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RIP the Campus Computer Lab, 1960-2009 571

Posted by kdawson
from the passing-of-an-era dept.
theodp writes "When every student has a laptop, why run computer labs? That's a question schools have been asking themselves as computer ownership rates among incoming freshmen routinely top 90%. After only four freshmen showed up at the University of Virginia in 2007 without a computer of their own, the school decided that it's no longer worth the expense of running campus computer labs. Student computer labs have been a staple of campus life since the '60s. So what are the benefits that will be missed as other schools follow UVa's lead?" The university's report notes understanding that "that students need collaborative space where they can bring their laptops and mobile devices to conduct group work, especially as the curriculum becomes increasingly team- and project-based." One of the spaces formerly occupied by computer labs "has been transformed into a technology-rich collaboration area."
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RIP the Campus Computer Lab, 1960-2009

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  • Printing (Score:5, Insightful)

    by twocows (1216842) on Saturday March 28, 2009 @05:07PM (#27372947)
    I lack a printer, and thus I rely on the University's printing capabilities. I'm sure I'm not the only one; many students appear to have their own computers, but seem to rely on the University for printing off papers or projects.
    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by JCY2K (852841)

      I lack a printer, and thus I rely on the University's printing capabilities. I'm sure I'm not the only one; many students appear to have their own computers, but seem to rely on the University for printing off papers or projects.

      And it would be that difficult to have printer labs or networked printers? My university is beginning to phase out computer labs but maintain printing facilities. Aside from which, just bring a printer to school...

      • Re:Printing (Score:5, Interesting)

        by slaker (53818) on Saturday March 28, 2009 @05:29PM (#27373165)

        Personal printers are horribly unreliable and very expensive to maintain.

        For as much as tuition costs these days, and for the fact that many schools assess a "Technology fee" on top of tuition, I think computer labs and printers on campus should absolutely be present.

        Someone who lives off campus isn't going to want to cart their notebook around everyplace they go, and I know from experience that it's a lot easier to get work done in a distraction-free computer lab, compared to a noisy dorm room.

        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by Diordna (815458)

          ...I know from experience that it's a lot easier to get work done in a distraction-free computer lab, compared to a noisy dorm room.

          I, on the other hand, find it easier to get work done in a distraction-free dorm room than in a noisy computer lab.

          • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

            by yowsers (1261002)
            You are living in the wrong college dorm :)
          • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

            by Ironsides (739422)
            Weird. Sometimes when I needed to get work done, I left my dorm room and went down to the late night dining area where a band was usually playing. Sometimes the silence really is deafening and noise helps you concentrate.
        • Re:Printing (Score:5, Insightful)

          by Darinbob (1142669) on Saturday March 28, 2009 @08:21PM (#27374475)

          And personal computers are all different. How do your require every student to own the necessary hardware and software for engineering classes (which need more than just a copy of Word and Excel)? Do you require all class labs to use Vista, or allow professors some leeway? What about getting cheaper licensing of expensive software on a few shared computers instead of requiring every student in the class to buy one? What if a student's computer breaks down halfway through the course? What if a student can't afford a computer, or afford one powerful enough for the lab requirements?

          • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

            by Ironsides (739422)
            That's easy and here's what Virginia Tech does. The Engineering College has minimum system requirements for the laptops and have compliant laptops available at the campus store (XP last I checked, not Vista). They buy in bulk and get a pretty good deal on them. The also offer the required licensed software at a reasonable price. Again, they buy in bulk and usually get the annual license keys for most of the engineering programs. Matlab was $30/year. If the computer broke down, they had a campus repair
            • Re:Printing (Score:5, Insightful)

              by 93 Escort Wagon (326346) on Sunday March 29, 2009 @12:49AM (#27376403)

              As to "if they can't afford it", then how are they going to afford the tuiction, lab kits and everything else they need to buy?

              That doesn't make sense - it's equivalent to saying "if you can afford a $10000 car, you can afford a $30000 car".

              Some students have a very hard time getting the money together for college as it is, without increasing the amount of money required by another couple of grand. Not everyone is middle and upper class, you know.

