In 1984, with the advent of Macintosh microcomputing to the Boston College campus and as part of the university's activity as a founding member of the Apple University Consortium (AUC), the offices of the Executive Vice-President, the Academic Vice-President, and the Director of Information Technology founded a Faculty Micro Resource Center (FMRC), with the mission to provide close, collegial support in the area of Macintosh computing to full-time faculty members.
The first FMRC moderators, Peter Olivieri (SOM, Computer Science) and Gerard Keough (A&S, Mathematics) began operations in Gasson 024 with the first pioneering allocations of Macintosh computers and ImageWriters, soon followed by LaserWriters and AppleTalk networking.
With small group instruction, with hand-holding, with helping in the formulation of computing policies from a faculty perspective, and with the maintenance of a well-equipped drop-in facility, soon accessible to registered cardholders twenty-four hours per day, seven days per week, Olivieri and Keough created a highly positive environment in which the computing niveau of motivated faculty members advanced rapidly.
The FMRC moved to Gasson 010, its present location, when the basement of Gasson was remodeled, Peter Olivieri became Director of the Instructional Research Development Lab (IRDL, later Interactive Multimedia Lab IML), and Richard Jenson (A&S, Mathematics) and M.J. Connolly (A&S, Slavic & Eastern Languages) came on board as Moderators. Jerry Keough has since returned to full-time teaching and research. In recent years Christopher Baum (A&S, Economics) has been assisting the FMRC staff as manager for statistical computing and as principal FMRC Webmaster.
The FMRC is a microcomputing support facility run by faculty for faculty under the Office of the Academic Vice-President.
The two moderators (Jenson & Connolly) and the Stats/WebMaster (Baum) are regular full-time faculty members (in fact both moderators have also been department chairs)
with a very special interest in computing technology and in passing their knowledge and services to fellow faculty members.
As faculty members they all bring to the FMRC an understanding of the special needs which other faculty members encounter in their teaching and research work and they champion the resolution of these needs in numerous technological forums and settings at the university. The stipend of each moderator for a year roughly shadows that for part-time teaching, i.e. one course per semester and one half course in the summer. Each moderator provides three posted hours per week of behind-the-desk availability ('staffed hours') and at least nine hours per week of preparation behind the scenes, for a total of never less than twelve, frequently more, hours per week. The moderators are on call at any time and a great deal of their work takes place outside of the FMRC proper. The FMRC staff also serve as ex-officio members of the Academic Technology Committee (ATC), which advises the Academic Vice-President on technology issues.
All full-time faculty members (and by extension, with the recommendation of the chair, long-term part time faculty with adjunct rank and certain special visiting scholars) may receive access to the FMRC upon registering with staff for a coded entry card. This gives 24hr x 7day entry to the facility and use of all equipment, which is kept in standby and working order. Of the 530+ cards issued since the facility began, allowing for duplication of lost cards, for unreturned cards from some departing faculty, and for those who no longer need direct access to the facility, some 120 faculty members in our database are considered active on-site users. Some faculty members effect several accesses daily, e.g. emeritus faculty or faculty members on sabbaticals or leave working on book projects, others come by regularly for specific projects, some appear when they either have a specific need not met in their normal computing environment or when that environment is not functioning or when they need a secluded and supportive spot in which to work without interruption and with solutions at their fingertips.
On any given day there will be two or three 'customers' during staffed hours and another five to ten who come in for a long stay or just to get a particular task done and leave. During ramp-up to semester and during exam time, numbers increase to the extent that there can be contention for workstations, but this is an exception rather than the rule. Within the FMRC, apart from numerous servers, there are four available 'public' workstations (Sleepy, Sneezy, Dopey, Happy) and two 'semi-public' workstations (Grumpy, Ratty) (all Macintosh, some with VirtualPC), with varying emphases of dedication and specialized functions, but all usable for general purposes as well. Additionally we keep a 'retro' System 6 workstation (Bashful) for retrieving data created by defunct applications. For input and output the FMRC has printers of varying resolution and scope up through (almost) the latest Color LaserWriter, graphic and slide scanners, graphics tablet, video capture both from cable and from VCR/disc, and a digital musical keyboard.
