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Cybertalk 1/22/96: For a Few Clues More

It's the big job interview and you know the question is coming.

"So, what computer skills do you have?"

"Um, word processing, e-mail, um..."

A good start to an answer, but in itself not enough to distinguish a Northwestern student from others. Computer skills training is lacking for students and needs to be improved for our staff.

NU is responsible for ensuring that students leave with mastery of their field and its tools. To achieve this, NU provides courses in essential subjects such as mathematics, writing and reading comprehension. Not only are these courses offered, many are required, along with more "esoteric" distribution courses.

With the computer revolution, a new item has been added to the toolbox of every field. While many students arrive at NU with some computer proficiency, the computing environment of NU offers new opportunities and responsibilities.

Students don't need to know the intricacies of TCP/IP, computer security, routing, file systems and other low-level computer operations. But students should understand the general ideas enough to know why there might be hope for retrieving an accidentally deleted file or what "connection refused" means when Web surfing. This would provide them a good foundation on which to build.

How can we provide such training when most courses already suffer from insufficient time? Within the College of Arts and Sciences, the existing freshman seminar framework could be altered to provide interesting computer-based courses. This would also require that teachers increase their own computer literacy.

One of the two required freshman seminars would utilize internet exploration and discussion. Students would become proficient at using computers to obtain and present information, including dealing with the many different data formats.

The training environment for staff could be improved. The Gartner Group, an information systems consulting firm, found that it costs an organization two-to-four times as much for an employee to reach a skill level on their own than it does to train them. The training system is not equal-opportunity, with advanced users finding a lack of training suitable to their needs.

The Gartner Group also found that retention of formal training is around 10 percent after 30 days. "Just in time training," in which users learn just what is necessary for the task at hand, should be pursued. This helps avoid the cost of training rooms and time spent away from the job. Such mechanisms allow a trainer to affect more people with much less effort. The greater efficiency should free resources so that a wider range of topics can be offered.

The addition of a computing skills education would help students with life at and beyond NU. Better serving more staff would reduce hidden costs and improve the operation of the university. Only with these improvements can we move forward and enjoy the benefits of the computer revolution.

-Robert, who is featured in the Daily's WebExtra

Netscape HTML Checked! January 22, 1996 - Robert Lentz (

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