        • Re:Printing (Score:4, Interesting)

          by oftenwrongsoong (1496777) on Saturday March 28, 2009 @09:50PM (#27375187)

          Noisy dorm room? The solution to the excessively noisy roommate is very simple but requires a slight modification of the way we view the world with respect to education. The solution is to live in your own apartment while attending college. Impossible unless your parents have tons of money? Nope. You don't need your parent's money. I'll explain:

          Today, it is common practice to finish high school and immediately go to college. Why?

          I did things differently and I believe it was extremely beneficial. I went to college, but not until later. First, I got a Real Job. Contrary to public misconception, you do NOT need a college degree to get a Real Job!

          Now mind you, in the beginning, it wasn't a particularly well-paying Real Job and it wasn't in the field I wanted to work in (software engineering). But I was out of high school so who cares? It was a job in a dirty machine shop where I started off sorting nuts and bolts, moved on to sorting expensive end mills and drills, moved on to cleaning dirty machine parts, and moved on to writing programs for their machines, setting up a company-wide network, and doing quite a few wonderful IT-related things for that company, all of which began one day when the boss found out that I knew quite a bit about computers and programming. By the way, the job started paying pretty well! Since I was living well below my means, not going out to bars nearly as much as my friends and not spending money on anything that wasn't absolutely necessary, I saved up quite a bit of dough during those years and learned a tremendous amount.

          When I was 24, I decided it was time to attend college and get that degree. I noticed something very interesting. The students who were fresh out of high school had NO CLUE about living in the real world. They would cram for tests only to forget the stuff a day later. They didn't have the life experience to recognize which information was a solution to an important problem, and which information was interesting but unimportant. How many times have you heard a student ask, "When are we ever going to need this in real life?" I heard this quite a few times, and always in reference to EXTREMELY IMPORTANT KNOWLEDGE!!! But you cannot possibly recognize what is important without the real life experience that you can ONLY get by working in a Real Job before going to college and getting into lifelong debt with student loans.

          Remember, back in the day, children worked after school and during school vacations. Nowadays that is very uncommon, even in high school, due to "child protection" laws that place many limitations on how, when, and where children can work. Although these laws may protect children in one way, they harm them in another way by robbing them of important life experience during those years. Today, 30 is the new 20 because you need to gain, during your 20s, the life and work experience that your grandparents gained when they were in their teens. Today, people in their 20s are less mature than their counterparts in the 1950s were. You need that time, after high school but before college, to get that real life experience. Plus you earn Real Money, live in a Real Apartment, and if your job, like mine, isn't in the field you wanted to work in, you gain additional insights, knowledge, and experience by exposing yourself to something totally different. Much better than graduating from college and realizing that you have an infinitude of student loan debt and no clue what to do next. Not to mention that you do NOT have roommates (quiet or loud) during college, and you do NOT need your parent's money! When you want noise, you can go to a bar.

          • Re:Printing (Score:5, Funny)

            by mpeskett (1221084) on Saturday March 28, 2009 @10:28PM (#27375487)
            That sounds like a complicated solution for a simple problem... all he needed was earplugs or a quiet room; a dramatic restructuring of our educational culture is overengineering the issue.
          • Not so good.... (Score:5, Interesting)

            by raehl (609729) <raehl311@[ ]oo.com ['yah' in gap]> on Sunday March 29, 2009 @10:45AM (#27378987) Homepage

            So you got your undergrad degree when you were 28?

            That means that at 28, you're making the average salary of a 23 year old. And when you're 40, you'll be at the average salary of a 35 year old. On top of that, when you're 65, you'll be running on 37 years of savings instead of 42. And if you get married and have children in your 30's, you'll have missed out out on the first 5 years - the most important ones - both because your savings have the longest time to grow AND you can save a lot more of your income when you're single than when supporting a family.

            A college degree makes you more productive. Delaying that degree makes you more productive later. This makes no sense.

            Plus, it's not like you knew how to live like an adult when you graduated high school either. You just didn't learn how to be an adult AND take classes at the same time - so while everyone else pounded that out in 4-5 years, it took you a decade.

