One-to-one computing programs ensure that all students have the same computing capabilities — and an opportunity to get even more out of their time in class.
The average ACT score for incoming freshmen at Lawrence Technological University in Southfield, Mich., has steadily increased over the past five years, an indication that the already competitive school is attracting even higher quality students.
Provost Maria J. Vaz gives much of the credit for this positive change to the school's one-to-one computing program, which was launched in 2001.
Lawrence Tech provides each of its 4,500 students with a standardized notebook or tablet PC that is equipped with the applications required for a technology education, including engineering, architecture, computer science and design programs.
The students use the computers throughout the course of their academic career. The leasing cost is covered by the private university's annual $24,633 tuition, and all maintenance and technical support is offered to students free of charge.
“The better students, the top students, now realize that they will be learning with advanced professional tools when they come here,” Vaz explains. “And when our students graduate, they find very good jobs, even in today's economy. One of the most important reasons is because they know how to use the tools that are used in industry.”
Ron Bonig, research director for higher education at research firm Gartner, says one-to-one computing programs have never been overly popular at U.S. colleges and universities, mainly because one-to-one programs are most valuable to colleges or individual departments with a specialized mission, such as medicine, engineering, physics, architecture or fashion design.
“This is not something that's probably going to fly at a big state university with tens of thousands of undergraduates,” Bonig says.
He says most colleges specify the required or desired brands on their websites, asking students to bring or acquire an appropriate computer.
“There is just not that strong a need for standardization at most schools,” he explains. “An English student, for instance, who primarily uses Word and the Internet, doesn't need an extra-powerful machine. They can use any number of devices and get the same results.”
But the average PC won't suffice at Lincoln Memorial University's DeBusk College of Osteopathic Medicine, where 640 medical students use high-end anatomy and histology programs and annotate videos of class lectures. The students use Lenovo X200 Tablet PCs packed with all the requisite software. Students lease the computers and are charged an annual technology fee that is tacked onto their tuition.
Although most students appreciate this setup, some balk at the requirement.
“We occasionally have students who are a little resistant that they have to get a new computer, who want to use their own notebook or the little netbook they've just purchased because it's easy to carry to and from class,” says Jason McConnell, director of medical information services for the new medical school, which welcomed its first class in 2007.
“But they realize very quickly that there's no way that some run-of-the-mill computer can keep up with the kind of software they're going to be working with,” he continues. “They usually come back at some point and tell us how happy they are that we've given them such an amazing machine.”
Vaz says Lawrence Tech started its one-to-one program in part because its reliance on computer labs and a “buy your own” computer policy made it hard for the college to keep up with the latest technology.
“We were constantly hearing that our computers were outdated, our software was outdated,” she recalls. “The moment we introduced the laptop initiative, that conversation went away. Now, we are told that our software is even more advanced than what is available at some companies.”
Photo: Beall + Thomas
For 2010–2011, students were issued a Lenovo W510 ThinkPad, a Fujitsu LifeBook T900 Tablet or a MacBook Pro i7. Each device is loaded with Microsoft Windows 7, Office 2010, the latest Adobe Suite and more than 70 specialized software programs, including AutoCAD 2010 and LabVIEW 2010, a graphical programming environment.
Tim Chavis, Lawrence Tech's executive director of IT service delivery, says students always have what they need when they need it. They use the computers to participate in class or to study or do collaborative projects with other classmates.
“Everybody sitting in the classroom has the same machine, including the instructor,” he says. “Faculty don't have to modify their lectures or assignments because someone has the wrong version of something or their computer doesn't have enough processing power.”
And because the machines are standard, technical support is much simpler and not as expensive, says Charlene Ramos, Lawrence Tech's director of help-desk services. Software updates and security patches are pushed out to all the machines at the same time, and if a student has an issue, he or she just turns to the help desk.
“Whether it's because the screen has gone bad or a student has dropped their computer down the stairway, they're given another machine pretty much on the spot,” Ramos says. “We just pop out the hard drive of the old machine, put it into the new one and they're off to the races. Again, they always have what they need for their classwork and studies.”
Tom Halverson, the dean of the College of Business and Information Systems at Dakota State University in Madison, S.D., says the real ROI from one-to-one programs is how they strengthen teaching and learning.
“I teach primarily computer science, so now every classroom that I go into is a computer lab, only the students can take it with them when they go,” Halverson says.
He says prior to establishing the university's one-to-one program, the DSU IT team had to equip, maintain and staff more than a dozen computer labs across campus to meet students' high-end computing needs. The labs have since been eliminated.
The retail price that Lawrence Tech students would have to pay if they tried to purchase the 70-plus specialized applications that are provided through the school's one-to-one program. Because it can negotiate volume discounts, Lawrence Tech spends just $225 per unit for the applications.
SOURCE: Lawrence Technological University
For Lawrence Tech, giving standard, mobile, high-end computing devices – especially the tablet PCs – to all students for use in the classroom translates into a more dynamic, interactive learning environment.
“Any technology barriers or issues that we had before have just disappeared,” says Provost Vaz — so much so that her faculty can no longer imagine academic life without the one-to-one program, she adds. Recently, the school conducted an evaluation. Vaz says she quickly realized that if she changed the program or eliminated the tablets, she might have a mutiny on her hands.
“Our instructors basically said that they cannot teach without this setup,” she says. “That's how entrenched the one-to-one program has become to the way our professors teach — and how well our students learn.”
Follow these guidelines to set up your school's one-to-one computing program.
- Seek out benchmarks. Visit different universities to understand what's involved and how other schools handle challenges such as help-desk support, working with departments to choose the right technology and developing policies that cover configuration control and security.
- Maintain adequate staff. Under a one-to-one program, a technical problem with one computer is immediately multiplied by your total number of students and faculty. Make sure you have enough IT personnel and help-desk staff – or at least the ability to scale up your operation — when a problem occurs.
- Keep the technology fresh. Most schools distribute machines on a two-year cycle, with freshmen and juniors getting the latest version of the standard platform, while sophomores and seniors keep their computers for a second year and receive application upgrades.
- Solicit student input. Lawrence Tech, for example, relies on about 200 student volunteers to see how the technology configuration will hold up under daily academic use before the images are mass-installed by the manufacturer on all machines.