PMABS Establishes an Electronic Network

Fall 1996. By Debra Hanken.

"I felt like Alexander Graham Bell," says PMABS Coordinator Nancy Barnes, remembering the first time a PMABS faculty member sent her e-mail using the electronic network PMABS set up this year.

Barnes and Skip Bollenbacher, PMABS Director at UNC-CH, began the push for such electronic networking in October 1994 when they submitted the Partnership grant to the Howard Hughes Medical Institute. "My goal was for Academic Operating Committee members to maintain constant electronic contact," Bollenbacher says. "In order to get results in a partnership, you have to communicate frequently."

The PMABS listserv makes that possible. Software on a computer located at UNC-CH allows AOC members to send e-mail to all members simultaneously as easily as sending a message to a single person. So when PMABS professors want to share ideas, issues, or questions, they can get the word out to everyone with just a few keystrokes. "Communication is almost instanteous," Barnes says.

Purchases of computer equipment were customized to respond to each professor's needs. Some PMABS faculty needed only upgraded printers, but others had outdated equipment or no computers at all. Equipment purchases had to be configured to match the variety of networks among the seven universities. For solutions, PMABS turned to Information Decisions, experts in electronic communications. Information Decisions made recommendations on equipment purchases, then installed the equipment at the universities and trained the PMABS faculty to use it.

Because PMABS faculty were eager to learn more about the network, Barnes planned a morning-long workshop in UNC-CH's classroom in the Research Triangle Park. In April the AOC participated in the workshop, which focused on integrating the Internet with their classroom teaching.

PMABS faculty are already putting the system to good use. For example, Professor Bette McKnight uses her new computer for everything from providing practice exams for her students at A&T to carrying out her own research. "You have to look back at what you've accomplished," Barnes says. "We have overcome everything that has been problematic. It's been very gratifying to see progress. You also have to look ahead. Having used the electronic network, I can see the potential here for PMABS."

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