As at least some of you probably know, the Ithacan today published an editorial about the Park School's laptop program. (See "Sour Apples," http://www.ithaca.edu/ithacan/opinionfront.shtml.)
While I am unwaveringly supportive of the newspaper's right to take a stance on any issue it considers important, I was somewhat concerned that the editorial presented an incomplete picture of the details and evolution of the laptop program over the past 14 months.
So, if you're interested in the topic, here's EVERYTHING you EVER wanted to know about the Park School's new laptop initiative. The first part is the FAQ I wrote for the Park faculty, which was also distributed to the Dean's Council and the ITPAC group. The second part is additional information I wrote this week.
Why should the Park School adopt a laptop program?
A laptop program is an essential element of the Park School’s plan to continue to rank among the best undergraduate communications schools in the country. It puts a full suite of multimedia tools in the hands of every student, encouraging each of them to become proficient and comfortable with all kinds of media production capabilities. Research shows statistically significant improvements in learning among students who use laptops.
Why establish a laptop program only in the Park School?
Media technologies are the core learning tools of a media/communications education. In the same way that music students must invest in high quality instruments that meet their learning needs, and science students spend a great deal more on textbooks than many other students do, media students need consistent access to the hardware and software they must use to produce mediated messages.
How would laptops impact pedagogy in the Park School?
Unlike most other academic programs and schools at IC, students in the Park School already work with computer technology as an integral part of their learning experiences. While we expect a gradual culture change because of the laptops, the program would not necessarily have an immediate impact on the way any particular instructor teachers his or her course. Faculty who would prefer not to use the laptops in their courses can certainly choose not to.
If that’s the case, why bother?
At this point, and increasingly into the future, students come to the Park School with the expectation that they will have consistent access to all types of media production technology: audio, video, design, multimedia, and text. At this point, we are not coming close to meeting that expectation: students have the right to access the Park School’s portable equipment and laboratories based exclusively on their current classes in any given semester.
That kind of limitation is increasingly unacceptable and illogical to students, in large part because they have enjoyed much greater flexibility in their high schools and even in their homes. Basic multimedia production capabilities have become common consumer technology; it isn't reasonable to expect students to accept sharp limitations on their access in the Park School.
What kind of laptop would Park students be expected to acquire?
Park students would be required to purchase an Apple PowerBook laptop computer that meets the minimum standards established by the school. The computers would come loaded with a consistent software package that would provide all students with an introductory capacity to produce media content for text, Web, audio, video, and still-image platforms.
How much would that laptop cost?
We are working to hit a price point below $2,000; we are hopeful that it will be well below. That would include the computer, the software, and a four-year Apple service contract. An estimated 98 percent of Park students come to campus with a new computer; because they are interested in media production, it is reasonable to assume that those computers are not low-end word-processing machines. We will also work with Apple to provide low-cost loans to families who wish to receive one.
ITS is convinced that Macs offer the best combination of resident software, price point, support options, and virus protection. It would not be feasible for the school to support a wide variety of different kinds of computers, so we've made a decision -- as have many other schools around the country -- to become an Apple school.
Would there be additional costs associated with this over time?
Students in some courses may be required to buy more sophisticated software specific to their individual majors, much as they are required to buy expensive textbooks, cameras, and (in other schools), musical instruments. Not every student in Park needs to have Final Cut Pro on their computer; even so, many students will find the investment in the software builds great flexibility and opportunity for creative work into their learning experience.
Is this kind of “extra fee” particular to a single school or program unique at Ithaca College?
Many IC programs have unique or specific fees or costs associated with their particular course or program requirements. For a summary of those fees, see:
In the Park School:
The Park School does not require laboratory fees. However, students enrolled in certain courses may be required to supply their own equipment or materials, including computer data storage media. In cinema and photography, students are expected to furnish their own light meters and their own cameras for all still photography courses. In addition, students must purchase materials such as photographic film and paper, motion picture film, and mounting board. Because of the large number of production courses, B.F.A. majors will incur additional costs for materials.
What’s the timeframe of the phase-in?
The program would be implemented over the academic years 2006-2009.
What are the budget impacts within Park?
Budget implications of a laptop program are related to both capital and personnel expenditures. In order to serve non-Park students enrolled in Park courses, the school or college will establish a “loaner program” that will provide laptops to students in particular courses at particular times of the semester. In addition, we will have one full-time staffer to support the program, and we will hire part-time students to provide software-installation and support during the first week of the semester.
What about non-Park students who take courses in the Park School? How would they access the technology they need to participate fully in their courses?
Students who enroll in our courses from outside the Park School will continue to have access to fixed-station labs to complete their work. We will also have a set of ‘loaners’ that could be made available to students on a sign-out basis for classroom activities and participation.
What about faculty development?
Most of the Park faculty use technology in their teaching already; it’s the nature of the discipline. But all faculty would have opportunities over the course of the four-year integration process to attend workshops and conferences on teaching and learning with technology. Oddly enough, for some faculty, the laptop program would relieve them of the obligation to spend enormous amounts of their classroom time on technology, freeing them up to engage with students in other ways.
What’s the impact on Park’s competitive position?
At this point, the Park School is working to respond effectively to a professional communications environment that no longer distinguishes its work by media type. Convergence of media genres – audio, video, text, imagery – is a given in the industry, but that is not yet the case in Park, which still assigns particular students in particular majors to particular laboratories that have particular kinds of software. One of the compelling reasons for the laptop program is that it will eliminate that segregation: every Park student will have a high-end Mac laptop that will be loaded with the same suite of communications software, so that ALL students will be able to master the tools they need to create and process audio, video, text and still imagery.
