Be a Campus Know-IT-All

As a student, you’re rarely at a loss for questions. Indeed, an inquisitive mind is at the root of all learning — and the better the queries, the richer the experience.

But there are some instances when you might find yourself uncharacteristically mum. For example, when it comes to assessing the role of information technology in your curriculum or daily campus life, you might not know what to ask.

Enter Educause, a nonprofit organization created to improve the use of information technology in higher education. In partnership with the American Association of College Registrars and Admissions Officers and the National Association for College Admissions Counseling, Educause developed a handy guide to help students evaluate IT on campus.

“This is thought to be a set of questions to help [students] think intelligently about the IT environment at schools they’re considering,” said Peter DeBlois, director of programs and media relations for Educause, which has 17,000 active members from more than 2,250 colleges, universities and educational organizations.

While DeBlois said the primary audiences are prospective college students, the campus IT organization and the admissions office, the publication – called the “Student Guide to Evaluating Information Technology on Campus” – also could be useful for students considering or who have recently selected IT as a major.

“There are so many reasons why institutions have different computing organizations, based on their size, institutional mission and so on,” DeBlois said. “It’s not to rank them, but to help students and parents and guardians make informed decisions.”

The guide offers students more than 40 pertinent questions to ask about an institution’s IT environment, and the questions are relevant for both two- and four-year public, private or research institutions. The queries are organized into four main categories: academic experience, administrative experience, student life and services and fees. To help narrow it down, DeBlois highlighted the one crucial must-know from each category.

Academic Experience
Just because you’re a savvy IT student doesn’t mean you’re an instant expert on all the equipment requirements for your classes.

“It’s important for students to find out how technology is going to be used in their fields of interest,” DeBlois said. “For example, if you’re going into engineering, are you required to purchase a certain type of computer or laptop in order to do academic work either the initial first year or in advanced courses?”

DeBlois also noted that as more students bring their own equipment to campus, they should verify that their personal laptops “mesh with disciplinary expectations.” Administrative Experience

“The one most compelling ought-to-know for prospective students is to find out how security and privacy and things like file sharing are handled on the campus,” DeBlois said.

As an IT student, you probably send many attachments via e-mail and use the Web extensively – possibly even divulging personal or other identifying information – so it’s important to understand your university’s policies and procedures. It’s also crucial to know how file sharing works via the campus library’s online database.

“Many schools will not only offer but require that students using the network download a package of software – that will include virus protection, a firewall and other security features – before they’re authorized to get on the network,” DeBlois added.

Student Life
As an IT student, you’ll probably be running from place to place to get assignments done, so it’s important to know where the public computing areas are, DeBlois said. Most importantly, you should find out where and how wireless networking is available. If you’re commuting to class, this information is particularly important, as is finding out how to access the network from home or elsewhere.

“Commuting students need to find out what their opportunities to access computing remotely are,” DeBlois said. “That’s certainly a consideration for major urban institutions and those with large part-time commuter populations.”

Services and Fees
When much of your curriculum involves networking and Web use, it’s critical that you fully understand the nature of your university’s IT help desk: its hours, what kind of help is available and where you need to go for additional resources, DeBlois said.

“It’s good for [students] to find out just how the computing and technology support services work at the institution,” he said.

The Educause guide also stresses that students should remember they are consumers as well, and they should find out about the costs associated with things such as antivirus software packages or using the library’s online services.

– Agatha Gilmore, agilmore@certmag.com

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