Digital Education
for the Millennial Generation © Feb. 15, 2008 Norwich University Office of Communications

Wireless work in Kreitzberg Library.

file photo Wireless work in Kreitzberg Library.

A laptop for every freshman, a wireless campus, class discussions online and distance learning—this is the face of high-tech campuses. How does Norwich University measure up?

Professor of Communications Narain Batra, who has been teaching media law, ethics, new media and the Internet at Norwich for more than two decades and currently writes a weekly online column, Cyber Age, for The Statesman said, “One thing is certain, this generation—who grew up with the Internet—expects more. Their minimum threshold is higher than it ever has been before. Years ago, when I taught web design I had to start from the very beginning. If I did that now, it would be insulting. The students come in knowing so much more.” Author of four books on technology, Batra recently published Digital Freedom, where he explores the question of “how much [digital] freedom does a person need?”—a question every university must try to answer about its students.

What’s true about technology today may literally not be true tomorrow. It is the same on the Norwich campus. It’s a “constant evolution,” said Deb Ahlers in the Interlibrary Loan Department of Kreitzberg Library. For every department at Norwich, there is a technological edge.

For the library, that means subscribing to numerous databases so that students can access online references, titles, articles, and journals, have them emailed to them directly, and ask questions of the research desk while they are online. However, counsels Batra, “The cutting edge is a moving platform. What is important is that a university has the technology that is appropriate and proportionate to what they are doing.”

…the University is in the process, thanks to a gracious grant from the Alden Trust Foundation, of moving toward a video and podcasting project…

~ Joe Morvan
Director of Information Technology Services

Just like at your favorite coffee shop and even McDonald’s these days, wireless Internet access is what makes customers happy. Campus-wide Internet access for students is something Norwich has recently accomplished. “Any student with a Norwich account has access to wireless in the dorms or outside the dorms,” said Joe Morvan, Director of Information Services. Although Norwich has “not implemented wireless for faculty and staff at this time,” it won’t be long until they too are wireless capable.

With five general-purpose computer labs and several specialized, degree-based labs (the School of Architecture & Art has a CAD lab, the School of Business & Management has a Forensics Lab for Computer Security and Information Assurance majors to practice protecting networks and databases from hackers), access in the library and Wise Campus Center, network ports in residence hall rooms, and email accounts for all students, it seems Norwich is well on its way to offering students the access to technology and digital freedom they have come to expect.

Another important component of technology on campus is what it offers in the classroom. “An institute of higher learning with graduate research programs needs a sophisticated environment of virtual learning that allows its students and faculty to access not only its own databases but also global intellectual resources,” said Batra, who also teaches a graduate seminar, Corporate Diplomacy, at Norwich School of Graduate Studies—Virtual Campus. Classrooms are considered ‘smart’ when teachers can connect directly to Internet sources, and therefore to more information and teaching tools. According to Morvan, “All university classroom spaces and major lecture halls are fitted with ‘smart classroom’ technology to enhance the learning experience.”

Cover of Prof. Narain Batra’s book, <em>Digital Freedom</em>.

Cover of Prof. Narain Batra’s book, Digital Freedom.

The University also offers a Learning Management System (LMS) environment where students have access to collaboration tools and are able to communicate with their faculty online. And, Morvan adds, “While there is support and tools to assist faculty with online collaboration tools, the University is in the process, thanks to a gracious grant from the Alden Trust Foundation, of moving toward a video and podcasting project where faculty, staff and visiting dignitary lectures can be captured and distributed via the Internet.”

Keeping up with technology for a university, or any organization, is an ongoing, ever-evolving process. It also affects every part of campus life, from registering for classes, to paying for lunch, to getting help when your computer crashes. And efforts to provide the most current digital resources for students and faculty must be balanced with the overarching need to ensure that the system and the confidential information it holds—Social Security numbers, grades, etc.—are protected and secure.

As the needs of the campus evolve, so, too, does the response from the administration. Richard Schneider, President of Norwich University, said, “Over the last five years we have made great progress in improving our IT support for students and faculty. We are now entering another phase of improving the use of our administrative computing system and making many of our processes, including registration, easier for everyone. There is much yet to do, but we are making great progress. We wish to continue to work towards a paperless university with simpler, easier and better processes for all functions of the University.”

Prof. Batra does feel that the level of technology at Norwich is appropriate and acknowledges that at an undergraduate level, the University still places a high value on face-to-face interaction between professors and students. “Classroom liveliness and vibrancy, the thrill of being with students is absent online,” he said. However, part of the goal of any university is to prepare students for the world in which they will work, which these days, means a digital world. Education has changed. The traditional subjects are still important, but colleges are expected to add so much more. “Book knowledge is not enough nowadays,” said Batra.