Spring 1988 // Volume 26 // Number 1 // Research in Brief // 1RIB1

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Virginia's Computerized Office Project


Michael T. Lambur
Extension Specialist, Evaluation
Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University-Blacksburg

T. R. McAnge, Jr.
Extension Specialist, Computing Resources
Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University-Blacksburg

The Virginia Chesterfield Extension Office is the site of the Computerized Extension Office, a model office developed to provide information for future computer development. The project began in February 1986, and during the past year, equipment has been purchased and installed, staff trained, and problems identified and solved. Today the office is highly computerized.

Each agent's, secretary's, and technician's workstation is equipped with an IBM-XT, linked by a local area network. The XT's provide all staff members with sufficient computing power and storage for their own work, and the network links the workstations to a laser printer, a modem linked to the Virginia Tech mainframe, and shared databases on the other hard disks in the office.

Ongoing evaluation has yielded some interesting and useful results. For example, several of the staff were apprehensive about computers at the onset of the project. However, the more they used their computers, the more positive and comfortable they felt about them. Agents and secretaries agreed that working individually, by "trial and error" with someone available to answer questions, was the best way to learn. In fact, they only recently entertained the idea of conducting short group training sessions at monthly staff meetings.

At first, the computers were used primarily for word processing and records management. Agents felt that the quality of their output from using word processing was definitely better than before the computers. They also indicated they were able to respond more quickly to telephone calls when messages were sent to them over the network.

Similarly, they felt the decreased turnaround time for acknowledging registration in 4-H camps and other programs improved the credibility of these programs and the office. In short, the staff in Chesterfield is making tremendous use of the computer system and sees many other future applications. During a recent brainstorming session, they identified over 50 computer applications they wanted to see developed for the office.

The success of the Chesterfield computer project has drawn attention from other parts of the commonwealth. The City of Chesapeake is funding a duplicate of the Chesterfield computer configuration in the Chesapeake Extension office. The city's computer development group plans to use the Extension office as a model for other city departments.