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The Daily Tar Heel

CCI Must Get Back on the Right Track

In February 1998, UNC's former chancellor unveiled the Carolina Computing Initiative to the dismay of some and cheers of others.

He envisioned a campus of students who, with laptops tucked snugly in their knapsacks, would emerge from this institution with computer know-how and technological street smarts.

He painted the picture of classrooms filled to the brim with debates held over raised laptop screens.

And it's a shame to watch his vision go straight to hell in the hands of those who have perverted the original intentions of the CCI to cover their asses.

You can imagine my surprise when Marian Moore, vice chancellor for information technology, casually mentioned that CCI officials weren't really pushing for laptops to be incorporated into faculty lesson plans.

"The CCI was never about taking your laptop to class every day," she told The Daily Tar Heel.

You've got to be kidding me.

That's exactly what this initiative is all about.

When Hooker dropped the bomb about making laptops a requirement for freshmen starting in 2000, he took serious heat.

A group called People for Computational Freedom argued one vendor shouldn't have a monopoly on laptop sales. Others wanted the logistics of cost spelled out, ensuring that the requirement did not divide the campus into haves and have-nots.

Some said it was too much too soon.

And Hooker had answers for all of them. Perhaps the vice chancellor missed a column Hooker wrote in March 1998 when he outlined the purpose of the CCI and the importance of laptops for all students. "Universities everywhere are encouraging their faculties to become computer literate and to incorporate technology into the classroom," he wrote in Trusteeship Magazine. "Yet with half of any given class lacking the basic tools, we set ourselves up for failure."

I'd like someone to tell me how you incorporate technology into the classroom without making technology part of the classroom.

Hooker didn't live to see his vision through. And he's not here to fix the problems that higher-ups are ignoring.

Moore also has made no bones about the fact that she won't be assessing the program anytime soon.

Just a hunch, but if I were a head honcho, I'd be keeping an eye on a fledgling computer initiative at one of the largest public universities in the country. But that's just me.

Moore is treating the CCI like an irresponsible college dude with a cocker spaniel puppy. Sure it will help him pick up chicks, but if he leaves it alone without food or water, that mutt goes down for the dirt nap.

The time to evaluate this program is now. We need to know who's using these laptops in classes. Which professors are still looking for ways to incorporate the technology? Which profs don't know how to turn on a laptop? Who's doing it right, or wrong?

Moore and friends haven't carried out Hooker's vision, and they know it. That's why the definition of CCI conveniently changed last week. And their new definition is how Hooker described failure.

The impetus behind the CCI was about competition with peer universities, as UNC has a jones for keeping up with the Joneses. But deeper than that was the idea that students would graduate with cutting-edge skills in tow.

If students aren't using computers in classes, if the CCI is not about "taking laptops to class" then someone tell me why we rewired classrooms and made students pony up the dough.

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And while I suspect that laptops make terrific plates or doorstops, I bet we could think up some better ways to put them to use.

Administrators need to return to Hooker's vision. Otherwise, I've got a better name for our computer plan.

Carolina Cheats Initiative.

Columnist Ashley Stephenson can be reached at Those who reply using required laptops during class get a dollar.

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