Incoming freshmen at Bethel College in McKenzie, Tenn., receive the same standard-issue provisions as the majority of their peers across the country: class schedules, campus maps and dormitory assignments.
But there’s an additional item distributed to every student who enrolls at the private liberal arts college: a personal Hewlett-Packard notebook computer, compliments of Bethel’s one-to-one notebook program.
Now in its eleventh year, the college’s notebook initiative was born out of a desire to integrate technology with the curriculum, explains Wanda McMackin, Bethel’s director of information technology.
“Every student has the same laptop setup, so faculty members can tailor their instruction and classes, and the students are able to meet [the curriculum’s] expectations,” McMackin explains. “Since all students possess the same electronic capabilities outside of the classroom, there are no surprises, no excuses, no waiting to get into a lab or the library.”
“It levels the playing field and gives everyone the same opportunity,” adds Jimmy Bomar, network administrator at the college.
Meeting Student Needs
Affiliated with the Cumberland Presbyterian Church, Bethel College has about 1,050 undergraduate students, more than 250 master’s degree students and another 1,450-plus who are part of the college’s Success program for working adults.
With enrollment having tripled over the past decade, the college works hard to meet student needs and expectations. Boasting an average student-to-faculty ratio of 18 to 1, the college provides a small classroom setting and a personalized learning atmosphere, which makes the one-to-one notebook initiative a first-class fit. With the cost of the computer included in students’ tuition, the program is earning high marks across the board.
“Everybody wants one,” Bomar says. “We don’t force anyone to participate, but I don’t know of any student who has ever opted out.”
“There are just so many pluses to having a one-to-one program,” McMackin adds. “It makes a student’s job so much more manageable.”
Thomas Butler, a senior majoring in business administration at Bethel, agrees. “I use my laptop every single day,” he says, noting that he relies on the device to complete research, type papers and keep up with current events through online news sites. Most of the time, Butler doesn’t even print his assignments. Instead, he explains, “When the teachers know that everyone has their own computer and e-mail address, they tend to give us the option of just e-mailing in our assignments.”
Junior Sandy Nasif, who is pursuing a double major in business management and psychology at Bethel, says she especially appreciates the convenience of having her own notebook to complete course requirements.
“The only other computers we would have access to if we didn’t have our own would be in the library, which has limited hours,” Nasif points out. “This way, I can pace myself when doing homework, as opposed to having to rush to do it before the library closes.”
To facilitate Internet connectivity, Bethel offers wireless access throughout the campus. Additionally, the college has developed an ePortal. “This allows students and professors to carry on one-on-one conversations and the ability to upload or download anything they need for class,” McMackin explains.
Although Bethel purchases notebooks throughout the year, the majority are preordered by the college over the summer, based on projected admissions numbers for the fall. In addition to reserving a device for every incoming student, each Bethel faculty and staff member is also given a choice of a desktop or notebook, with most opting for the notebook.
For the past three years, Bethel standardized on HP computers. This year’s undergrads make the grade with an HP Compaq 6710b notebook, which has a slim, lightweight design and comes with enhanced features including the latest Intel Core 2 Duo processors, Mobile Broadband and BIOS security improvements.
All notebooks arrive at Bethel fully imaged and loaded with the Microsoft Office Professional 2007 software suite and Symantec antivirus. To complement the devices’ standard one-year warranty, Bethel purchases two additional years of coverage for students.
“It’s a very attractive package because students get a three-year warranty and have a full help desk to support them day in and day out,” McMackin says of the notebook program.
Indeed, Bethel provides an on-campus help desk with four full-time staff and two part-time student workers. They resolve issues ranging from network-access trouble to frozen computer systems to virus and worm infections.
“Students just open a ticket and get whatever their issue is resolved,” says Bomar.
In fact, students have free access to the help desk for as long as they’re enrolled. Adds McMackin: “If a student can’t get on the ePortal or their e-mail isn’t working correctly, we can support them in technology for their life at school.”
Starting in 2009, prompted by the sheer volume of machines that needed to be re-imaged because of infestation by spyware, Bethel began equipping each notebook with an additional technological gadget: an external flash drive.
“We were spending more time copying files than working on the machine,” says Bomar. “With the flash drive, students can have the files they need right on the device.”
To avoid unnecessary trips to the help desk, all incoming Bethel students are required to take a computer education class. “This way, they learn how to use the laptop, how to access the network and the ePortal, and what the general rules are,” explains McMackin.
Although Bethel hasn’t compiled any hard facts and figures on the success of its one-to-one notebook program, administrators don’t have to look far to see how the initiative is thriving.
“You look at the kids’ faces when they come in and get their laptops,” says Bomar. “I think it’s awesome that we can do that. Because of this program, we don’t ever have a student who has done everything they can to scrape up enough financial aid to attend school, but is then hindered by not having a machine to help get them through college.”
Put The “Help” in Your Help Desk
Few things are as frustrating as having a computer screen freeze in the middle of downloading an important file, or an e-mail attachment that refuses to detach. Whether writing term papers, compiling class notes or simply e-mailing an assignment, college students rely on high availability and uptime from their notebooks. That’s why, when rolling out a one-to-one notebook initiative, the implementation of a help desk can be one of the most critical steps.
“Ours has been a major part of keeping the initiative alive,” acknowledges Jimmy Bomar, network administrator at Bethel College. “Without it, we wouldn’t be nearly as successful.”
Bethel’s help desk, which supports notebooks, printers and the campus phone system, averages 40 help-request tickets per day. Students requiring assistance have a choice of filling out a request on campus, calling in the problem or submitting an e-mail.
Bomar says the help desk runs very efficiently. While knowledgeable technicians are a prerequisite, he underscores the value of customer-service skills.
“In the beginning, we had [people] who could work on computers but we didn’t have people who could communicate with the users,” Bomar says, adding that when it comes to technology, you can’t underestimate the “human touch.”