Thursday, October 07, 2010
I’m increasingly convinced that we need to do something like that. We could define ‘laptop’ pretty broadly to include not just netbooks but also ipads and maybe even smartphones -- anything that gives students wireless internet.
Part of the draw is the sheer cost (in both money and space) of open computer labs. As it stands, in many of our open labs there’s a 30 minute limit per station when every station is taken, and that’s most of the time. The labs are staffed as best we can, but work-study students aren’t 100 percent reliable, and the money just isn’t there for full-timers. If we were able to convert some of those labs to teaching spaces, and redirect some of those resources to faculty, I can’t help but think we’d accomplish more, educationally.
But there’s also the issue of paper.
Every semester, we print a course schedule for general distribution. We have to get class schedules done unreasonably early to allow time for layout and printing. The schedule is obsolete from the minute it’s out, since changes are ongoing. But every time we talk about getting rid of it and driving the course scheduling online -- where the information is up-to-the-minute -- we run smack into the issue of access. Paper is portable, and cheap, and everyone who wants it can get it. (The schedule is available to students free of charge.)
When professors meet with students in their offices for academic advisement, scheduling is often a part of that. (The conflation of ‘advising’ with ‘scheduling’ is another issue altogether.) Working with two paper bulletins is sometimes easier than working with one screen. Worse, some faculty are still -- amazingly -- allergic to anything electronic.
If we could get to the point where every student had his/her own little screen, and could go on the system wherever and whenever they wanted, many of these issues would go away. We could stop spending thousands of dollars on paper bulletins that convey bad information. We could convert scarce space from the 1990’s model open computer lab to more pressing needs.
With free wi-fi becoming more common off campus -- they have it at McDonald’s now -- and ubiquitous on campus, the objection from cost of monthly service is looking less compelling than it once did. If laptops or something similar were required, they could presumably be covered by financial aid just like textbooks are, so between subsidized equipment and free wifi, the financial barrier is looking smaller. From the institution’s perspective, it would allow us finally to capture some of the efficiency gains from technology that until now have remained unrealized due to too many digital holdouts (or castouts).
Wise and worldly readers at campuses that have actually made this leap -- how did it work? Any advice you’d give a campus that’s thinking it over?
If there were an institutional requirement for a laptop, I think it would be best to set up some minimum standards since not all netbooks/laptops are created equal. There's also the problem (at least at EMU) of theft and/or loss of the equipment. Still, I'd like to see it.
We got rid of our course bulletin some years ago and there was great rending of garments, but it did save money in the tens of thousands. Furthermore, our students are very into saving paper. The down side of all of this are the unexpected consequences of heavy computer use. My informal view is that some people can take the repetitive motion for every task and a few people's hands (overwhelmingly women) seem to crumble under the strain. The other day, as I was talking to a student who cannot type without pain and is being treated for it, it occurred to me that if we are moving towards an entirely online education world we might need to recommit to actually teaching people how to type properly.
We've also adopted a de facto policy of, "those faculty who do not use the internet will not be academic advisors."
The students seemed to be nonplussed.
Advising appointments now do seem rather like a game of battleship. What about X? Ooooh, no!
Also, my majors have no real flexibility in their schedule, we program all of their courses for them and I know when they all meet, so it's not really going to help them much to have a schedule.
I work at a 4yr public (the state's flagship school) and we have required laptops of all undergraduates for a while now. I can't say much about how it's affected things like our course bulletin (I don't actually work on the UG side of campus) but I did want to mention a few things.
First, the university negotiated a deal with one brand of computers (Lenovo in our case) to provide a very affordable option for students. I believe this option comes with a standard software package already installed (MS Word, some other basic stuff) and a warranty of some kind. I don't know the details, but it seems like something any school considering this should look into. Students aren't required to get this computer, but it is a nice option for scholarship students on those on financial aid, or really anyone who is being cost conscious.
Second, you need also to think about providing tech support for those laptops when they inevitably break. That has now become an important function of our IT unit and I think it something you would need to have available at your campus too. There are walk in offices for little issues and then of course, loaner laptops for problems that require overnight or multiple days to fix.
Just a few things to consider. Good luck
It's necessary because we do exercises in class on software. 8 or 9 years ago supposedly we had a big computer lab, but these days there are too many students, too many classes requiring computers, and not enough classroom space.
Except the occasional mac or ancient computer (and these are becoming less common... and the mac isn't a problem if the mac user is an expert on macs, it's just that we don't support them) it works out very well.
The other comments about having some recommended, discounted packages are good. Finding ways to bundle common software for the students is helpful, too.
You'll probably still need some labs for specialized software, etc, although there are (suboptimal) workarounds if everyone has a computer of their own.
Finally, re your comment about faculty who are allergic to all things electronic: that's not the only reason to object to the suspension of paper publications. Even counting in a certain level of entropy of the data, there are some things that just work better on paper. Particularly things you want/need to *browse* rather than *search*. I'm surprised, given your past statements about IT costs, that you would have missed that angle.
The students don't seem to mind...
I think it would be great to have all the students have laptops. Just make sure there are enough power outlets to serve all the students in a class. In one of my classes, I brought in a power strip so that I wouldn't trip on all the crazily-angled power cords running around the classroom!
Not sure how well this would translate to a CC situation where students are all full-time, etc. But it's been way better than I thought it might be in our situation (we've had it for 10+ years, but I've only been here a couple years.)
