Laptops could be mandated

In December UW-Stout announced it would initialize a program requiring all freshmen to have a laptop computer by fall of 2002. Stout was the first UW System school to require laptops for students, and now UW-Eau Claire is set to investigate if a laptop program is right for this university.

Provost and Vice Chancellor Ron Satz said the Provost’s Strategic Advisory Committee Laptop Computing Initiative has been formed to investigate the feasibility of a pilot program for management and information system majors.

Satz and Associate Vice Chancellor and Chief Information Officer Meg Dwyer had talked about a laptop program for a while, he said.

When the MIS program approached the university about requiring laptops for its students, Satz said the administration decided to form a committee that includes representatives from all the schools.

Satz said he hopes to have information about the program by a tentative date of April 1. If the committee decides to approve the laptop initiative for the MIS program, the university will see how it works and judge if the rest of the programs should be required to have laptops.

Even though there is a trend to go the laptop route, Satz said it’s not a given Eau Claire will eventually require its students to purchase the portable computers.

“The technology of today is the laptop; tomorrow we might be talking about something else,” he said. “What looks like a laptop today might be a dinosaur in a couple a years.”

The committee’s first duties will be to investigate the success and failures of other universities with similar programs.

Officials at Stout initially went down that road as well, Stout’s executive director of university relations, John Enger, said.

Stout officials visited a number of schools in the Midwest and were so impressed by what they found, they knew they had to implement the program, Enger said.

He added the only negative cases the university found were when there was poor up-front planning for a laptop program.

Satz said that’s what he hopes the committee will prevent. In a draft of the its initial plans, the committee has been asked to investigate 17 different potential problem areas before the pilot program will be given the go ahead. These include the financial impact on students, the support needed for all the laptops and the effect this type of program will have on existing technology programs like BITS.

Stout is very happy with its decision to go to an all laptop format, Enger said.

“Ordinarily, you’d expect at least some people to be critical,” he said. “But we received no negative comments yet.

“We’re very excited about this very powerful marketing tool to make (Stout) an even better school.”