Jeff Howlett of Meredith College says the school's one-to-one program reduces help-desk and overall technology costs.

Aug 06 2010

Ready to Learn

One-to-one computing programs give students the technology they need to succeed while reducing help-desk and computer lab expenses.

One-to-one computing programs give students the technology they need to succeed while reducing help-desk and computer lab expenses.

At Meredith College, a liberal arts women's college in Raleigh, N.C., a one-to-one computing program has fostered innovative teaching methods, lowered technology support costs and helped the college reclaim valuable real estate that was once dedicated to computer labs.

“The biggest thing we've noticed is that not all students come to college with a computer that can support the applications we use,” says Jeff Howlett, CIO at the college.

“By standardizing on professional-grade hardware and software, we give our faculty the confidence of knowing that all students have the appropriate tools for what they want to teach,” Howlett says.

When Meredith first started the program about 10 years ago, one-to-one computing initiatives – programs that provide each student with a notebook – were just starting to emerge as a way to engage students and show a college's commitment to technology. A decade later, Howlett says, the notebook program has grown increasingly beneficial to the more than 2,000 students on campus who use the computers to access classroom, library and other important educational resources.

“Our notebook program has definitely shown our commitment to being a technologically advanced institution and has, in the process, reduced help-desk and overall technology expenses,” he says.

Meredith keeps the program's costs in check by standardizing on one configuration. “We require a stable platform – one notebook and one operating system – that will be guaranteed over a few years,” he says.

For instance, all notebooks for the upcoming fall semester will run on Windows 7 as the default operating system and will feature various software packages that all students need to have at their disposal. A recent survey of Meredith students found that web searches, research, writing, note taking and presentations are the top activities for which the computers are used.

Targeted Programs

Marti Harris, research director at Gartner, says that while one-to-one programs serve a general purpose in K–12 settings, they tend to be more specific in higher education.

“One-to-one programs work if there's a particular demographic that is not able to afford notebooks on their own, or if there is a specific application or set of applications that the curriculum demands,” Harris says.

This is certainly true at Franklin W. Olin College of Engineering in Needham, Mass. From its inception in 2001, the college, which now has 350 students, has supplied each incoming freshman with a notebook.

“We knew we were going to be developing the curriculum around engineering applications, which are resource-intensive, and we wanted to give students and faculty the same platform for teaching and learning,” says Joanne Kossuth, vice president for operations and CIO at Olin College.

Kossuth says one-to-one programs require a lot of planning because the goal is for the computers to last for four years.

She says all the notebooks in use at Olin have dual-core or quad-core processors, the best video card available and a large amount of storage. In addition, Kossuth makes sure that most components can be easily expanded. She adds that it's important to buy service contracts, warranties and even telephone support contracts so that the machines and software are well protected.

“Granted, early on we had parents saying that they could get their children something less expensive. But the students appreciate the reliability and durability of the machines,” she says.

Kossuth also makes sure all the software is standardized so that she can track licenses and create backup images to ease recovery if there is a failure or the notebooks are lost or stolen.

“Managing licensing can be the most expensive part, but it is well worth it to know what's running on each machine,” Kossuth says.

Each student is issued a license for high-use programs such as Microsoft Office Professional, Adobe applications and SolidWorks CAD design software. Some of the licenses extend to home use or can be transferred once the student graduates. The computers also carry antivirus and virtual private network software to ensure application and data security. While Kossuth doesn't bar students from using unauthorized applications, she stresses that those programs will not be backed up nor part of the recovery image.

Standardization has been instrumental in managing productivity and avoiding downtime, as Kossuth keeps loaners on hand that she can quickly load with the student's saved image.

Best Configurations

Daniel Sheehan, director of client services at Bentley University in Waltham, Mass., has also had success with a one-to-one program. Like Howlett and Kossuth, Sheehan has spent time studying which configurations would work best for the university's 4,000 undergraduate students.

This fall, students will receive an HP EliteBook 8440p notebook running Windows 7 on an Intel Core i5 processor – a step up from last year's standard. The notebooks also will have a 9-cell battery (versus a 6-cell) and a 320 gigabyte hard drive (versus 250GB). In addition, the new machines will have a higher screen resolution and improved video RAM.


The percentage of students at Meredith College who would have had to purchase a new computer for college if Meredith did not have its one-to-one program

Source: Meredith College survey of 355 students

Sheehan says this configuration will let faculty continue to leverage emerging teaching tools, such as video conferencing classroom collaboration tools. Bentley and Meredith both upgrade student notebooks after two years and then let students keep them when they graduate.

“They can take their notebooks with them knowing that they have the most contemporary hardware and software to either continue their education or start their careers,” Sheehan says.

With a standard setup, the help desk, which installs security management tools on every notebook, no longer spends time on basic diagnostics, such as determining what version of the operating system and software are running. Sheehan has even installed self-help applications so that students can re-image their own machines when they are preparing to leave the university.

Both Sheehan and Howlett say that they've achieved a lot of cost efficiencies through uniform purchasing and deployment. At both colleges, they've kept help-desk staff to a minimum, lowering call rates and rapidly addressing problems to keep students up and running.

Shuttering the campus computer labs brings additional ROI. The IT team no longer has to incur the expense of heating and cooling those sites, and that real estate can be repurposed as classroom space. “Students have ‘virtual lab' applications on their notebooks that enable them to collaborate on projects from anywhere,” Sheehan says.

For Meredith's Howlett, the one-to-one program has proved itself through better learning opportunities and the college's ability to elevate students'

technology skills. “It surprises me that more colleges aren't doing it, especially when you factor the cost savings the notebook program provides,” he says.

Student Choice

Colleges and universities that have one-to-one computing programs should get students involved in deciding which computers to purchase as well as which applications to install. Here are some tips for making this partnership successful:

  • Let students test-drive the brands you are considering.
  • Survey students to find out which applications they use and make sure to accommodate those programs.
  • Create a notebook committee that includes student representation. Students will be better plugged in to users' feelings.
  • Poll prospective students to stay on top of their technology know-how, expectations and the applications they use.
<p>Charles Harris</p>