Computing Is Essential To Everything We Do -- Including Education
John V. Lombardi
©Today, March 1998

Everyone talks about computers and the Internet. What we once saw as a tool for the technical expert now appears in television advertisements. Who hasnít seen the chic address for every enterprise in America, including the University of Florida (http://www.ufl.edu)?

These magic letters of the Internet signal a transformation in technology that affects every one of us. Those old enough to remember vacuum tubes and typewriters may escape the chaotic, creative and powerful world of microcomputers and the Internet, but our children and grandchildren cannot.

It is the World Wide Web known as the Internet as much as the cheap microcomputer that transforms our lives. The web is nothing more elaborate than a connected network that spans the globe. Designed as a communications system that could withstand a nuclear attack, the Internet turned out to communicate every imaginable type of information effortlessly to anyone anywhere.

The web expands endlessly and we can see no theoretical limits on its capacity. Technically transparent, elementary school students, research scientists and the IBM chairman of the board participate on the same basis. The Internet reflects the ubiquitous nature of computing in our society. We use computing in every field: music and the arts, history and poetry, science and engineering, medicine and law and business at every level. The computer, like printing and double-entry bookkeeping, add an essential dimension to everything we do. From the Mom and Pop store to the multinational conglomerate, everyone uses the computer to manage their affairs, and those who still do not, suffer a serious competitive disadvantage.

The University of Florida must ensure that our students use, understand and manage these computing resources. Already well into this transformation, our faculty, staff and students have a first rate set of computing resources located centrally and throughout the various colleges. A casual glance at the University of Florida home page on the Internet gives a clear indication of our leadership. While we have done much, we have much to do.

We provide every faculty, staff member and student with free e-mail and Internet access. Called GatorLink, this program began this fall and currently has created 20,000 new computer accounts. We put our telephone registration system and the State University System degree certification programs together into an Integrated Student Information System that includes academic advising, degree tracking, degree shopping, registration and transcript review, along with financial aid and a host of other services. All available from our home page, ISIS represents the most comprehensive university academic advising system in the nation.

In the fall of 1998, new students will need access to a computer. Students will most likely purchase a computer or bring one from home. This requirement makes it clear that the University of Florida includes computers as an integral a part of our instruction. We express this commitment as a requirement so students with financial need can qualify for additional aid to cover any extra cost. We belong to the Internet 2 consortium for high-speed networks. We have a multi-year program to upgrade our on- and off-campus network. We are wiring classrooms and residence halls. With Student Government, we are working on a program to provide computers to students at the best price and with the best service and upgrades available.

Will we do all this without complication? No, for the larger world of computing is chaotic with rapid change and innovation and many false starts. Should we wait for the computing environment outside the university to settle down? No, for this university must be part of the changes. Will we make mistakes? Yes, we will. Will we all agree on how we should support computing? No, for our needs and requirements will differ from college to college.

This transformation is a challenge. It costs money; takes time, energy and creativity; and requires cooperation and faith to find solutions to the inevitable sequence of problems and opportunities that arise. We cannot hesitate. Computing does not change what we do nor does it transform the intellectual substance of our work, but it does change the context within which we work and it provides a set of essential, if not yet fully realized tools in every field the university cultivates.

We now live in this interconnected world. Check out http://www.ufl.edu/ and, if you like, I am, like the rest of us at the University of Florida, available on the Internet at lombardi@ufl.edu.

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