Volume 9, Number 1: September 20, 2002
by Tammy Kempfert,
Jane Henderson says it's overwhelming to walk across the University of Wisconsin-Stout campus these days. "There's an enthusiasm. There's an energy. Students sense that there's something really special going on, and they're excited to be here," she says.
This month, Stout makes UW history by becoming the first System campus to require its incoming freshmen to own laptop computers, which they lease through the school. Freshmen picked up their configured and accessorized laptops--either Compaqs or Macintosh iBooks, depending on their majors--as part of their summer orientation.
Henderson, who serves as Laptop Training Committee Chair, coordinates the training efforts for both faculty and freshmen. For the students, that involved completing three to four hours of training during orientation, along with a pre-assessment to help administrators determine what kinds of training to offer throughout the year. Stout has also hired a group of student mentors who will occasionally hold training sessions in the residence halls. "We've found that peer-to-peer training works really well," Henderson says. "Students often feel more comfortable learning from their peers. And the mentors develop leadership and presentation skills. Plus, they get a job."
A tuition increase finances the program. Freshmen now pay $36 per credit to lease the computers for two years, after which they will receive a new model and another two-year lease. At the end of each lease period, they can opt to buy their laptop for $600. While there were initial concerns that the extra cost would turn some students away, Henderson notes that UW-Stout's Fall 2002 applications actually increased. And, she says, "We can count on one hand the number of people who were disgruntled."
To fully realize its Laptop
Initiative, UW-Stout technically updated the entire campus. It joins
a growing number of institutions nationwide that have become fully wireless
connective. Additionally, more than twenty classrooms have been hard-wired
for ethernet cable and outfitted with overhead data projectors, computer
connections, and instructor stations. To accommodate the increased internet
traffic, the campus has expanded its wired network backbone fourfold--from
622 megabytes to 2.4 gigabytes.
Providing adequate training for faculty has been essential to the success of implementing the Laptop Initiative. To acclimate faculty and staff to website development, the campus has held a series of web camps. Stout's Teaching and Learning Center also addresses technology concerns in its "Lessons Learned" sessions. These began last year during the laptop pilot program, and, Henderson says, attendance has steadily increased.
Bob Sedlak, UW-Stout Provost,
has noticed that "even the most reluctant instructors are using
and considering ways to use the computers as tools
to improve their teaching." He credits the Laptop College Associates
program for much of the success of the faculty training efforts. Three
College Associates, selected by their respective deans, help train faculty
within their Colleges. They also serve as liaisons to the training team
and to the Implementation Committee. As College Associates, they receive
50 percent release time from their courses. As with the students, "having
someone they know training them has made all the difference [to faculty],"
Henderson, Sedlak, and Hunt all take pride in the collaborative effort required of their campus to pull off the Laptop Initiative. It is the kind of teamwork, they say, that has always been a characteristic of UW-Stout faculty and staff--and that last year helped their campus become the first higher education institution to win the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award. As Hunt says, "It's not one person. It's not even 50 people. It's many, many more than that--from the people out there working with faculty and students every day, getting their hands dirty, to the technicians, to the Chancellor, who made a commitment to doing this."
Provost Sedlak agrees. "There is not an office or unit on campus that has not been involved, and so I think we have total campus ownership of this initiative," he says. He believes the Initiative has already begun to transform the way faculty teach and the way students learn by facilitating communication across campus.
Hunt, the self-described
lightning rod for Laptop Initiative complaints and problems, says things
have been relatively quiet in these first weeks of the new year. And,
he says, "The Chancellor [Charles Sorenson] went around and visited
some of the laptop classrooms the first week and came back with a smile
on his face." That is, perhaps, as good a measure of success as