sealLetter from the President

September, 1996

Purdue's budget request to the 1997 General Assembly is built around a concept that we are calling "Revolution in the Classroom." The phrase refers to the profound changes education is experiencing as teachers and students increasingly use digital technology, not just in the classroom, but also in laboratories, libraries, from remote locations, and throughout the academic process.

Because of its ability to interface with many kinds of information resources, the computer is opening vistas in education that once were unimaginable. Text, photos, film, and video can all be integrated easily into a single presentation. Vast amounts of information can be searched and selectively retrieved very quickly. Purdue professors who have adopted this technology are discovering that it empowers students as never before and can greatly enhance the speed and quality of learning.

One example of this phenomenon is Professor Lee Schweitzer, who used a combination of computers and multi-media materials to build a resource base to help him teach a course in crop management. His students are able to study crop conditions, weather and insect damage, weeds and the other factors that affect growth. They no longer are dependent on factors such as whether a crop is in season. Freed from the constraints of time and place, the students cover more material, get faster answers to their questions and are excited about their studies.

Another benefit can be significant savings in resources. In a building construction course, students can design a structure using computers, test strengths, add or remove space, and determine material and labor needs, all without significant cost and in relatively short periods of time. The work can be stored and revisited according to the class schedule without taking up the space that a prototype model would require. Experiments in chemistry, biology and other subjects can be carried out with similar efficiency.

A few years ago, the public was led to believe that film and video would become revolutionary teaching tools. This promise was not fulfilled, because these media, by themselves, lack the intensity and immediacy that good education needs. They tend to make the student a passive receiver of information. However, when digital technology is used creatively with other media, it can liberate students and teachers and change the very nature of education.

This revolution is already going on at Purdue, and it is sure to continue. For example, at the beginning of the current semester, 46 of the 268 classrooms at West Lafayette had been equipped with computer projection capabilities. We are in the process of connecting all classroom and administrative buildings with an electronic backbone, which will greatly enhance communications and allow easy exchange of data.

Even educators who have been skeptical about this technology now recognize the enormous benefits to students. In addition to the impact on learning, the use of this advanced equipment has the advantage of helping to prepare our graduates for work in job environments where the computer is an indispensable tool. Employers expect new employees to be ready to cope with the latest hardware and software.

In its request to the 1997 legislature, Purdue will focus the quality-improvement portion of its appeal on teaching technology. The University already is committing significant resources to the acquisition and maintenance of these materials, but we will need strong state support to keep up with fast-changing developments. We can make an investment now that will pay off for our students for years to come.

U. S. News & World Report recently released its rankings of American universities, and a number of Indiana institutions -- both public and private -- did very well. Although I am not entirely comfortable with the idea of numerically ranking educational institutions, it is gratifying that Purdue's Schools of Engineering and the Krannert School of Management continue to be recognized in this publication for being among the best in the country. The University also was cited for being one of the best bargains in higher education, which is something we always strive to be.

Frank Incropera, professor and head of the School of Mechanical Engineering, celebrated three decades on the Purdue faculty this year, and last week he reached another milestone when he was elected to the National Academy of Engineering. Academy membership is reserved to people who have made a profound difference in their field, and Frank certain is a worthy choice.

This year also marks the 50th anniversary of Purdue's Department of Child Development and Family Studies and the 70th anniversary of the Child Development Laboratory nursery school. Under the leadership of Professor Doug Powell, the department is continuing a great Purdue tradition of education and support for families.


Steven C. Beering


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