In Stage One of our review of the Winona State University Laptop Program, faculty, staff, and students gathered this spring for several open discussions that helped clarify questions, concerns, and opportunities. After reading the summary of our activities thus far and our plans for the next stages of the review, I found myself reflecting on several memorable moments from the listening sessions.

  • In the midst of a discussion about the potential of laptops in the classroom to distract otherwise attentive students, one faculty member suggested that simply walking around the room can change the social dynamic positively. She lamented that many classrooms do not allow this freedom of movement and wondered whether smarter classroom design would facilitate smarter laptop use. The EDUCAUSE ebook on learning spaces came to mind. I think we have all known for a long time that the answer is a big, “yes.” I am looking forward our upcoming review of both the formal and informal learning spaces on campus.
  • My favorite comment came from a staff member who joked that administrators should thank their lucky stars for the Laptop Program because it allows employees to take their work home with them. She estimated that her laptop is largely responsible for the additional two hours of work per day that she gives to WSU. All joking aside, this is an important and relatively unexamined consequence of mobile, ubiquitous computing in higher education. In our quest to provide 24-7 access to our students, we are also promoting the expectation that employees should be “always on.”
  • In our discussions with student leaders, I was struck by their very thoughtful and knowledgable approach to the issues. They raised all of the tough questions in a respectful and professional manner. They applied business, marketing, and other concepts expertly. Overall, they were excellent collaborative partners in this stage of the review. Reflecting back, I am now struck by just how this struck me. In higher education, I think we tend to underestimate our students’ abilities. Perhaps this stems from the traditional “parent-child” relationship schema that still holds fast for many faculty and administrators. We think we know what’s best for students at times when they don’t. In fact, what appears to be student apathy is probably a lack of understanding due to poor communication on our part. It may also reflect the learned helplessness that often results when exposed to unpredictable and uncontrollable change. I think these listening sessions did more to educate faculty, staff, and administrators than students.  
  • The laptop is one important component of a larger, integrated learning environment. I think just about everyone who attended a listening session understood this. I can’t recall anyone arguing that we should abandon the program and return to shared computer labs or some other, lesser form of ubiquitous computing. If anything, attendees argued that we should be expanding our academic use of laptops and improving the learning environment to better support laptop use. As expected, cost appeared to be of greatest concern to students and will be a major focus of the next stage of the review.

Ken

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