Regents’ proposal lacks forethought

Andrew Boerema

Andrew Boerema

The Board of Regents said they are fully committed to having a system-wide laptop program implemented in South Dakota. But what does that mean for SDSU’s student population and Information Technology staff?

Quickly, lets go through some background information on the Regents’ plan. They envision having all students at regent institutions being required to have a laptop. These laptops, as the plan is stated at this time, would only be allowed to come through the program. A list of available models would be given to students who would then choose their laptop. They would lease this laptop from SDSU with the option to buy it at the end of the lease term (three years at this time), or to start a new lease with a new laptop.

So what does this mean for the students? They would pay somewhere between $300 and $400 a semester for their laptop lease. They would be encouraged – if not required – to bring their laptop to class every day. Also, subject matter for classes would be more oriented towards electronic content. Students would also have the added responsibility of paying attention in class with the most distracting device ever created by man sitting right in front of them.

Part of this plan also includes training faculty to use technology in their classes to deliver content to student, making the laptop useful. This doesn’t present an issue for faculty that have content that is easily translated to digital format – notes, slides, etc. Faculty who work more from the board on the fly instead of lecturing from a prepared outline, it is much more of a challenge.

Now, as far as the IT department of SDSU is concerned, this is a huge endeavor. If you have ever had to go to eSDSU to have your laptop serviced, you know that they already have a backlog of work. Currently, they must service laptops from only a handful of departments. This constitutes maybe – a conservative estimate – of 150 students. With a required laptop program on campus, they will be required to service the current 12,000 students all with laptops they are required to have working almost 100 percent of the time because their class material is geared towards an electronic environment. This would be akin to having every student at SDSU descend upon Perkins restaurant at noon on a Sunday. The size of the laptop service program would have to be at least 10 times larger. Of course, you will have to add the required bureaucratic overhead of managers and directors as well.

Plus, we haven’t even started talking about the required upgrades to almost every single room on campus so they have desk space and power outlets for each student to have their laptop in class. Also, the wireless infrastructure on campus will have to be vastly extended. Wireless Internet access will have to be available in almost every classroom. If you have been in the know about how much the recent network expansion that SDSU did was, the figures for this may be staggering. Sadly, the state legislature recently took funding assistance for this part of the plan out of their higher education budget, so the burden of paying for these upgrades to facilities will have to come from somewhere else (e.g. students).

However, the plan is not all bad. A quick conversation with the Students’ Association President, Chris Daugaard, will show you that even though implementing the system looks to be an excruciating process, the result might be pretty nice. The SA’s position seems to be that the program is good on paper but that it doesn’t work out well financially for SDSU. An interesting fact – found out through research for this article – was that SDSU has the most financially underprivileged student population of any other regental institution. This means that our students make less per capita than students at any other university in the state.

The program would be awesome to have, but that the cost of putting it in place is daunting at best, a nightmare at worst. And the price of all those desks and wireless transmitters has to come from somewhere.

SDSU doesn’t need to have this requirement placed upon it. Students in majors that truly require a computer will more than likely already have one or be planning on getting one. However, forcing every student to have a laptop is a mistake. The way it works now, with having a select number of departments requiring a laptop, works very well.