Access for all
Determine the current access that U of R students have to technology. Determine the relative benefits of "the laptop for all", "the desktop for all", "centralized labs", and "remote labs" approaches. What can we learn from other institutions (feedback from students and faculty on how improved access has changed their courses). How can such an initiative be funded ? Do our competitors charge technology fees, and if so, how much ?
The goal of Access-for-All is to propose a plan that ensures students and faculty will have "enough" computer access to support the educational mission at U of R. This plan will be based on pedagogical trends, computer usage patterns, community input, and financial analyses. Existing Access-for-All solutions at other universities also will help shape the final plan. At this point, we have completed enough research to formulate a preliminary conclusion. We have found that computer-supported pedagogical trends can be separated into two categories:
- enhanced communication mechanisms and
- active learning tools.
The former enriches learning opportunities outside the classroom and only requires periodic computer access. Campus computing labs can be sufficient to meet this requirement. The latter places the educational process directly under the student's control and is best supported by a high level of computer access. Mandatory computer requirements for incoming students are most appropriate in this case. A survey of current pedagogical needs and campus computer usage patterns has revealed that U of R primarily relies on computers to enhance communication. Supported by research of other universities, we predict that the communication uses will continue to dominate U of R computer use for the next three to five years. We therefore conclude that Access-for-All can best be provided by augmenting and re-organizing our existing campus computing lab infrastructure. This conclusion has also been supported by input solicited from the community. Our next step will be to finalize all aspects of the plan, based on our detailed analysis of the above the points.
Several institutions have started to provide laptop computers to all students. The first laptop university was a virtual institution, called ThinkPad University. Several institutions have followed the ThinkPad University approach. The following list provides links to the relevant WEB pages at these institutions, but is certainly far from complete:
Based on information obtained from several presentation on this topic, several important conclusions emerge:
An alternative approach to guarantee access is to provide desktops in every dorm room. The price of a desk top is about a factor 2 below the price of a comparable laptop. In principle, we therefore could provide two desktops for each student: one in the dorm room and one somewhere on campus.