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Two Schools' Faculties to Get Laptops

Faculty in the School of Humanities and Social Science and School of Architecture and Planning will find computing and electronic communication more convenient and portable beginning this fall.

Dean of Architecture and Planning William J. Mitchell and Dean of Humanities and Social Science Philip S. Khoury announced today that nearly 200 faculty members in the two Schools are receiving laptop computers for use in their scholarly work and communication.

Funding comes from a special grant provided by the Office of the Provost. MIT Information Systems is selecting, purchasing and distributing the computers, and also is providing special introductory presentations and assistance for faculty, according to Director of Academic Computing Gregory A. Jackson .

"This kind of support puts money where our heart has been with regard to applying technology to educational and research efforts," Provost Mark S. Wrighton said. "It should strengthen the educational and scholarly effectiveness of the faculty in these two schools. And they will be able to answer my electronic mail!"

Dean Mitchell said that faculty laptop computers "will help lay the foundation for the Studio of the Future, a major effort to reform and restructure the basic mechanisms of architecture education. They will enhance the continuing efforts to incorporate geographic information systems into the education of urban planners."

In the School of Humanities, Dean Khoury said, "Faculty laptop computers will complement current computer-directed activities. These include, for example, the educational use of interactive media by faculty connected with the Laboratory for Advanced Technology in Humanities; the statistical analysis of large data sets within undergraduate and graduate subjects in economics, political science and history, among others, and the increasing prominence of electronic journals and discussion groups."

Humanities faculty whose work involves archival materials or special collections have long taken notes by hand (often in pencil, to avoid damage to manuscripts) and later transcribed them into electronic form for filing and word processing, Dr. Jackson said. Similarly, architecture faculty have long sketched and taken notes by hand in the field, relying on carefully constructed boards for presentations, he said. The portable laptop computers can expedite basic scholarly work of this sort, permitting faculty to take notes, make sketches and make presentations electronically, he added.

Social scientists and urban planners often rely on surveys and geographic databases to do their research. These data typically end up as computer files, sometimes large, for storage and analysis. Laptop computers will permit faculty to carry much of their data with them to scholarly meetings and presentations rather than rely exclusively on summary printouts as they do today, Dr. Jackson said.

In addition to making computing portable, thereby expanding the boundaries and functionality of the academic environment, the new faculty laptop computers will enhance scholarly communication by making it easier for faculty to send and receive electronic mail, an increasingly critical medium of communication within MIT. The computers will be equipped with modems and software to use TechMail, MIT's pioneering electronic-mail service for personal computers, from anyplace with a telephone. With some additional hardware and software, the computers also can be connected to MIT's campus network in faculty offices or elsewhere on campus, which will give faculty access to a large array of network services and to the Internet.

The extension of electronic-mail service to faculty laptop computers is part of a larger effort by MIT Information Systems to extend basic network services to computers across the campus. Another element of this effort is the extension of MIT's campus network into dormitories, fraternities and other independent undergraduate living groups in Cambridge, Boston and Brookline, to be completed in January 1994.

About half of the approximately 200 new faculty laptop computers are Macintosh PowerBooks from Apple Computer. The other half are ThinkPads from IBM, which run DOS and Windows. All of the new laptop computers have high-speed internal modems with data and fax capabilities.

A version of this article appeared in the October 6, 1993 issue of MIT Tech Talk (Volume 38, Number 9).

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