, technology can help them stay in touch with the home they left behind. “Today’s undergraduates are always connected to a wide network of friends via cell phones, e-mail, instant messenger, and other resources,” Harris says. “And their communication with these friends or contacts is constant. For example, it is not uncommon for a freshman to remain in contact with many students from their high school who are now at other universities across the country or around the world. I would suggest that this has the potential to bring an added richness to the university experience.”

Asked if she uses e-mail to communicate with her friends from home, freshman Jain answered, “Not really.”

Sensing confusion, she explained: “We tend to use instant messenger a lot more. E-mail can be kind of slow.”

Beginning last year with the class of 2004, students are assigned an account in LearnLink, an on-line community created for University students and faculty, as soon as they are accepted to Emory. LearnLink is their key to Emory’s myriad resources and, more importantly, each other. There they can find dozens of conferences (virtual meeting rooms) established on a vast array of topics, including one for each academic discipline, as well as a conference set up expressly for their entering class. At a school of Emory’s size, this allows students to connect with one another in ways they might not otherwise be able to.

“LearnLink is vital. . . . People who would not normally see each other at Emory know each other through seeing their names at various conferences,” says Janet Chan, a senior and the residential computing consultant for Turman dormitory. “Absolutely everybody uses it.”

Often, a connection made in cyberspace sets the stage for a face-to-face encounter. When she showed up for her first biology class, Jain says, professor Anne Roush greeted her with: “I can’t pronounce your name—but I can picture it on my screen!”

LearnLink serves as a calendar, message board, meeting place, and forum for discussion. On any given day, a sampling of announcements might include: “Tango this Saturday,” “Want to Help Troubled Kids?,” “Commencement Speakers Steering Committee!,” “Tibet: Views From Both Sides of the Border,” and “Sushi, Wings, and Hummus . . . Coming Soon.”

“If it weren’t for e-mail, many things would pass me by and I would not even have the chance to participate,” says Cooper, who created a LearnLink conference and social club for science fiction fans.

The virtual conferences on the academic disciplines are among the most popular on LearnLink, and most of the posts are devoted to discussion of faculty members’ teaching habits and student-to-student strategizing to receive the best possible grade. For instance, a plea for advice on which environmental science course to take: “Which is easier, ENVS 130 w/Hitchcock or ENVS w/Size? Note: I am terrible at science. This is important and I want a good grade.”

Discussion topics range from racism on campus to the Roman numerals on the clock tower, and threads can generate literally hundreds of conversation-style postings.

Students are also able to use LearnLink to communicate directly with professors on a regular basis. They frequently e-mail questions about assignments or tests and faculty members usually issue a timely reply, although some professors have found it necessary to limit the volume of e-mail exchanges with students. Still, this easy communication is a far cry from the days when professors often seemed remote and inaccessible; most would post office hours a couple of times a week, and otherwise, they vanished mysteriously the minute they left the classroom. Now they’re available almost anytime.

“E-mail is, of course, the primary means of communication, and I handle dozens of questions and other messages every week from students,” says associate professor of English James Morey. “The medium is very effective for posting assignments, answering short, specific questions, or setting up appointments.”

“When there is a question about an assignment, I will usually reply to the student and also post the answer in the LearnLink conference,” adds assistant professor of economics Owen Beelders. “This allows other students to read the question and my response.”

Some use of technology is required for virtually all Emory courses, whether it’s simply accessing assignments or creating complex Web sites for class projects. Many professors use LearnLink and the Web to post assignments, lecture outlines, resources, links, and other information relevant to the course; others no longer shuffle paper at all, but require that assignments be submitted, graded, and returned electronically. Gone are professors’ old canvas tote bags bursting with coffee-stained term papers.

“Now I never have to worry about losing submissions from students, and I can do my grading anywhere I find a computer,” says Rusty Pritchard, assistant professor of environmental studies.

Many Emory classrooms are equipped with podiums that have Internet capability built in, and a screen where students can watch the monitor. Chan, a journalism major, recalls that in the wake of the recent terrorist attacks, Cox Journalism Professor Catherine Manegold used the Internet to illustrate her points about the media coverage of these events.

“We were discussing the media’s use of that shot of the second plane hitting the tower, whether it was really responsible for them to keep showing it over and over,” Chan says. “She was able to download it and we could watch it right then, which made her point about how accessible it was.”

Some professors have embraced technology as a welcome instructional companion and use IT to its fullest capabilities, such as incorporating video conferencing and live chat sessions into class. “I managed to get two writers online to chat with the students during class period, one of whom was chatting from Santiago, Chile, and the other from Cornell University,” says Spanish professor Ricardo G. Mouat.

OF COURSE , the rise of technology use on college campuses is not without a downside. The Emory community’s heavy reliance on IT means that any glitches in the system can throw a monkey wrench into the University’s academic machinery.

“If something goes down you are kind of in trouble,” Jain says. “Especially when you have so many teachers putting notes and announcements online, you can really be out of the loop if something happens.”

And some worry that the ease of wired communication is removing elements of warmth and personal interaction from the college student’s experience, albeit while adding convenience. Through Opus, another student-focused University system, Emory students can register, drop or add classes, view their accounts and bills, change their address, and take care of housekeeping details that once required them to present themselves to an actual person (generally after standing in a long line).

A growing number of students are using laptop computers to take notes in class, a practice some professors frown on. “I object to students using laptops in class,” Morey says. “It’s distracting for me and for others. Class time should be reserved for face-to-face interaction between professor and student, and among the students themselves. In general, both students and professors spend too much time deposited in front of a computer screen.”

But Harris is quick to point out that IT at the University is used to enrich the professor-to-student relationship, not replace it. “Since the emphasis on the use of IT at Emory is to enhance the educational experience, I think that the use of resources that build virtual communities or allow access to new resources is of great importance,” he says. “The innovation often comes in how faculty utilize these out-of-class experiences when they meet in a traditional classroom environment. Many are finding that because students communicate more out of class or have access to media rich materials between classes, their interaction in the traditional environment takes on a new life.”

While the degree to which technology is used inside the classroom varies from professor to professor, outside the classroom it is an undisputed ally. It hardly bears noting that the resources available on the Web have dramatically altered the way students conduct research for courses in every discipline; they can access anything from law briefs to science journals, health publications to government documents, poetry sites to statistical databases, current news to archives of the New York Times that date back fifty years. Students can log onto the Internet from their dorms, although many still choose to study at the University libraries where they can socialize and take advantage of the library’s vast resources, including, of course, dozens of high-speed computers available for unlimited student use.

“In all my classes, it’s very integral to be using the Net for research and additional reading,” says Chan. “Many of the articles I use, if they weren’t on the ’Net, would be very hard to find, I would imagine.”

A pause.

“I guess I would have to be at the library looking at the actual volume,” Chan adds. “I mean, you would have to spend your whole life at the library in order to find out things I can get in seconds, with just one click.”




© 2002 Emory University