Is the laptop program consistent with the Park School’s institutional plan? With the college’s institutional plan?
The Park School’s proposal is consistent with the College’s Institutional Plan and with its own strategic plan, completed last spring after two years of faculty effort. In fact, it allows the school to take a leadership position in meeting the Plan’s key technology priority: “Ensure that Ithaca College is a recognized innovator in blending contemporary technology with educational techniques….” The laptop proposal embraces a new and innovative approach to teaching and learning that employs digital technologies within the context of the college’s most “wired” discipline; it helps establish IC as a “recognized innovator” in its engagement with a contemporary technology that is both culturally pervasive and educationally relevant. In addition, the program specifically meets one of the six strategic priorities established by the Park School in the area of Physical and Technical Resources.
What follows here is some information I compiled in response to student questions and ideas raised in the past week.
I understand and appreciate student concerns about cost, and we're doing everything we can to keep them as low as possible -- in fact, so much so that I've had upper-class students and alumni ask if they can 'get in on the deal.' (The answer is yes.)
While the college won't be providing financial aid directly, we're working diligently with Apple to develop a Park-specific loan program that families can use to buy the computer; they'll be able to make the same kind of monthly payments as they would if they were given student loans to cover the costs. We plan to develop some kind of a safety net for students whose families truly cannot afford to purchase a laptop, even through the loan program, but nothing I've seen or heard suggests that that will be an issue. In addition, Apple has agreed to extend its warranty service program to four years from the standard three years, which means students will enjoy significant support (it's literally a 48-hour turn-around) during their entire four years in Park.
We will also be establishing a reserve of machines that students will be able to take out of PPECS, just like they do a camera; those machines will be available for non-Park students who enroll in our classes, and for students whose machines have been sent out for repair. We'll have a full-time tech support person assigned to the laptop program, however, so most of the work will be done right here in-house. We'll also have workshops to teach students to use the various software programs included in their laptops.
A School-wide Program
After 18 months of ongoing research, conversations with every stakeholder group, and benchmarking, I'm confident that this is the best next step for the school.
All students in all majors will soon need an understanding -- if not a mastery -- of the full range of media platforms; that doesn't mean they'll all be Final Cut Pro wizards, but it does mean that they'll all understand how to tell a story in moving images. They may not all know Dreamweaver but they do need to know how to capture audio, video and interactive media for presentation in an online story. In short, all Park grads will need a working knowledge of the full range of what will basically be considered consumer technologies by 2008.
In addition, as I explained, we cannot hope to stay current in terms of our discipline and the rapidly changing media industry unless we can find ways to make more effective use of our fixed physical space. That doesn't mean we won't have fixed-station labs; it does mean that we can't provide enough lab seats to ensure that all students in all majors will be able to access basic audio, video, web and imaging technologies whenever they want to. And that's what we need to be able to do -- which is why the laptop program is the best solution over the next five years.
We've Really Thought this Through
Finally, it's important to understand that the laptop program is the product of extensive discussion and consideration by every appropriate faculty and administrative body inside and outside the school. In particular, we have discussed the program:
-- at the Park School's Administrative Council (the department chairs and grad chair); I offered to bring it to a school-wide faculty meeting, but the Council decided that each chair would bring the subject back to their respective departments for consideration. I received two emails with questions, and I responded to them. I also wrote an FAQ about the program that was distributed to all Park School faculty.
-- at the Dean's Council retreat last summer, to assess whether the program should be instituted at one school. After considerable conversation, the deans agreed that there is no reason that one school shouldn't adopt the laptop program, but that that didn't mean all schools should do so. The support was unanimous.
-- with ITS. Again, there were lots of questions. After discussion, Ed Fuller and his staff agreed that the Park School program will be an important and appropriate pilot program for the college, in the event that other schools do decide to follow our lead. The business school, for example, is likely to adopt a laptop program when the new building is built.
-- at ITPAC, the college-wise IT advisory council, comprised of staff and faculty from all parts of the college. They, too, discussed whether one school should do this while others are not. They also discussed costs and the potential impact on students and their families. They sent a recommendation to the president supporting the laptop program.
-- at my Advisory Council meetings with students. The concern was about the cost, which seemed allayed when I described the availability of a loan program through Apple. In addition, some students don't like Macs. We went back to the drawing board on that, but have again concluded that for reasons of cost, software and virus protection, Macs are the best option.
-- with the Admissions staff. Admissions and I have talked at length about the program; they're very supportive, and they are not concerned that the price will deter students from coming to Park -- and if anybody knows the prospective Park market, it's the Admission staff.
The program is also a component of the Park School Strategic Plan, which was completed this year after two full years of discussion and deliberation by the school's faculty and staff. So there is clear consensus among people who are incredibly invested in the quality and the success of this institution that this is a valuable and viable next step for the Park School.
I truly see this as an important opportunity for our students rather than an imposition: we're negotiating the best possible price on one of the best multimedia laptops in the market; we're the only wireless academic building on campus, which means they'll be able to use the laptops effectively, here and in their dorms; we're providing loaners for students who are having problems or need to borrow a machine; we're providing in-house tech support so students will have a place to go when they're having problems; and we're offering workshops to teach students to use various kinds of software, even if it's outside the range of their particular major.
In sum, we've done more homework, benchmarking, stakeholder interaction and budget planning for this program than any other project in the Park School since I arrived here. We're convinced it's the best way to ensure that we continue to meet our students' needs through 2010.
Thanks for taking the time to read all of this. Let me know if you have questions.