Wednesday, April 13, 2005

Should We Get Out of the Computer Lab Business?

This is quickie tonight because I'm at a conference on EDT and I need to get some sleep for the meeting tomorrow.

So here is the issue. The central IT organization's dollars are getting increasingly scarce so we need to spend them wisely. One criterion that suggests whether to stay in or get out of a service is looking at the the user's alternatives to that service. Then one can argue whether the alternatives are good or not.

Student computer ownership is now somewhere around 95%. I don't know what the current fraction is on laptop ownership, but we could affect that by recommending they purchase a laptop with a wireless card, if they do purchase a computer. This would be short of a requirement but still a recommendation they and their parents would listen to. After a couple of years of this, most of the first and second year students would have laptops. Also, our wireless deployment will be fairly far along so many classes will have wireless. At that point, I believe the teacher will be able to say I want you to bring your laptops to class so we can use them as if we're in a computer lab.

Now there may be a lot of headaches getting that to work, but one we've borne those headaces we will have many more spaces that can act like computer labs --- we have a lot of classrooms that will be wireless. We can change the furniture in (some of) those rooms so they accomodate the laptops. And if this seems to work, the use might very well spread so students are more inclinded to carry their laptops around. Even if it doesn't turn out that way, if instructors expect the students to use the laptops for group work, they may adjust the out of class work accordingly.

I'm aware there may be rocks in the path, but do we have an alternative?

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