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Sept 25, 2000

Information Technology Fluency

Today's high school students are heading off to college with more computer skills than any other generation. And they are surrounded by a dizzying array of technological choices, including such ethical dilemmas as whether or not to "napster."

That's why several recent national studies have shown that these students need to move in college beyond computer "literacy" to computer "fluency." They need to have a deeper understanding of computers, one that will help them not only with today's technology, but also tomorrow's.

A new course being planned at Calvin College is intended to do just that. And Calvin's efforts have received a huge boost from the U.S. Department of Education which is giving the school $313,000 to create a first-year foundational course on information technology "fluency" as part of the new Calvin Core Curriculum.

The grant is part of the Department's Fund for the Improvement of Post-Secondary Education (FIPSE) and will cover almost 50% of the project's total cost over the next three years. Calvin will contribute the other 50% of the total cost.

Calvin professor of engineering Steve VanderLeest (above) is the project director. He says the new course will benefit students during their Calvin career and benefit employers who hire Calvin grads. "Information technology," he says, "is no longer just for technical majors. Everyone from the business major to the music major needs to understand how technology impacts their discipline and their future career. We know that at the same time that computer requirements for all jobs are increasing dramatically, employers find that graduates lack the necessary knowledge to use technology well. This course will begin the process of equipping our students with that knowledge."

The course will begin in the fall of 2001 as part of Calvin's new core curriculum. Each year Calvin's 1,000 freshmen will take the once-a-week class during their first or second semester on campus (500 will take it in the fall and 500 in the spring). The course will act as a foundational course for all of the other courses students take during the rest of their Calvin career.

The course itself, says VanderLeest, will bridge some of the tensions found in technology. It will be high-tech; one of its features will be a web-based textbook. But it will be personal, too; every other week the class will meet in small groups of 25 students for hands-on work with a professor.

"The course," says VanderLeest, " reflects the deeply held conviction of most liberal arts faculty that there is something very worthwhile in face-to-face teaching, but it also recognizes the potential of information technology to transform education itself."

Calvin plans to make the course available nationally for other colleges and universities that wish to implement such a foundational course in their core curriculum. Already it is partnering with Spring Arbor College in Michigan, Goshen College in Indiana and Whitworth College in Washington, all of which plan to pilot the Calvin course on their campuses in 2002.

In addition, a prestigious national advisory panel is working with Calvin. Its members represent such institutions as UCLA, North Carolina State, Purdue, Michigan Tech and Tek.Xam Corporation, an on-line quiz (see which measures technology fluency and already is used by hundreds of employers and colleges.

Finally Calvin will join the national Flashlight Project (see -- a Washington, D.C.-based organization that evaluates the use of technology in higher education.


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Contact Phil de Haan.