This is an archived article. For the latest news, go to the Advance Homepage
For more archives, go to the Advance Archive/Search Page.

    April 29, 2002

Plugging into the Future:
Business School Phasing-In Laptops
By Claudia G. Chamberlain

Undergraduates in the School of Business are literally plugging into their future careers. By the year 2004, all business students on the Storrs campus will be equipped with laptop or notebook computers.

The undergraduate laptop initiative, formally referred to as the Mobile Computing Program, is well under way, following a successful trial last fall when 136 Management Information System majors were required to bring their own laptops to class.

Building on that success, the School will add all students taking introductory courses this fall in operations and information management, marketing, management, and finance to those already required to come to class with appropriately configured laptops purchased at their own expense.

Buy or Lease
According to Jeff Rummel, associate dean for undergraduate programs in the business school, who is overseeing the initiative, the current purchase price of a recommended laptop has come down to between $1,400 and $1,700, from a high of $2,000 a few years ago. A student on a tight budget could even buy a workable laptop for about $1,000, he says, and still own a laptop that would be compatible with the School's network. A used laptop in working condition might be found for less.

A third phase in the initiative will begin in fall 2003, when all juniors in the School will be required to have a laptop and will take part in a leasing program. These students, currently freshmen, have already been advised of the laptop requirement.

The leasing proposal calls for a fee of $400 per semester for each of four semesters, with a buy-out option at the end of the lease. The lease program will be factored into financial aid decisions for students in need.

"The leasing allows us to provide additional features at lower costs for software and hardware support," says Rummel.

The last phase of the transition will take place during the 2004-2005 academic year, when all students taking courses in the School of Business will be required to have standardized laptops.

The School has some 1,700 data jacks throughout its new building, and students can plug in their laptops not only in classrooms, but in the café'/lounge and breakout rooms as well.

Tool for Learning
"Students have computing capability at their fingertips," says Rummel, who views laptops as a critical tool in furthering the School's reputation as a leading public business school. "Our vision is to be a leader in the use of business technologies."

As a teaching tool, the laptop is an invaluable piece of technology, he adds.

"The notion is that in class, if every student has a laptop, we can do things differently than if students were only sitting at a desk taking notes," says Rummel.

"I can hand out my slides and the students can do their annotations, or I can put up a spreadsheet and the students can do an analysis," says Rummel. "By the time the class is over, the students can do the work and remember how it's done. They're not getting back to their dorm and then trying to figure things out."

In the early planning stages of the laptop initiative, business school officials consulted with colleagues at several major institutions, including Duke University, Wake Forest, Bentley College and Seton Hall.

"In our consultations with other colleges, we learned some lessons, including potential pitfalls," says Michael Vertefeuille, the School's director of technology and MIS instructor. "We learned that having laptops in the classroom is wonderful in instruction, but it can cause problems if students decide in class they would rather surf the net or write e-mails."

Built-in Safeguards
Vertefeuille says the UConn initiative will have failsafe controls in place to prevent potential classroom abuses, including cheating on tests conducted online.

"Our faculty can be assured there will be no surfing on the web," he says.

The bid process for a laptop model is expected to get under way in spring 2003, with major vendors, such as Gateway, IBM, Dell and Toshiba.

"We realize a laptop is an extra financial responsibility for students and we want to make certain their money is well spent," says Vertefeuille.

He adds that in-service help will be offered to all faculty in the School of Business, providing direction on how to best integrate laptop technology into the curriculum.

Issue Index