SJSU Gets Creative With Laptop Initiative

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San José State University (SJSU), the metropolitan university empowering California’s Silicon Valley, is committed to preparing students to take leadership positions in the world community. Technology is an essential and integral component of this new world community, which is shown by the student experience at the university. The university’s Wireless Laptop Pilot Project is one program of many that is evidence of this commitment to excellence on the SJSU campus.

The Wireless Laptop Pilot Project is an academic technology initiative that is funded through a lottery grant. The success of the project relies heavily on faculty commitment. In March 2002, interested faculty and staff gathered to craft a vision that would create a dynamic and collaborative educational environment to enhance teaching and learning, creativity, scholarship, and global connectivity through a wireless laptop initiative. The goals of the project were:

  1. To have SJSU become a leader in improving teaching and learning through the utilization of technology.

  2. To increase communication and collaboration among faculty, s

    tudents and the outside community.

  3. To build a community that fosters, supports, and rewards innovation and creativity.

  4. To produce students who possess 21st century skills.

Enabling the Project

The university’s School of Art and Design, School of Journalism and Mass Communications, as well as its departments of Child and Adolescent Development, Communicative Disorders and Sciences, and Educational Leadership in its College of Education were first to participate in the project. To enable the project, all classrooms in these programs were equipped with access to the Internet and network resources through a wireless network. Then during the fall 2003 semester, students brought laptops to classes as required instructional material.

The first phase of the wireless network, which was implemented by the University Computing and Telecommunications department, was based on the 802.11b wireless network standard. The modular design of the Cisco Aironet 1200 Series wireless access point allows for the change from 802.11b to 802.11g or even 802.11a as easy as switching a module. The second phase of the wireless network used the Cisco 1200 access point with an 802.11g module. In order to address security issues, Bluesocket encrypts all logins to the network. Authentication to the wireless network is accomplished using a unique identifier provided by the Common Management System that PeopleSoft implemented on campus.

Faculty Support

One of the challenges facing the university was how to provide faculty with the support needed to effectively integrate technology into its curriculum; however, we found the best way to do this was to start early. Each faculty member in the project received a laptop and a license for the Adobe Creative Suite (www.adobe.com/education). In return, each faculty member promised to devote at least 15 hours of professional development time related to technology integration. Faculty started working with the laptops a year before the students were required to bring them to class as required instructional material. This gave faculty a full year to plan for the successful integration of student laptops into their curriculum.

Adobe provided faculty development classes in the use of its products. Faculty also offered workshops for their peers in the use of the Adobe products and made suggestions for the use of the products by students during class. So far, more than 1,600 hours of faculty and staff professional development have been logged by the project. When students arrived in fall 2003 with laptops, the faculty were ready with lesson plans designed to make effective use of their students’ wireless laptop technology.

Providing Anytime, Anywhere Learning

Students in the art and design classes and in the journalism and mass communications classes are gaining valuable, real-world design and production skills using the tools standard to their professions. While working with images is a natural for the design students, the art history and fine art programs have also been engaged, as have the animation, photography and digital media classes. For art and design students and for the journalism and mass communications students, the Adobe products were an absolute necessity since the tools are recognized as the industry standard in these professional fields.

For Dennis Dunleavy, the assistant professor and photojournalism coordinator at SJSU, giving students an edge is critical to developing the next generation of journalists in a digital age. “Students in the photojournalism sequence must acquire digital-image editing skills on the software that is being used in the industry today,” he says. “Making software applications such as Photoshop, InDesign and GoLive available to our students gives them a jump start into a technologically driven field.”

The laptop and wireless environments have enabled anytime, anywhere learning. This has allowed faculty to provide just-in-time suggestions for improvement of student work within the classroom, within faculty offices, as well as via electronic communications tools such as e-mail, weblogs or any other electronic collaboration tools. In addition, students are no longer limited to meet at specific places and times to work on class projects or restricted to scheduled time in campus computer labs to complete assignments.

The School of Art and Design and the School of Journalism and Mass Communications adopted InDesign for their media classes. A big factor in this decision was Adobe’s commitment to providing special educational pricing, which made InDesign a more affordable alternative for students to purchase.

Real-World Preparation

One of the primary qualities that the faculty considered when adopting the Adobe software was the fact that its products are tightly integrated. This means that a student who masters the palettes in one Adobe product can easily use another product in the suite with confidence. For example, being able to double-click within InDesign and intuitively know how to make changes to a graphic using Photoshop has proved very helpful in the production of quality page layouts.

Along with becoming more skilled in the use of industry-standard software, students participating in the Wireless Laptop Pilot Project enjoy the added advantage of having an electronic portfolio within the laptop, which allows resources and skills learned in one class to be easily and readily applied in another. Having a portfolio also helps students as they enter the workforce. For instance, when students interview for a position in their desired profession after graduation, demonstrating the skills needed for the job can be done by showing the work created within the university’s programs, which is stored on their personal laptops.

- Mary Fran Breiling, SJSU

For information on the Wireless Laptop Pilot Project, visit www.sjsu.edu/wireless.

This article originally appeared in the 11/01/2004 issue of THE Journal.

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