Colleges and universities have tapped the power of personal computers for years to help educate their students. But many institutions of higher learning have found the next step in computer technology difficult to achieve: linking the computers on campus together on a network.
Administrators at Villa Julie College, however, say they have installed a computer network that not only connects every computer on campus, but allows students to access off-campus data bases. And they can do it from their homes.
What are the benefits of the computer network to the college's students? Mike Rogich, Villa Julie's director of corporate relations, gave several answers.
"Someone on campus can sit at a personal computer hooked to the network and do many things," Mr. Rogich said. "They can access computer software used in course work, access library information and programming software, and communicate from machine to machine."
The network reaches beyond the campus of the four-year, non-denominational liberal arts college on Green Spring Valley Road in Stevenson.
"Students can access the Dow Jones data base for business information," Mr. Rogich said. "We can access Westlaw, a data base that makes all U.S. laws available to our paralegal and pre-law students."
In addition, the college's computer network is linked to an IBM mainframe computer at McCormick & Co. in Hunt Valley. That gives Villa Julie students a significant advantage when it comes to preparing for careers in the business world, college administrators say.
"Students are using the mainframe computer the same way a computer programmer at McCormick uses it," said Marc Levin, the chairman of Villa Julie's computer information systems department. "They up and down load from the mainframe using PCs, just like professional programmers do."
Because of the computer network, the physical location of the mainframe computer doesn't pose a problem. "The fact that we're a few miles away is immaterial," Mr. Levin said. "Students here are using the real world. We're even using software being utilized by industry."
Physically, Villa Julie's computer network is a system of cables and regular telephone lines. "We've installed a network infrastructure with cabling and equipment attached to PCs," Mr. Rogich said. "It allows anything connected to it to talk to anything else on the network, both on campus and locally off campus. You build the infrastructure and as new technology comes along, it hooks in."
Students with personal computers at home can get on the network by using a modem, a device that transmits electronic data over a telephone line. "You can dial in and use any resource on campus," Mr. Rogich said. "For example, someone doing a term paper can call up the library catalog file and do a data search for a list of books."
Vickie Rasnic, Villa Julie's director of admissions, said many students coming out of high school are computer savvy. "The network is an example of a service the college provides to new students," Ms. Rasnic said. "Because we have more PCs available, they don't have to wait in line to use one."
Creating a computer network is a complex task, said Deborah McBee, the manager of computer sciences at Villa Julie. "Our network is state of the art," Ms. McBee said. "We're using the latest versions of networking software that allow us to make all computers hooked into the network communicate with each other."
Mr. Levin pointed out that having computers wired together isn't enough. "I use the word 'integrated' to describe our computer network," he said. "We have an information network."