Volume 47, Number 14 - March 15, 2010

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Sergio Candido
Sergio Candido

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Picture of really old comp
GOLDEN YEARS: This desktop computer is used to search the library catalog at the Wolfson Campus library. It’s processing unit is a Dell Optiplex GX400, which was manufactured in 2001.

Faculty is slowed by computer performance

By Sergio Candido

Heads nodded in approval at a North Campus town hall meeting this past February when Robert Barton mentioned the issue of computer efficiency in the classroom.

Barton, academic lab manager for the business resource center at the computer courtyard, said he constantly has problems with computers on campus.

“Five minutes and you are annoyed, 10 minutes and you are frustrated, 15 minutes and you are fed up and disgusted,” Barton said about the time it takes for computers on campus to boot up.

He is not alone in his complaint. Several faculty members say outdated computers in the classroom are hindering their ability to present material, infringing on their class time.

“[There is] no faculty member who uses [a] computer on a daily basis [that] hasn’t had a problem with [them],”said Sarah Garman, an associate professor who has been working for 10 years at Miami Dade College’s Virtual College.

At the beginning of this semester, Garman said she had to call media services three times to get a computer to work during one of her classes.

History professor Theodore Syder said he relies heavily on PowerPoint presentations when he teaches. He has been forced to use his notes on several occasions due to unresponsive equipment. At times, he’s had to wait 15 minutes for a computer to boot up.

“We want to do as much as possible in the 50 minutes that we have,” Syder said. “Every minute is significant.”

Others say they feel embarrassed in front of their students.

“I’m always afraid that it’s going to appear to the students that I’m the one who’s malfunctioning,” said English professor Lisa Shaw. “It’s not me, it’s the technology.”

Faculty members who proclaim themselves “technologically savvy” quickly point to viruses, bandwidth, the server and individual storage capacity as possible reasons for the computers’ inefficiency.

But according to Carmen Bucher, chief communications and information officer—who oversees both network services and media services—the reason is much simpler: the computers are old.

The North Campus currently has about 4,200 computers and 224 multimedia classrooms.

Most computers on campus range between the Dell OptiPlex GX240 model, manufactured in 2002, and the Dell OptiPlex GX280, manufactured in 2004. Some of them have 512 MB of RAM, which is not enough to run many of today's memory-hungry programs.

Another factor to be taken into consideration, Bucher said, is that the school runs an anti-virus that has to check every computer; those computers being checked take longer to load.

Although some teachers say they’ve had their computers for up to five years, Bucher said “refreshments” take place every “two or three years,” at which point, most computers are changed for new ones.

Meanwhile, network services continues to upgrade and maintain the computers on campus, installing more memory and checking them every six weeks because a new refreshment is not expected any time soon, due to budget cuts.

“We are continually keeping an eye and trying to address faculty’s needs, we are continuing to keep that in mind,” Bucher said. “We know that in the end it is the students that are the most important and we need to make sure the faculty has the resources available to them to be able to teach in the classrooms.”

This is not the first time teachers have complained about computer performance.

Last November, Isis Clemente, a professor of ESL, prep reading and business, said she sent a list with all the technological problems that her department was having to Bucher.

The list included malfunctioning computers, projectors, DVD players, and even clocks.

According to Clemente, Bucher assured her that the problems would be addressed.

“Honestly, there should be another list made for this semester because [the problems] have increased instead of decreased, and we are waiting,” Clemente said.

Similar problems abound at the Wolfson Campus.

“Just about every other class, we have to switch classrooms because something malfunctions,” said theater major Leon Glover, 20.

One North Campus English professor has found a way to avoid this problem—Tiina Lombard doesn’t use the computer in the classroom. She even makes her students write research papers by hand.

“It’s so easy to cheat with the computers,” Lombard said.

Even though Barton has expressed discontent, he believes the College should not be blamed for the equipment issues because it doesn’t have the funds to keep up with the technological advances.

“Unless you have a big budget of $1 million every year, you are never going to have the whole system synchronized,” Barton said. “It’s just a fact of life that these things get useless very quickly.”

Staff writer Lazaro Gamio contributed to this story.

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