Appendix 4: Pros and Cons of a "Laptop University"

The basic idea of a "laptop university" proposes that SCSU would require all students to lease a designated laptop at an expected cost of approximately $900 to $1,000 per year. The laptop would come with a standard suite of software; maintenance would be included in the lease cost. If students experience hardware or software difficulties, they would take the machine to a designated service location, where it would be repaired or replaced and the software would be refreshed at no additional charge. Machines would be cycled out approximately every three years, assuring current technology at all times. Faculty hardware and software would match, at minimum, what students lease.

There are both pros and cons to the idea as proposed:

Pros

  • Universities believe the cost is lower.
  • Students believe laptop universities are "cool."
  • Students believe that graduating from a "laptop university" improves their credentials.
  • All students have access to the same hardware and software.
    • Maintenance is easier.
    • Faculty know what hardware and software students have.
    • The transition from lab to classroom to home is easier.
  • Students have access to computing resources virtually everywhere.
  • The laptop requirement would help make SCSU "look" like a high-tech campus.
  • Students adopt the cost of technology directly (a plus for the institution, but maybe not for the students, even if financial aid will support all or part of the costs).
  • Lease costs are covered by financial aid for students who are eligible.
  • The laptop requirement could reduce the amount of money needed to support open labs (although it has not been clear that this has been true at other universities).
  • Students could more easily bring their laptop into a service center when maintenance was needed (compared to a desktop machine).

Cons

  • The initiative toward a "laptop university" has not come from the faculty or students.
  • It is probably unlikely that students will want to carry laptops around all day.
  • There is an increased direct cost to the students.
  • Students who already have access to a computer may not like the requirement.
  • Students who do not receive financial aid may have difficulties finding additional funds.
  • Students may prefer to purchase rather than to lease.
  • Students who select majors not requiring much computing may resent having to lease a laptop. Students who select majors that require more extensive computing than the standard may also resent the requirement.
  • SCSU faculty and programs may not wish to commit to a single hardware and software standard.
  • Students may prefer a desktop rather than a laptop.
  • The small monitor like those found on laptops has been associated empirically with decreased reading comprehension, with decreased scope and scale of revision in writing and with diminished cognition.
  • SCSU will incur costs to improve the infrastructure to accommodate student laptops, including
    • Electrical outlets
    • Network connections
    • Desks and tables ergonomically correct for keyboarding
    • Faculty hardware and software
  • Computing labs or similar facilities will need to be maintained to provide printing options and to support applications more extensive than available on the basic machines. Students will expect labs to offer connectivity to the Internet and multimedia applications.
  • This requirement may be particularly burdensome for part-time students who do not qualify for financial aid.
  • The temperature and humidity extremes typical of Minnesota winters and the weight of current laptops may make students reluctant to carry them to class.

Alternatives

Several alternatives to the basic laptop idea have been discussed, including

  • Offering the lease of more than one type of machine (e.g., Windows and Macintosh)
  • Setting a standard for hardware and software and requiring that all students have access to equipment meeting these standards, then offering leasing options (but not requirements) that meet campus standards. Students may choose to buy, lease, or borrow.