Sixteen IBM NetStation network computers were installed recently in McElroy Cafe and the Lyons Hall Welch Dining Room, and 30 more will be set up in other campus locations by May 1. A network computer does not have a hard drive or disk drive; it is essentially a terminal with a monitor and keyboard connected to a central campus information server. In addition to accessing e-mail and University Libraries, students can check their grades, register for courses or log onto the World Wide Web.
Information Technology Consultant Julie Olivieri said the network computers project reflects the University's intent to provide widespread access to systems and services students and other users require. The advent of World Wide Web-based applications make it easier to obtain information or perform tasks that previously required assistance from staff, Olivieri said, but not all students have computers constantly at their disposal.
"As more information is made available on the World Wide Web," said Olivieri, "we're going to have to make the Web more available to people who don't have computers."
Senior Laura Maletis uses one of the new terminals in Lyons Hall. (Photo by Elena Vizvary)
The 16 new computers in McElroy and Lyons - eight of which were donated by IBM as part of a pilot project - replaced outdated Macintosh machines that provided e-mail access only, Olivieri said. The network computers have bright color monitors and are simple to operate: A touch of a button brings up a main browser, with links to e-mail, online library catalogues and other information services. No password sign-on is required to browse the Internet. If the machine crashes, Olivieri says, it is relatively easy to re-start, with clear instructions posted by the screen.
"You can walk up and right away you can start browsing the Web," said Olivieri. "We're trying to make it as simple as possible. Anyone in our community of 20,000 can come up and use these monitors, without needing to go through a training session first. Boston College is trying to take the difficulty out of computers and make technology easy to use and reliable."
The machines apparently have met with an enthusiastic welcome. Usage statistics for Tuesday, March 31 indicated the 16 terminals fielded 6,100 requests over the course of the day. More than 80 percent of those transactions involved e-mail, with most of the rest being made for school information. Peak usage came during lunch hours.
By the end of spring, said Olivieri, additional network computers will be installed in O'Neill, Bapst and Social Work libraries, as well as the Career Center, Murray Graduate Student Center, Educational Resource Center, Student Learning and Support Center, and Stuart Dining Hall on Newton Campus.
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