Carnegie-Mellon, I.B.M. Designing Futuristic 'Wired' University
Pittsburgh--In collaboration with one of the computer industry's most influential corporations, Carnegie-Mellon University is attempting to create in two years the "wired city" that so far has been only the dream of futurists.
Students who enroll at the university in the fall of 1985 will not only own their own personal computers, but they will also be part of a computer network and will have access to a large stock of programs and an "electronic mail" system.
That network will also spread throughout the city and perhaps move across the country, with instructional programs offered to graduates of the university and probably others, officials said.
Carnegie-Mellon's president, Richard Cyert, last fall announced a joint initiative with the International Business Machines Corporation (ibm) to create on campus what officials said will be the most extensive everyday computer network in the world. Most undergraduates will be required to buy their own computers for about $3,000.
ibm will spend up to $50 million over the next three to five years to develop a new line of microcomputers and a system that can link thousands of them together in one network. The new machine will be 20 to 100 times as powerful as most personal computers now on the market, spokesmen said.
Under the terms of the Carnegie-Mellon agreement with ibm, both sides will assign employees to work full-time to develop the technology. Both sides also pledged not to divulge any trade secrets they discover in the course of the project.
ibm would develop the new line of computers even without such a cooperative venture, university officials said. But they said it is worthwhile for the university to help with that development in order to be at the forefront of the technology.
The ibm initiative will expand Carnegie-Mellon's already extensive on-campus use of computers in subjects ranging from English literature to physics to political science--by so improving access to computer hardware and software that they become everyday tools.
But the networking idea is the most revolutionary aspect of the pro-ject, university officials said.
The officials have already moved beyond creating a network of students and alumni. They have held discussions with Warner Communications and the Bell Telephone Company to expand the network throughout the city of Pittsburgh--either with Warner's already extensive cable-television system or with a Bell light-wave system now under construction.
Douglas E. Van Houweling, the vice provost for computing and planning, said he expects campus routines to survive. But by expanding the computer network to graduates and local businesses, he added, education probably will become more decentralized and accessible.
Said Karolyn Eisenstein, the assistant dean of the science college: ''The effect of computers on organizations is the real frontier."
John Crecine, the dean of the College of Humanities and Social Sciences, said the network might shift the focus of education from the classroom to course goals and instruction displayed on a computer.
"Whether we like to admit it, most learning does not take place in the classroom," Mr. Crecine said. "We all know that the assignments ... and peer interaction are the key things that determine what students do." Both of those, he suggested, will be directed increasingly by computer programs.
Since the announcement of the initiative, Mr. Van Houweling said, many companies that turned down previous Carnegie-Mellon overtures have expressed an interest in hook-ing up to the network.
"The technology will be in a huge number of homes and schools at the end of this decade," he said. "Organizations like Westinghouse or [Pittsburgh's] Mellon Bank might adopt this. It will be an interesting question about at what point you'll start to get a wired city."
Such businesses might be interested in hooking up with the network to buy educational programs, access to data bases, and management programs, officials said.
'Lifetime' Education Foreseen
At the very least, Mr. Van Houweling said, the network will create "lifetime learning opportunities" for graduates and will allow students and faculty members to use time more efficiently. Graduates will be offered a chance to continue their studies for the rest of their lives with instructional computer programs that will be transmitted in an as-yet-undetermined way.
"It is assumed that the computers will be their [the students'] machines and that they will have a lifetime access to learning," said John Stucky, director of computing for the humanities and social sciences.
"You need to teach more these days," he said. "A lot of us behave as if education is an inoculation process that lasts four years. We don't have good delivery [of formal education] after they leave the campus."
That, Mr. Van Houweling said, will change when Carnegie-Mellon implements its computer initiative. As more sophisticated programs for computer-based instruction are de-veloped, the university will transmit them to graduates and possibly others.
The continuing-education program is in its earliest planning stages, Mr. Van Houweling said, so there is no way to estimate what fees Carnegie-Mellon will charge for access to the programs.
Officials said they had heard criticism of instructional programs, or "software," now available, but noted that computer technology is changing so rapidly that the quality of software is bound to improve markedly in the next few years.
