Finding Room for Improvement: Howard University-Based Team Rates HBCU Web Sites. (Tech Talk)

Article excerpt

The perception that a "digital divide" exists in higher education between historically Black institutions and most predominantly White colleges and universities has enabled advocates for Black schools to raise money, attract computer equipment donations, and build awareness to help bridge the divide.

One effort that started this summer is taking an approach similar to previous ones that have tried to bring attention to the shortfall in information technology (IT) resources and capacities plaguing historically Black schools. The Digital learning Laboratory (DLL), a team of IT scholars and professionals based at the Howard University Continuing Education division, has taken on the ambitious task of stimulating IT development and online distance education among HBCUs with ongoing analysis and examination of existing resources and services.

The effort, titled "Project Archimedes," is charged with enabling "interested faculty, staff, and students at HBCUs to learn how to use (Interact/World Wide Web) technologies at state-of-the-art levels." The Digital Learning Laboratory bills itself as a "change agent" whose primary function "will be to accelerate the diffusion" of Interact-based technologies "throughout the extended family of HBCUs."

"The most important thing is to get the Black schools to better use what they have," says Dr. Roy L. Beasley, founder and director of the Digital Learning Lab.

Conceived as a three-year project that formally began in September, Project Archimedes has produced the HBCU Web sites Rating Program as its fast major venture. Slated to be published on the Internet three times a year, the Web site rating is intended to push campus webmasters and IT administrators to consistently seek improvements on their college or university Web sites.

The goal of the Web site rating is not to emphasize competitiveness, but to highlight best practices among HBCUs so that schools can learn from the strongest examples, according to Beasley. Every HBCU Web site is rated in 22 categories, which measures functionality, convenience and other defining characteristics of Web sites. For example, schools are rated on whether their Web sites allow for online applications and course registration.

Some schools, such as Morehouse College and Tennessee State University, both of which have made the Yahoo! Interact Life "Most Wu'ed Campus" lists, also got high marks in the October 2001 HBCU Web site rating. However, the rating reported their sites were far from ideal.

"We found there was room for improvement" Beasley says.

When a school stands out in certain areas, such as Morehouse College incorporating security features on its Web site to enable alumni contributions, those standouts will be profiled. …