Campus-Wide Computing Initiatives

Higher education isundergoing an amazing transformation. Computer technologies areenabling schools to reengineer how faculty members deliver curriculaand how students learn. With students demanding greater and moreproductive access to computer-enabled educational resources, leadinghigher-education institutions are responding by implementing programsthat help ensure all students have access to computers configured fortheir computing environment. These programs - called campus-widecomputer initiatives, or universal access programs - are creatingdynamic teaching and learning environments that enhance students'educational experiences.

University of Texas at Austin's MBA student orientation, where students received their Dell laptops for use in the program. Photo by Robert Pandya.

An EmergingTrend

Campus computer programsemerged in the late 1980s. They first appeared at smaller, privateinstitutions and schools with technology-centric curriculum, such asbusiness or engineering schools. Programs are structured differentlydepending on the school's mission. Some deploy campus-wide programs,while others only have programs for individual schools (business,engineering, etc.) within the institution.

Computing requirementsalso vary. A number of schools allow students to choose their system,configuration and vendor. Others strongly recommend or require aspecific vendor and configuration, which makes technical supporteasier and less costly, and helps guarantee that students purchasenetwork-compatible systems.

Based on our experience inworking with various college and university programs, we've seen thatthe best practices for implementing these programs come from schoolswho clearly understand what they hope to accomplish.

Schools need a vision forusing technology to enhance faculty productivity and student learningand must involve key stakeholders in the decision-making process.Students, parents, faculty and staff should all have a voice in thedecision. For example, the University of Texas at Austin implementedits program only after pilot testing and careful evaluation withfaculty, students, business partners and vendors.

Schools must also makesure their network and support infrastructures can handle the influxof technology. Routers, hubs, servers and wiring may need upgradingto provide additional Ethernet ports and faster Internet connections.Schools may need to hire more support technicians and conductextensive training.

Longwood College inLongwood, Va. spent the spring and summer of 1998 augmenting itsnetwork capabilities. It hired more help-desk personnel and atechnician to provide network support to students and turned tostudents for additional technical support. The college recruited astudent support staff and put them through a six day "boot camp"where students trained 12-hours a day. Today, the school's 12full-time student technical associates provide 24-hour support tostudents living in residence halls.

If proper training occurs,campus-wide computer programs can have an energizing effect onfaculty. Instructors need to understand how to effectively usetechnology to change teaching methods and create a more dynamiclearning environment. Many schools hold workshops and trainingsessions to provide this information.

Students must also learnto use the technology. Manufacturers can ship the systems directly tostudents' homes several weeks before classes start to let studentsfamiliarize themselves with the technology before arriving at school.Formal training can occur once students are on campus.

A strong vendorrelationship is another key component. For instance, at Dell, we workwith schools to design programs that offer both choice andflexibility. We custom-configure each system and offer flexiblefinancing and insurance options, factory-installation of the school'ssoftware package, online purchasing capabilities and support stafftraining.

Equality ofAccess

The appeal of campus-widecomputer programs is simple: the programs level the academic playingfield and give all students equal access to technology that'sbecoming critical for classroom success. Universal access removes thedisparity between students who have technology and those who do not.Students without computers - approximately half the current studentpopulation - are at a distinct disadvantage in the classroom and inthe future workplace.

While some people expressconcern about the programs placing an added burden on financiallydisadvantaged students, many schools view it differently. They feelthat disadvantaged students benefit most. Affluent students arealready arriving on campus with computers, giving them an advantagebefore the first class starts. Campus-wide computer programs provideall students with 24-hour access to powerful research, communicationsand creativity tools.

Students use computertechnology to enhance their ability to learn, complete coursework,conduct research and produce higher-quality work. Computer accessalso helps students develop the technical skills necessary forlife-long learning and success in today's technology-drivenworkplace. With nearly every career - from engineer to researcher toaccountant to communicator to sales representative - relying oncomputer applications, companies place a premium on employees whobring high-tech know-how to the workplace.

Quality of Access:The Power of Mobility

For the amount of accessmost students need, computer labs are not the answer. While computerlabs will continue to serve a useful purpose, their inherentlimitations make them ill equipped to meet students' growingtechnology demands. Most computer labs can be expensive to create andmaintain, consume valuable campus real estate, lack adequate Internetaccess, have outdated equipment and can only accommodate limitednumbers of users. Campus-wide computer programs avoid these problemsby specifying platforms, software, configurations and vendors to helpensure that students acquire reliable systems with adequate memory,hard disk capacity, processing speed and networkcompatibility.

