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First-year students will take interactive tour of UI in new program

IOWA CITY, Iowa -- A group of first-year students will take "virtual" tours of the University of Iowa while learning how to navigate the World Wide Web and use other communications technology this fall in a new, interactive orientation course.

About 120 students in a unique pilot project will test a new CD-ROM, called "OnLine at Iowa," as part of an effort to help first-year students get acquainted with campus while beefing up their computer skills. The students will earn one semester hour of credit if they complete the program.

Organizers hope the CD-ROM will be available by the fall of 1998 to each of the approximately 3,000 freshmen who come to campus each fall.

Bob Boynton, professor of political science and director of "OnLine at Iowa," says the project is designed to help students explore the academic, social and cultural resources available on campus and to teach them the basics of using electronic mail, the World Wide Web and the Internet.

Many universities use interactive technology to teach students how to use electronic resources, but few, if any, combine that technology with a general orientation to campus, he says.

"The idea is to introduce students to the campus as a place of electronic communication," Boynton says. "Students will learn how to use the electronic tools that they will need to function well at the university and outside the university, but in the process, they will learn specific information about the university."

John Folkins, associate provost, says students will learn to be comfortable with using computer technology early in their academic careers. While some students are computer-savvy when they come to campus, many are not.

"In part, this is an attempt to level the playing field for students who haven't worked as much on computers," Folkins says.

For the pilot phase of the project, participating students will meet in campus computer centers during the semester to test the disk and help iron out any bugs in the course.

Working from the CD-ROM, students take an interactive tour of the UI. With the click of a mouse students can follow maps to buildings such as Old Capitol and the Pappajohn Business Administration Building. They also can "tour" the Main Library, or find out information about campus offices and programs.

The disk also includes electronic communications software that gives students access to the Internet. By following the tour, students learn how to find and visit sites on the World Wide Web and how to send email.

As they work through the CD-ROM, students are asked to complete a series of tasks that require them to use their electronic skills. At the end of each task, students send an electronic note to a central database, indicating they have completed the assignment.

The CD-ROM will also include online help for students to turn to if they need it.

Students receive credit for the course if they complete all the tasks. No letter grades will be given.

If this fall's test is a success, students in future years will buy the disk as part of their texts for the school year. They will complete the tasks at their own pace during the semester to earn the hour of credit.

"The idea is to make this a self-delivery course," Boynton says. "Students eventually will be able to buy the CD-ROM, pop it into a computer drive on a computer that has access to the network and complete the course."

Folkins says the course is not intended to replace the current program of summer orientation for all students, but to supplement orientation with skills in using computer technology.

"Students will come out of the course not only with a better awareness of the university and its programs, but also with a basic level of computer ability that they can build on in future classes," Folkins says.

Students taking part in the program volunteered to participate during summer orientation.