Magazine article Diverse Issues in Higher Education

Digital Remix

Magazine article Diverse Issues in Higher Education

Digital Remix

Article excerpt

Institutions consider latest mobile computing gadgets as campuswide instructional and communication tools.

In 1996, Wake Forest University became one of the first U.S. universities to launch a mandatory laptop program to equip undergraduates with notebook computers. Like a number of schools at the time, Wake Forest began its efforts to provide students with an emerging technology platform that the university administration and faculty could use to communicate with students and deliver academic software and digitized forms of instruction.

With the costs factored in student tuition, each year roughly 1,200 incoming freshmen receive Lenovo ThinkPad laptops loaded with an impressive 141 programs and applications taking up some 37 gigabytes of hard-drive space. Students as juniors receive new laptops to replace the ones they received as first-year students.

Dr. Rick Matthews, associate provost for information systems and a professor of physics at Wake Forest, says "one of the principal advantages of the laptop program is that it serves the aspiration for 'techno-equity'" among students. After dropping the SAT requirement for student applicants a couple of years ago, the Winston-Salem, N.C.-based school has seen a surge in applications from minorities and from low-income and working class students, according to Matthews.

The laptop program has fulfilled "the idea that every student, regardless of economic means or technical background, would have the tools and the support they needed to reach their full potential. So, we continued to provide a standard laptop to every student," he says.

There's no doubt laptop programs remain important to many institutions, particularly to those that consider social equity an important value in their technology programs. Now, the transition to mobile computing, which puts smaller and often more versatile portable devices in the marketplace, has inspired college and university administrators to consider the potential for adopting these devices as campuswide tools.

Smartphones, digital tablet PCs or smartpads, personal digital assistants (PDAs) and electronic reader devices constitute the newest wave of digital technology sweeping college and university campuses. These devices can be connected to the Internet and allow students and school staff to perform sophisticated tasks, such as research and reviewing study notes.

Smartphones, such as the iPhone, have dazzled consumers with their touch screen interfaces and capacity for downloadable applications, or "apps." Students have been eager smartphone buyers, and academic institutions have been open to the development of applications that serve instructional and institutional purposes, such as campus maps and academic schedules. There's tremendous interest in the potential of smartpads and electronic reader devices, such as Amazon's Kindle device, becoming platforms for electronic versions of textbooks.

"(The laptop) has become a commodity platform for the campus. And I think that's why you're seeing some innovation in what I call smartpads, like the versions of things from the Apple iPad to the Edge, which is from enTourage, or even first-generation e-readers," says Lev Gonick, the chief information officer at Case Western Reserve University in Ohio. "These are all smartpads, and I think (their makers are) trying to deal with our marketplace in education."

Bold Approaches to Information Technology

Campuswide laptop initiatives have helped put institutions with such programs on a path to seek and experiment with emerging technologies like smartphones and e-readers. After installing a high-speed wireless network in all campus buildings, Wake Forest, for instance, early last decade developed and piloted Windowsbased Pocket PC phones as classroom devices for facilitating class quizzes and other interaction between professors and students and maintaining course schedules and campus information. …

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