Microcomputers will not only have greater power in themselves, Mr. Crecine said, but the developing methods for transmitting computer programs will allow more information to be transmitted than is possible through current techniques of transmitting them by telephone.
"The network of personal computers will open new vistas for computer-assisted instruction," said Mr. Van Houweling. "The key is being able to devote substantial computing power to each student ... so the system can capture the expertise of the teacher and not just be an automated page-turner."
Added Mr. Stucky: "The notion of having a tutor any time a student wants to throw a switch is very exciting."
Computer Use Is Extensive
The university is already well known for its use of computers. Jean-Jacques Servan-Schreiber, the French futurist and politician, came to the campus this semester with Steven Jobs, the chairman of the board of Apple Computers, to learn about the institution's computer strategies.
Mr. Servan-Schreiber later arranged a lunch date for Mr. Cyert with French President Francois Mitterand, who is also greatly interested in the uses of high technology.
What has attracted such attention is Carnegie-Mellon's enthusiastic development of one of the most technologically advanced computer networks in the country. Already, officials said, 75 percent of the Carnegie-Mellon's 5,500 students use the university's 1,000 computer terminals regularly. About 60 percent of the faculty members have terminals in their offices and homes.
A task force on the future of computing at Carnegie-Mellon, established by Mr. Cyert, last year reported that the university spends more than $6 million annually to support its computer activities.
Members of the university regularly use an extensive "electronic mail" system to send notes, assignments, tests, and bulletins of campus events. It is a system that allows faster responses and encourages greater cooperation on research and other projects, said Mr. Stucky.
Students are required to take at least one semester of computer science using the computer language fortran, and computers are widely used in liberal-arts courses. Starting this fall, computer use will be required for graphic-arts majors.
Until an entire generation grows up with computers, Mr. Stucky said, teachers should be introduced to them gradually so that the knowledge of the technology and the subject area are well balanced.
Even Carnegie-Mellon faculty members and students express misgivings about the rapidity of change on their campus and say they are worried about how the new initiative with ibm will affect the academic atmosphere.
Faculty members say they are concerned that students' fascination with their own machines might distract them from the necessary dedication to study.
"Some of that seduction is going on right now," said Ms. Eisenstein. "We shouldn't be pushing students to deliver the same output in slicker form."
For example, Ms. Eisenstein said, computers would be useful for calculating the movement of molecules in biology studies.
But students need "semester on semester of study" to understand the field well enough for the computer to be useful, she said.
Teachers and students also say they worry that computers will discourage social intercourse. But university officials downplay that possibility.
Working Together Encouraged
If anything, said Joseph Ballay, the associate dean of the College of Fine Arts, computers encourage people to work more closely together. "This is more interdepartmental than anything else I've been involved with," he said.
In addition, some students have expressed concern about assuming a heavier financial burden at a college that will charge $7,500 for tuition next year. Administrators say they might improve the university's financial-aid package to take into account the additional expense of students' computer purchase.
Last year's task-force report acknowledged that many students might not need computers and that "greater availability of computers should not create expectations that everyone will use them."
The student newspaper, The Tartan, has also criticized what it says is inadequate student involvement in the project.
In an annual April Fools' Day issue, the newspaper identified the university as "a subsidiary of ibm" and reported that Mr. Cyert had signed an agreement with the Defense Department that would put a nuclear-attack warning system "in every dorm room."
Richer Problem Environment
Whatever the shortcomings of the project, Mr. Crecine said: "The computer makes it possible ... to operate in a far richer problem environment--and more efficiently. You can operate on a higher philosophical plane."
Mr. Van Houweling said the university will not change admissions standards because of the computer. He said he would tell high-school teachers "just do what they're doing. We're not looking for any previous computer knowledge."
In fact, he added, background in computers might even be a liability. Mr. Van Houweling said that if the applicant pool appeared to attract students with unusual backgrounds in computing, "probably we would look for those who have less experience."
The idea, Mr. Crecine said, is not to produce "computer nerds with narrow interests and no social or interaction skills," but to pull together the parts of the university with the computer network.