            Anyway you cut it, your way is just slow.

        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by iamhassi (659463)
          "Personal printers are horribly unreliable and very expensive to maintain."

          According to who? If these are kids living on campus then why not have a personal laser printer in their dorm room? Amazon has several [amazon.com] laser [amazon.com] printers [amazon.com] under $100 each. Toner refills are about $5 [ebay.com] to $10 [ebay.com] each. I own two of these under $100 laser printers, a samsung and a lexmark, and they've worked great for the past several years. Sure if you're printing 100,000+ pages a robust $1,000 office laser printer might be cheaper in th
      • Re:Printing (Score:4, Interesting)

        by CAIMLAS (41445) on Saturday March 28, 2009 @06:36PM (#27373777) Homepage

        One of the problems with printing facilities on campus is that it requires students to go to where the printers are.

        A good solution is to subnet off printers, with automatic domain login and printer negotiation, to allow for students to print to their dorm's printer -or if they're in the library or study room, whichever printer is closest. Each printer gets a subnet, and if there's a student on said subnet, that's where s/he prints.

        As far as doing away with computer labs... that really doesn't seem like a good idea to me. What if someone can afford tuition, but can't afford a laptop/desktop? Such things should be optional for higher education - seriously. (It's one thing if you're a science major, another if you're an arts major.) At least minimal computer labs should be maintained: 1, 2

        On the other hand, I feel sorry for campus support staff - student employees and full-time 'professional' employees alike. I can't even begin to imagine what kind of a headache all those different Windows versions, Macs, and Linux machines would cause on a network, given that the network will be largely "administered". I can see some fairly draconian policies cropping up as the result of worms and things: you've got to have version $x of antivirus version $y installed, and you've got to hand over control of your (Windows) machine to the Directory (incl. automatic updates and the like) if you want to use campus computing services.

        Kind of reminds me what (IIRC) was done on my college campus in late 2000/early 2001 after Win2k came out. Anyone who had W2k was required to be on the domain in a limited role or their MACs would be blacklisted (on account of how the NT4 domains were set up for labs and the like, IIRC) for fear of what someone might do with a machine that possesses network Administrator privileges.

      • Re:Printing (Score:5, Funny)

        by speculatrix (678524) on Saturday March 28, 2009 @07:59PM (#27374327)
        you kids are spoiled. when I went to university we had to submit reports on stone tablets. boy, they sure were heavy, and if you dropped one they'd splinter and you'd have to do that one all over again. it did encourage brevity though!
    • Re:Printing (Score:5, Interesting)

      by forkazoo (138186) <wrosecrans@gma[ ]com ['il.' in gap]> on Saturday March 28, 2009 @05:13PM (#27373015) Homepage

      I lack a printer, and thus I rely on the University's printing capabilities. I'm sure I'm not the only one; many students appear to have their own computers, but seem to rely on the University for printing off papers or projects.

      Could be interesting to see a networked laser printer on every floor of every dorm in response to this. It need not be too horribly difficult to tie into a centralised auth system so you can track who prints how much, so you can have people pay for toner if they go over quota.

    • Re:Printing (Score:5, Insightful)

      by moderatorrater (1095745) on Saturday March 28, 2009 @05:25PM (#27373129)
      I owned three computers while going to college and still used the computer labs frequently. One of the big reasons was printing. Another was software, as in they had purchased software that I was never going to buy for myself. Also, assistants are there to help with any questions. Also, sometimes it's just nice to have a place where you can go and work at another computer without getting distracted by all the things on my own computer, or without having to carry my laptop to school every day.
      • by Z00L00K (682162)

        One use for computer labs is to try out solutions that can't be tried out on normal computers due to destructive nature or the need for specialized hardware.

        Alternate operating system educations are also pushing the need for computer labs.

        So there is a need for computer labs, but not for general tasks.

