From the Chronicle of Higher Education’s Wired blog we learn that Seton Hill will provide an iPad (and a MacBook! …to be replaced with a new MacBook in two years!) to every full-time student.
On the one hand, the Mac fanboy in me is tempted to daydream about what it would be like to teach on a campus where every student could be counted on to have identical (or almost identical) Apple computing devices. On the other hand, the skeptic in me can’t stop thinking about how expensive a proposition this is. Who’s going to pay for it?
Oh, right. The Chronicle answers that question: “students will be charged an additional $500 per semester in fees for the new technology program.” In other words, each student pays an extra $4,000 for their college education (more if they take longer than 8 semesters to earn their degree) and in return gets significantly less than $4,000 worth of computing equipment.
Let me be clear. I’m not criticizing Seton Hill: there are plenty of colleges and universities that do the same kind of thing. Nor am I criticizing a plan to get a computing device into the hands of every student: anyone who graduates college without critical digital proficiency is going to be at a distinct disadvantage in the world beyond the campus. (Furthermore, I’m toying with the idea of teaching a section of our “Computers & Writing” course where every student is outfitted with an identical netbook for the entire semester.) And I’m definitely not hating on Apple products, of which I have owned several over the last decade. (When it comes to iPads, I think that a less expensive netbook would make a better choice for a college student than Apple’s latest must-have gadget — though I don’t share all of David Parry’s concerns about the iPad’s shortcomings in an educational environment.)
What I am concerned about, however, is the rising cost of getting a college education. I’m concerned for students who are faced with a choice between not going to college and taking on a significant amount of debt in order to do so. If I were an 18-year-old college student today, and my middle-class family had the same amount of money today that we did back when I started college in 1985 (even adjusted for inflation), I honestly don’t think I’d be able to afford it.
So along these lines, here are 5 questions regarding computers (not just iPads) and the cost of higher education.
- Is it right to require students to pay a technology fee and then give them no choice about what computing device they get in exchange for that fee? Why not give them a choice of different devices?
- Is it a mistake not to provide faculty with the same computing device as the students (as Dennis Jerz reports is the case at Seton Hill) so that they can better craft the assigned reading and the digital coursework?
- If every student is given a device paid for by institutional funds, how does the institution hold that student accountable for the well-being of that device? In other words, what do you do if it breaks or gets stolen?
- Should each student be free to use the device however they want and to install whatever software they think is appropriate? Or should the device come with institutional restrictions?
- Are programs like this motivated by a sincere belief in the educational potential of such devices? Or are they an attempt to appeal to consumer desire?
Granted, some of these are probably loaded questions, but I’m interested in reading what your thoughts are about these them.
[Creative Commons licensed flickr photo by Rigo.]