Laptop program receives revisions

Brandon Van Meter

Brandon Van Meter

The Board of Regents has made additions to numerous items on its Mobile Computing Initiative, including a possible student fee increase – and some SDSU students want their voices heard.

In a revised outline of the initiative, the BOR proposes a $7 per credit hour “student technology discipline fee” charged to students “to support the ongoing costs of technical support and faculty/course development.” This fee increase would affect students once their university programs adopt a laptop-based curriculum.

According to Paul Turman, director of academic assessment for the BOR, the new laptop program would vastly improve the teaching environment and curriculum because students could take notes on their laptops, conduct electronic research in class and work with software programs in a non-lab environment.

The SDSU Students’ Association does not agree.

During a subcommittee meeting to discuss the changes, senators worked to draft a formal stance on the newest proposal. Part of its position states “an academic unit is not required to engage in a mandatory mobile computing program.”

“The reason I don’t want [the Mobile Computing Initiative] is because it’s no good,” said SA Senator Tony Temple. “Students don’t want to have to buy laptops that we don’t want, that we think we won’t use.”

Some wondered if current available classroom technology is utilized to its maximum potential. Confusion over projectors and computer cables can hamper the best-planned, technologically savvy class lecture, senators said.

In their position statement, the SA states the BOR must “define a plan for faculty training and development.”

“Today, I was in a computer lab, and there was a smart board and there was a sign that said, ‘Reminder: this is not a white board,'” said SA Senator Aaron Merchen.

Since last summer, student groups from around the state worked with the Board of Regents on its push to move state universities to a laptop-based curriculum. Student involvement in the past months has not gone unnoticed with Turman.

“Students will have to review and approve the plans of how the technology will be used,” he said.

“We know we need the support of students on the various campuses. That’s why we have constantly remodeled and revised this plan.”

Since students raised concerns about the first plan, the BOR has lengthened the timeline of the project and made laptop specifications more flexible.

In the first plan, 50 percent of campus programs were required to integrate laptop computers into their curriculum. The other half was given an additional year to comply. Under the newest plan, implementation of the initiative is divided into four phases over four years.

Each university in South Dakota will decide which programs will implement the initiative under a certain phase. Students will pay the $7 per credit hour fee once their program is part of the mobile initiative but not before.

According to Turman, programs like Biology, Chemistry and Mathematics – along with other Arts and Sciences majors – are seen as areas that could adopt the initiative in the first phase.

Majors that have fewer needs for mobile computing would go in the last phase. According to Turman, all majors have some use for computer technology. For instance, Geographic Information Systems majors can use laptops to learn about crop placement.

“New forms of technology are evolving,” said Turman. “It’s hard to believe it can’t be used in any area.”

Hewlett Packard and Fujitsu are two vendors being considered for the laptop initiative, but an opt-out system is planned for students purchasing their own computers. Support for Apple computers will also be provided.

The purchase of faculty laptops will be paid for by one-time savings from the pay date change proposal, while future upgrades for faculty computers will come from an existing technology fund.

During his budget report for fiscal year 2010, Gov. Mike Rounds announced his plan to cut $22.5 million proposed by the Board of Regents; $4 million of that funding is dedicated to the Mobile Computing Initiative. The board will still ask the Legislature for the money, said Turman. If the Legislature approves funding for the project, the fee increase might be less than $7 or there will be no fee increase at all.