- 1. Why did Ursinus get into a laptop program?
- The use of computing and information technologies has increased dramatically over the past several years at Ursinus just as it has elsewhere. Students need access to computers to complete assignments and do research, to communicate with faculty, classmates and external experts, to search computerized databases and, in some cases, to use CD-ROMS that come with their text books. Faculty, likewise, need access to computers for their teaching and research, for communication with students and colleagues on and off campus and for a myriad of other purposes. In recognition of the ever-increasing importance of computing and information technologies in the educational process, a detailed examination of the resources available to Ursinus faculty and students was undertaken. The laptop initiative was introduced in the Fall of 2000 with the new class and phased in over four years. Fall of 2003 will see the entire student body supplied with laptops. The initiative led to Ursinus' being listed on the Yahoo! Most Wired Colleges list in 2001.
- 2. Given the fact that computing and information technologies have had a tremendous impact upon education, was there any consideration given to the nature of this impact upon teaching and learning?
- Yes. One of the most compelling features of computing and information technologies is that the powers of direct inquiry, exploration and dialogue can easily be put in the hands of individual teachers and learners and that these powers can be exercised at virtually any time and in any place. Opportunities for ongoing collaboration and communication are especially enhanced. This is particularly the case in situations where faculty and students have universal and immediate access to networked computing and information resources and to tools such as the laptop computer. These features are particularly important for a College like Ursinus and can serve to enhance and enrich our tradition of liberal education. We have spoken of Ursinus College as an educational environment that provides students with the opportunity and encouragement to be active and engaged self-learners and faculty with the support and resources to be involved coaches and mentors. The laptop computer program can provide faculty and students with an important set of tools and resources to assist the College in realizing such a teaching and learning environment.
- 3. Why didn't the college consider investing in computer labs instead?
- Traditional computer labs could not accommodate current levels of student use and students often found it difficult to use shared resources that were only available at certain times and in certain locations. In addition to issues related to access, labs are very costly to maintain and, given the fact that students feel no personal responsibility for lab machines, these maintenance costs are well beyond what one finds in an office situation.
- 4. Aren't more and more students bringing their own computers to campus these days?
- Yes. Some, but not all students, have the additional resources to acquire their own computers to bring with them to campus. Many others, however, do not have those resources and they, therefore, are at a disadvantage. There are very real issues of equity of access and placing all students on a level playing field. Even students with their own desktop computers, however, find that they often need that computer when they are away from their rooms or off campus.
- 5. How do these issues apply to faculty?
- Faculty, as well, are limited by the constraints of college provided desktop computing resources that are not accessible when they are off campus doing research, presenting a paper or are at home in the evening preparing for their next day’s class. Some faculty members were able to acquire or gain access to needed computing resources for off campus use but, again, we find that there are other faculty members who cannot do so. There are also significant differences between individual faculty members and between departments in the computing resources that are available to them. The same issues of convenience, equity of access and leveling of the playing field, therefore, also apply to faculty.
- 6. The issue of the cost of maintaining the labs was brought up. Isn't it much more costly and difficult to maintain all of these laptops?
- Actually, maintenance is less difficult and costly. This is because of standardization. There a very limited and controlled number of computer models on campus and we deal with a single vendor. This is especially crucial, for example, with students. When students were bringing their own computers it was a maintenance nightmare to get them all set up and to keep them properly functioning in the residence halls.
- 7. What about the costs for the network infrastructure?
- Access to computing and information technology resources is critically dependent upon the availability of a reliable and robust network environment. The network infrastructure at Ursinus required a considerable upgrade in order to meet the needs of faculty, students and staff. This would have been the case, however, regardless of whether or not we implemented a laptop program. A cost analysis of network upgrade needs indicated that the cost for this project would be roughly the same if it was designed for a laptop environment or if it was designed for the more traditional type of environment we previously had. Infrastructure upgrades included equipping classrooms with projection equipment as well as network connections.
- 8. When do students receive laptops?
- Entering freshmen receive laptops as they enter in the fall.
- 9. Do students receive just one laptop for all four years? How often are faculty laptops upgraded?
- The Ursinus program is based on a two-year refresh cycle. Students receive a computer their freshmen year and then trade that in and receive a new computer their junior year. Faculty, likewise, are on the two-year refresh cycle.
- 10. Who owns the computers, students or the college?
- The computers are leased by the college. Although students are able to take them home during vacations and the summer and use them as if they were their own, the college holds the lease and is responsible for their return when the lease is up. At the time of graduation there is an option for students to acquire ownership of their laptops.
- 11. How are repairs handled?
- Information Technology staff provide support through the Technology Support Center. In addition, a two-year warranty program is in place which covers most problems. Problems or damage related to misuse or negligence are the responsibility of the individual.
- 12. Has there been any research on the effectiveness of laptop programs?
- Yes and the results are quite positive.
One of the most compelling features of computing and information technologies is that the powers of direct inquiry, exploration and dialogue can easily be put in the hands of individual teachers and learners and that these powers can be exercised at virtually any time and in any place.