The FMRC aims to have working pieces of the latest technology available for faculty to become acquainted with, appraise, use for jobs and projects, and ultimately to import into their home departments. In some ways the success of our mission comes when a user no longer needs us for a while because services which we pioneered have now percolated down to the department or office level. Inevitably a call will come to the effect that "I've forgotten my FMRC code but I'd like to come by and get acquainted with your new xxxx I've just heard about."
Far beyond to this in-house service, however, by far a lion's share of FMRC work happens behind the scenes in three ways:
--provision of networked services;
--provision of on-site and remote consultation;
--supervision and guidance of grass-roots academic computing support.
The FMRC is very much a center which is both somewhere and everywhere.
In addition to the six mentioned above, another five workstations in the FMRC have the job of providing services to faculty and the academic community over the campus network:
--a UNIX AIX server (Badger) for the Mathematica kernel and specialized statistics and economic packages;
--a World Wide Web server (Stoat, alias fmwww.bc.edu) for specialized Apple-scripted and networked functions which the InfoEagle servers cannot handle, also the distribution point for FMRC information and packages;
--a Mac OS X server (Doc) which provides software and documents to FMRC registered users and specialized support material to academic computing support staff;
--the Oxford English Dictionary, 2d edition, (on Toad) for up to five simultaneous networked Macintosh users;
--a networked fax transmission capability (FMRCFax) for faculty, requiring no trips to fax stations and permitting direct paperless CPU-to-fax imaging;
--a suite of departmental servers which are guested in the FMRC (econ.bc.edu, eclinux.bc.edu, matrix.bc.edu and backup).
Thus many facilities which would have required trips to the FMRC and some removable media and some degree of time at a workstation now are available at the desktop as the networked extension of the FMRC. One of our major jobs involves keeping these services running and anticipating and providing for new needs and directions.
On-site and remote consultation:
At least an equal number of FMRC contact hours comes through telephone calls from colleagues with problems, eMail queries on similar topics, and on-site visits to colleagues' offices when a need seems particularly urgent or when other local support from TCs or GTCs cannot solve the problem.
In order to provide this type of support we are constantly falling back on the knowledge base we have accumulated from working at first hand with various configurations in the FMRC, from reading in the trade press and on-line forums, from serendipitous conversations and web-browsing, and from our mutual association. The FMRC provides solutions where no one else, including vendors, seems able to help, and we try to provide it in a collegial, instructive fashion.
Grass-roots computing support:
EIght years ago the Academic Technology Committee organized a program of computing support through the FMRC which would bring direct help to each and every faculty and academic administrative Macintosh (later extended also to PCs) and which would also assist department administrators and chairs in tracking and planning computer resources for their units. This program proved so successful that it served as a model for the system of Technology Coordinators (TCs) and Graduate Tech Coordinators (GTCs) introduced in June 1998 at Boston College.
The FMRC staff seeks to provide and also to form faculty technology leadership, through example and service, through exposure of colleagues to reliable and maintainable technological paradigms, through a helpful support structure, and through innovative approaches to faculty computing solutions.
Some three quarters of the work of the FMRC does not take place within the FMRC but could not take place without the FMRC.
Some recent projects, such as the Flying Computer Classroom concept (FCC) or the Graduate Web Assistant (GWA) and Graduate Statistical Assistant (GSA) proposals show how the FMRC is always looking to extend technology in ways that will encourage a more direct involvement of faculty talents in the advancing of teaching and research techniques (classroom display, web presence, statistical literacy) while at the same time reducing the time costs to faculty and real costs to the university.
We have also been tracking emerging PDA (e.g. Newton > Palm) technology with an eye toward its applications in the academic area.
fmwww.bc.edu/FMRC/fmrcAbt.html 010519e/010531 cnnmj