Now I work at a private, not-for-profit, and we're very electronic. The catalog is only available online. The course schedule is only available online. Though we still print paper applications, we've invested a lot in an online application system that the vast majority of prospects seem to enjoy and prefer. Furthermore, all documents we receive (e.g., transcripts) are scanned in and imaged.
As an Academic Advisor, having everything online makes my job _so_ much easier. There will always be the issues of access to computers and the lack of computer skills with some students, but overall I believe it makes the lives of students and staff much easier. Information (e.g., course schedule) can be udpated easily and always be kept accurate. Students can view the information from any place - whether they're at the campus, at home, at work, or sitting in McDonald's with their laptop. It makes advising students over the phone or via email much easier as well. It also makes it easy to serve a student at other than his/her home campus without having to get on the phone and call someone up to find a transcript or FAX a copy of a document to me.
We were lucky enough to build a new library 8 years ago and when they built it, they had it hardwired to support internet access for the masses (think hundreds of T1 lines). The library checks out laptops to students which they can use on the premises so those without computers can get them free. Students pay a nickel a sheet for printing. We also have wireless access everywhere on campus but it's unreliable and for that reason can't be used during classes in any meaningful way.
My only suggestion would be that if you do install wireless or internet connectivity in each classroom, let the prof have a kill switch to stop random shoe shopping and other absurdities during class. There’s nothing more irritating than having your lecture interrupted by porn.
I agree with the comments that noted laptops can be a huge distraction in the classroom. I don't see the need to bring on more of that. Also, I'd be mindful that even the lighter laptops can be a lot for students who are already weighted down with heavy backpacks to carry. More laptops also invite more laptop theft.
Many of our students have laptops, but some classes are declared laptop free simply to keep the students from failing because they are actually playing Farmville rather than taking notes.
We got rid of paper bulletins quite a while ago. (Could be five years by now.) It does require a bit more hand holding during orientation, and some more during their first on-their-own registration cycle, but that supplies some good part-time work for our better "senior" students. We eased into it with the paper version in parallel with the on-line version for a few years, but in that time period they did not print any "supplement" like I remember from a decade ago. The system has been refined over the years and continues to be refined to best serve our student's needs.
The problem from my perspective is that laptops are simply not as good as comparably priced desktops and therefore you're asking all students to either pay more or sacrifice computing power. Moreover, typing for long periods of time on laptops can be problematic for many people and can cause wrist injuries from the reduced size and angle of the keyboards. Not to mention the pint sized screens, battery issues, power cord failures, theft, and more rapid obsolescence.
The issue of paper is not a problem if, like most schools, you charge the students for the paper. At my school the printers are linked to your bursar account, so you can pay in one bunch at the end of the quarter. This is certainly necessary for students who need to print out something during the day time when they're on campus (potentially far from home) or who don't have a printer of their own (as many of my students in the past have not).
The need to mandate laptops seems counter-intuitive since so many classrooms and teachers are banning laptops from their classrooms. That seems a big disconnect between the institutional perspective you're offering and the teaching perspective that is still deeply suspicious of personal computers.
I also think you'd want to have some kind of "listening sessions" with faculty in various disciplines about what kind of programs they want students to be able to use in their classes and what kind of programs they want students to be able to use at home. I know I've taken classes in the use of proprietary software (such as Geometer's Sketchpad) that I wouldn't have taken if I'd had to buy a copy for my personal computer rather than take the class in a computer lab that I could also come into outside of class time to do the homework, for example. (I wanted to learn how to use it and try it out before deciding whether or not to ask my principal to find the money for a site license for our school, so I took a summer class at the local college.) You'd need to figure out how many labs you could really eliminate, and what kind of programs faculty actually want their students using. If it's mostly "ability to type a paper in 12 pt Times New Roman" and "ability to read PDFs", then that's a low bar for laptops. The more technical programs might need more complex software, though.
And yeah, anti-virus software becomes a huge issue if every student is maintaining their own computer for schoolwork and it thus needs to be not broken at all times. You might look into getting a site license for one that would also allow it to be installed on student machines. You might also encourage students to save work to some kind of central server so that if/when they break their own machine it's not an excuse for their paper to be lost.
Faculty went ballistic, of course, but they always do. The bottom line, however, is students won't even notice, only faculty, and there it's just a matter of convincing those that can be convinced and ignoring those that are determined to be a stumbling block to progress of any sort.
Yes, we're about two years away from the disposable tablet computer. That will help ramp up changes to education, IMO.
You can go to a fully electronic schedule without mandating laptops. We did. You can require the use of a computer for the course (outside of class or for distance web-based classes) without having students try to take down a mathematical derivation on a laptop or while playing Farmville, as "betty" pointed out. You need a modest computer lab to support on-line registration and advising on campus, but that could be more of a scheduling issue than a cost issue, particularly if the faculty have laptops that can be taken to where that is done. Finally, there are more modern alternatives to the "computer lab", ones that turn them into a study center that also has computers and reduce duplication of staffing and effort.
So we conducted a survey to see how much people actually used their laptops vs. their workstations, and the data really confirmed our suspicions.
You might want to try something similar to test the waters. It's easy and inexpensive to set up an online survey (zoomerang, survey monkey, google forms, etc), and as incentive you can raffle several things off (gift cards, movie tickets, iPods if you're feeling flush).
Advertise the survey to anyone on campus who might be affected (including faculty and staff), and then you can analyze your results based on the needs of different groups. This can be especially enlightening if you have some open-ended questions, because you might discover the labs are being used in ways you never could have predicted and they're worth keeping. (Or vice versa)