Another concern withcomputer labs is that they are open only during certain hours.Students do not follow set study schedules. They work into the earlymorning hours and study in multiple locations. According to DickBratcher, vice president of information technology at LongwoodCollege, students' nomadic nature is the reason Longwood recommendsthat its students purchase notebook PCs.

In fact, notebooks PCs arethe systems of choice for nearly every campus-wide computer program.With notebook PCs, students can do coursework and access the networkand the Internet from nearly anywhere and at anytime. This mobilityenables faculty to integrate rich, multimedia course materials intothe classroom, creating an interactive environment where studentslearn by doing instead of through passive observation. Instructorscan use electronic instructional materials and make onlineassignments knowing that each student can access the material. Suchan environment challenges instructors to increase their technicalproficiency and use technology to improve students' learningexperience.

Students take fulladvantage of notebook PCs. In classrooms, students use the systems torun computerized simulations, solve complex problems, performInternet research, download assignments, give presentations, takenotes and complete essay tests. From dorms, students download classsyllabi, electronic course materials, instructor notes, papers andother shared information on the school's network.

Approximately 73% of eligible freshman have purchased computers through Princeton University's student computer program.

Students walk to thelibrary to prepare a paper or presentation, go to the cafeteria toeat and chat online with family and friends, visit the study hall todownload and watch training videos and e-mail questions andassignments from the student union building. Students can also docourse work and communicate with peers and professors while studyingabroad or while on spring or Christmas break.

Affordability andStandardization

Campus computer programshelp make computers more affordable for students. When computers area school requirement, students can add the cost to financial aidapplications. Many vendors, including Dell, have developed studentloan and leasing programs.

Schools like PrincetonUniversity have taken other steps to increase affordability.Princeton officials felt it was important for students to havecomputers, but didn't want to make computer ownership a requirement.Instead, Princeton provided a purchasing incentive - starting in thefall of 1998, the university began to subsidize undergraduates'computers purchased from Dell or Apple. According to Ira Fuchs, vicepresident for Computing and Information Technology at Princeton,approximately 75 percent of all first-year students have purchasedcomputers through the program.

Campus-wide computerprograms also help reduce support costs through the establishment ofa more standardized computing infrastructure. Students generallybring a disparate mix of platforms and software to campus, creating asupport nightmare. Incompat-ibility problems between the varioussystems increase support time and costs.

By standardizing platform,vendor, hardware and software, schools can significantly reducecompatibility problems and subsequently reduce costs associated withowning, operating and supporting computer systems in a networkenvironment. Technical support and maintenance processes aresimplified, allowing support staff to become more familiar with theIT environment. Staff is free to focus more attention on increasingnetwork capabilities and providing end-user training.

Preparing StudentsFor the Future

Today, a school'stechnology commitment is a significant consideration for studentschoosing a school to attend. Students know the importance oftechnology both in helping them complete coursework and in preparingfor the workplace, making a high-tech environment a powerfulrecruiting tool.

Schools such as theUniversity of Texas at Austin's Graduate Business School help preparestudents for the marketplace by creating a high-tech setting thatreplicates the typical corporate environment. The business schoolrequires all incoming graduate students to buy or lease ahigh-performance notebook PC with Windows NT installed. According toLarry Leibrock, technology dean for the business school, the schoolis responding to the business community's need for professionals whoare agile, technically sophisticated and skilled at achievingfast-cycle results in corporate work-group environments.

School administrators feltthat collaboration in today's fast-paced business world required notonly a wide range of interpersonal skills but also the ability to useinformation technology to work with a mobile, geographicallydispersed workforce. Putting computers into the hands of each studentis the first step.

With technology changingthe very nature of the educational experience and the workplaceenvironment, students need technical resources and skills previousgenerations never contem-plated. For an increasing number ofuniversities, colleges and K-12 institutions, campus-wide computerinitiatives are the ideal medium for providing these resources andskills.

For more information oncampus computing initiatives, visit

This article originally appeared in the 02/01/1999 issue of THE Journal.