By Kelly Kaufhold
If there's one thing today's college students know more about
than their parents did, it's how to get really wired. We're
not talking about caffeine or speed - that's another story.
Getting wired is about collegians being tuned in to the Net
when they first arrive on campus.
Every major American college is already linked to the Web
in one way or another, with many of them offering free online
access, email and research tools to every student. But at
least one school is taking that digital drive for knowledge
farther than most.
Since 1991, Dartmouth College students have had to pack up
their Mac or IBM and cart it off to campus along with their
belongings. "We're required to have a computer," says Jen
Taylor, a double major at Dartmouth. "The university has mostly
Macs. Now they offer both a PC and a Mac package," she adds.
Each new freshman's orientation package from
the school includes a pamphlet on the PC policy that spells
out just what systems are required. Dartmouth will even help
students get their hands on one.
"I did purchase one through the college," recalls Taylor,
who is now a junior. Her classmate did the same. "I got it
through the school program," says sophomore Julia Levy. "They
send you a mailing and it lists a couple of computer programs.
It had the iMac and the G3, and now it has a laptop and an
IBM compatible PC. During the orientation week when only the
freshmen are here, they give you your computer," says Levy.
Buying direct through Dartmouth offers students two advantages.
The computers come tech-tuned just right for life on campus,
with hardware and software requirements already set to school
specs. Plus, there's a bit of a break on the price - iMacs
are at least $50 off retail for students buying through the
campus computer store. A similar discount applies to other
computer systems, too.
The world may be running on Windows today, but nearly ten
years ago when Dartmouth's PC required program kicked in,
Apple was the best choice for the job. "The Mac systems were
much better tuned in to the campus," says Taylor. "This year
was the first year they stopped giving preference for the
Macintosh," shares Levy. "I'd say that most people still have
them, a lot of people have iMacs, a lot of people have the
In fact, the Mac bias at Dartmouth really started 16 years
ago. "Apple was selected in 1984, right when the 128 Mac came
out. There's a very strong precedent for a system that was
easy to use," explains Lawrence Levine, the school's director
of computing. "The choice for that turned out to be a Macintosh
because the Macintosh had its point and click icon graphic
For a short time Dartmouth didn't just favor Macintosh computers
over IBM compatibles - it required them. That's ironic because
there was talk at an Ivy League rival about just the opposite.
The head of Yale's information technology services was worried
that Apple computers would not be able to meet the needs of
students, because the company was not yet strong financially.
That was a couple of years ago, and those worries have since
gone away. The point is -- it's important for students to
see which system their school is plugging before they plug
Unlike Dartmouth, Yale doesn't make students pack a PC for
school. "You don't have to make it a requirement, they all
[bring a computer] anyway," says Tom Conway, from Yale's public
information office. That's true on most college campuses,
where students are finding a lot more uses for computers than
cybersurfing and playing pong.
"No, we don't require students to bring a PC," says Juhee
Kim, a sophomore studying math and biology at Boston University.
But she has one. "I use it all the time, actually, especially
with the Internet."
Most students shouldn't worry if they aren't wired when
they arrive at college. "There are various computers on campus,
in the library and computer labs," says Kim. "For computer
science courses we have computer labs for lectures, and you
actually have a computer in front of you."
Even the experts at Dartmouth admit most
students are packing PCs, with or without a school policy. "In
a way it's almost a moot point, because there are a lot of schools
where it's not a requirement, but it's very accessible. At this
point in time I don't think [a requirement] is really necessary,"
says Levine, who believes that other than Dartmouth, technical
and engineering schools are still the only places likely to
insist students bring computers to campus.
Even if students don't own a PC, they'll have to learn their
way around the information superhighway sooner or later. "I
have used the computer and had the students using the computer
for years and years," says retired Professor Robert Huke,
from Dartmouth. He first plugged his classes in, in the late
'70s. "I would judge that at least half of the courses on
campus require at least some kind of computer work. I'm in
the geography department, and here two-thirds of all the courses
require some kind of assignments to be done on the computer.
The same thing is true in environmental studies, Latin --
almost any department."
The electronic evolution has clearly driven the way people
teach and learn at America's institutions of higher learning.
"It's affected the way people work, the way they communicate,"
admits Levine. And his colleagues agree.
"That's certainly helped. The fact that we do have a policy
that all incoming freshman have to have a computer," says
Michael Beahan. As Dartmouth's director of instructional services,
his office sets up computer presentations for classes using
software like PowerPoint, which blends images and sound on
Beahan says although it's students who are required to have
and use a computer on campus, professors are finding themselves
facing some requirements of their own. "What I hear from faculty
is the first time they saw a PowerPoint presentation is when
a student used it to present a project," recalls Beahan. "I
think students are definitely pushing faculty to use this
technology, probably more so than they might have been."