With a networked computer, you can do a number of things that cannot be done without a network connection.
I don't believe I can detail the myriad ways in which students, faculty, and staff use networked computers at Mount Holyoke College, but we can provide some descriptions of the more common uses, as mentioned above.
- Connect to host computers for things like email, netnews, library searches, etc.
- Browse the World Wide Web (WWW) with programs such as Netscape.
- Access other Internet services such as internet relay chat (IRC), connecting to computers at other institutions (if authorized), library searches.
- Quickly transfer files to or from your desktop computer and host computers for such things as email, shared documents, and web display.
- Obtain course materials from network disks.
Electronic mail is probably the most widely used network application. At Mount Holyoke, students use email for social purposes, administrative tasks, and for academic communication. Many courses require email communications among those in the class. The call home for money is now done via email. Friends are contacted using email, and sometimes new friends are made. Rather than avoiding personal contact, email seems to foster additional personal contacts.
NetnewsNetnews, also known as Usenet, was the second most widely used Internet application. It may still be, but I suspect World Wide Web use has surpassed it. Netnews is a world wide bulletin board with huge amounts of information about everything. Messages, like email, are posted into topic areas called newsgroups. These run a gamut from total worthless junk to the best of scholarly discourse.
In many fields, the newsgroups are essential for business or scholarship. If you have a hobby, there is probably a newsgroup for it.
At Mount Holyoke, there are newsgroups which are only available from on-campus. Many of these are course related. Some courses run discussion sections via newsgroups.
World Wide Web (WWW)Outside of email, the web is probably the most commonly used Internet application. Everyone and every business seems to have a uniform resource locator (URL) now.
At Mount Holyoke, all students have a personal home page to use as they see fit, within our acceptable use policies.
Many courses require the use of the web, not only for research, but also for obtaining course materials online.
In some courses, students use the web to turn in materials.
The web is used to answer questions and discover things. It is also used for fun. It can also be a tremendous waste of time. It is sometimes fun, sometimes frustrating.
Like netnews, the web allows anyone to be their own publisher of information, generally without any review process. Thus much of it is garbage. But there are gems too. The trick is to minimize the time sifting the garbage.
Other Internet usesThere are a large number of other things available via the Internet. Internet Relay Chat (IRC) lets people interactively "talk" (via typing) with friends, strangers, strangers claiming to be friends, etc. (Yes, one should use electronic "street smarts" when going out in (electronic) public areas.
As the Internet is used to connect to our library computer, one can also use it to connect to library computers at other institutions. For on-campus use only, there are library searches that are available. Institutions restrict these because they are on-campus subscription services.
Network disk accessWith a networked computer, one can connect to college servers and use the disks of those remote servers as if they were local. A simple statement, but what does it mean?
There are a number of servers on campus that serve different functions. These include
- the main personal server (MHC) which provides access to a number of services such as email, netnews, and printing services
- the web server (WWW) on which personal home pages and the college web site reside
- the "intranet" servers (e.g., AMBR) provide access to on-campus information, serve on-campus course and other workgroup purposes, and provide software distribution services for software that we are permitted to freely distribute (Netscape, virus protection software, telnet)
- the statistical analysis machine (SAM)
An important method of accessing these servers can be to cause the disks on those machines to look local to the client or desktop computer. This is known as:
- Mapping a network drive on a Windows machine
- Sharing a folder on a Macintosh
This is done for a variety of purposes:
- Connecting to your email account so that you can transfer files to and from your local machine.
- Obtaining software.
- Moving documents and/or web pages to the servers in order to distribute them or to turn them in electronically.
- Work directly on multimedia files for specific courses.
All of the functions discussed above can be done on networked computers found in public clusters in the residence halls and in the main computer labs such those in Dwight Hall and Carr Labs. There are a number of other departmental computing areas also. So why connect your own computer?
The main reason to have your own computer, and to have that computer connected to the network, is convenience. As computing requirements of courses on campus go up, the public facilities become both more crowded and more specialized. (There are some clusters of computers, for example, that are used only for specific purposes, whether that be a computer class, a math class, a psychology lab, or a multimedia class project.) While it is possible to get work done during times of severe crowding, such as midterms or finals, one has to plan ahead better and to be able to work in a crowded environment.
The convenience factor goes beyond crowding. The ease of access at any time is a very important factor. By having ready access to your own computer and network, you will tend to do your work differently. Whether that difference is good (efficient) or bad (finding new ways to waste time) depends on the individual and the conflicting constrains on time.
Finally, there is an issue of privacy, or perceived privacy. Working on a document or exploring the web in a public lab is not totally private. For most public computers, someone can look over your shoulder, though some effort has been made to provide some computers which cannot be easily seen by others.