Restructured College Adds Multimedia Capabilities

OUTSIDE, Bennington College will have its familiar laid-back, rural look as the new school year begins. But inside - welcome to cyberspace. Through an agreement with Apple Computer, Inc., the college will have a significant increase in computing power over the few Macintosh machines it now has.

Apple had been seeking academic partners to show off its new multimedia machines, and Bennington's proposal to diffuse the technology throughout its curriculum caught the company's eye quickly, says college president Elizabeth Coleman.

The infusion of computers will complement the current organizational restructuring on campus, says Ruben Puentedura, a professor of chemistry and physics who's in charge of a new media center. He explains some of the possibilities: digitizing still images, live videos, or animation, as well as 3-D modeling.

The CD-ROM technology will allow a student of 19th-century French literature, for instance, to present the works of a particular writer complete with art images from the period and a soundtrack of period music. A science student could probe much more deeply the three-dimensional shape of molecules, Professor Puentedura says.

BUT will a faculty unused to this kind of electronic gadgetry plunge into the new technology?

``The faculty here for the summer [about a third of the total] are all talking about how to develop initial projects,'' says Puentedura. Many, he says, are learning to appreciate the ``richer aspects that can emerge as we think about the uses of technology.''

And the students? The college hopes that they will immerse themselves in the technology. Plans call for all students to document their four years of work at Bennington using CD-ROM capabilities. The goal is a full electronic portfolio of their college experience, says Norman Derby, a physics professor and newly appointed dean of the college. The college will also help students purchase their own computers, he adds.

Mr. Derby thinks the technology won't hurt Bennington's student recruiting, either. ``It's been very expensive, and the fine arts emphasis here hasn't struck parents as very practical,'' he says. ``The mixed-media emphasis could help change that by providing stuff that could be very helpful in a career.''

Such a note of career-orientation might once have been heresy here. But computer know-how will never be an ``end'' at Bennington, says John Barr, chairman of the school's board of trustees, which guided the school's restructuring project. ``For Bennington, with its cluster of disciplines and its emphasis on knowledge and creativity, the point is how to use this as a means.''

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