- by 2011, 50% of South Dakota students will graduate from all-laptop high schools, and they'll choose universities that have similar laptop environments (once you get used to playing Scrabulous in class, it's kind of hard to break the habit)
- our teacher education programs need to give prospective teachers training in a wireless laptop environment so they are ready to use that technology in our K-12 schools (anyone feeling the tail wagging the dog here?)
- 60% of the nation's campuses are wireless, and we need to keep up with national trends.
Beyond my personal study preferences, the laptop requirement appears to lack any solid educational justification:
- My personal experience is that a laptops in the classroom are like TVs in a restaurant: an enormous electronic distraction that cuts down human interaction, an essential component of good education. The profs spend more time getting the machinery hooked up and then watching monitor while lecturing, while the students spend more time staring at their screens than paying attention to what the prof and other students are saying.
- Our own Department of Education admits that, at least at the K-12 level, there is "very little data that says laptops will increase test scores." Last I checked, the state considered test scores the end-all be-all of measuring academic achievement. Hmmm....
However, our desire to provide educational opportunities need not extend to requiring, as the Regents would, laptops that meet "certain specifications." A really good wireless environment should be just like Dairy Queen's: it doesn't care what brand of computer you use. It doesn't discriminate among tablet PCs, pocket PCs, and regular laptops. All you should need is a wireless card. If your budget allows you to indulge in a top-of-the-line Mac Airbook, great. If your budget is tight and you can barely save up for a basic laptop from Wal-Mart or a used machine from eBay, fine. Your university's tech mission should be to provide universal access, not universal expensive features or sweetheart lease deals for one particular company.
Besides, think about the educational benefit of providing campus-wide wireless access to any user on any computer. Sure, requiring standardized computers makes the IT department's job easier. But suppose you're a work study student in the IT department. What work experience would you rather have: troubleshooting one or two specific computers, or learning how to fix and connect all sorts of different computers and operating systems? (And aren't our universities all about diversity?)
I like having Internet access on campus. I like using my computer in class, in the library, wherever. But I also know the Regents can achieve basic wireless access for every state campus without imposing massive top-down equipment requirements on students.
Update 19:12: My friend Patrick provides a map that of where wireless Internet access is available on the SDSU campus. Less than half the campus has it, notes Patrick, and even in the buildings that are covered, wireless is only available in the public areas—i.e., in the dorms, you can get wireless in the lobby and dayrooms, but not in your bunk. So we do have a ways to go.