    • Re:Printing (Score:4, Interesting)

      by fugue (4373) on Sunday March 29, 2009 @01:37AM (#27376695) Homepage

      At the University of Colorado in Boulder, the people in charge of running printers (the IT department) decided to make the campus printing network for-profit, and it now charges rates that are comparable to Kinko's. As a result, every lab on campus bought its own printer, and many students followed suit.

  • Still Important (Score:5, Informative)

    by mathx314 (1365325) on Saturday March 28, 2009 @05:08PM (#27372961)
    As a present college student, I have to say that I still spend hours in computer labs. I use a SunRay lab as a controlled development environment for computer science, and I have math class in a computer lab loaded with Maple and Mathematica. There's an open-access computer lab near me that I also use frequently to access necessary software, to use as a meeting place for group projects, or to use as a printer when I can't use mine for whatever reason.

    Mind you, it's not like I don't have a computer on campus, but I still find myself using computer labs very frequently. And I know other people do too, the labs are almost always full when I'm in them. If labs die in 2009, it's not students' laptops that did it.
    • Re:Still Important (Score:5, Interesting)

      by mlts (1038732) * on Saturday March 28, 2009 @05:34PM (#27373227)

      I graduated last December, so my experience is recent as well. Almost always, all the computer labs on campus are packed to capacity, and usually stays this way until late at night.

      Labs provide several things:

      First, a place to do last minute changes before printing. Yes, there are portable printers, but for students, they are both expensive in both initial expense and per ink cartridge. Connecting over a wireless network can be problematic for some computers, and finding the right printer in the right floor of the right building to print to can confuse some students who are barely able to stand up due to a hangover the night before.

      Second, not every student wants to deal with a laptop all the time. It is nice to just carry around a USB flash drive, or just store files in a home directory.

      Third, the computers in a computer lab run by competant admins are usually decently secure, provided you reboot them before use to ensure DeepFreeze rolls back all changes done by the previous person.

      Fourth, there are apps that are very expensive. Not just Maple and Mathematica, but MiniTab, AutoCAD, SPSS, Cubase and plugins, Premiere, the CS suite, Microsoft Office, etc. Yes, one can get demo versions, and yes, one can make the "demo versions" have a very long evaluation period, but most students don't pirate either for legal/ethical reasons, or the fact that infected torrents are becoming more and more commonplace.

      Finally, there is something nice about going in and checking mail and Web forums on a machine without having to either dig up a laptop or try to fumble with a smartphone's small screen. Just sit down, log in, do your E-mail and Web browsing, log off, and go about your business.

    • Re:Still Important (Score:5, Informative)

      by Ludachrispeed (1326307) on Saturday March 28, 2009 @05:55PM (#27373445)
      I'm a student at UVA, and I must say this doesn't sit well with me yet.

      I don't want to have to carry my laptop around all the time
      I want to be able to work in a room full of other engineers whom I can talk to
      I want to be able to use a computer when mine isn't working
      I use linux... what am I going to do when some teacher makes me use windows, if I can't use a computer lab?

      If it's to save money... maybe they should try not leaving all several hundred of our puplic computers on all night, and for the whole summer and winter vacations!
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by vesuvana (1166821)
      I am currently a fulltime college student and all 3 of our large (200+ node) computer labs are totally full from 7:30 am to 11 pm. It would be a burden for every student to have to buy all the software we need for classes (MS Office is not worth any $$ but we have to use it). Also, it is always slower to connect to the campus network from a wifi laptop than a hardwired connection. Labs also provide immediate IT support if a printer suddenly gets uninstalled, as well as a centralized place where instructors
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by fermion (181285)
      Here is the thing. Computer labs are evolving. We need a collaborative space full of shared resouces or various designs. Sometimes that space is just going to have tables, printers, wireless networks, and scanners. Sometimes that space is going to have more specialized computer equipment that can be used to for more intensive applications, like data modeling and image analysis and manipulation. These can be done on laptop, but a lab full of really beefed up desktops are necessary if the school is rea
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by MagusSlurpy (592575)
      There is a copious amount of software that I currently use as a graduate student, and also used when conducting undergrad research, back in my younger, simpler days:

      Jeol's Delta NMR software
      Spartan Modeling program
      SciFinder Scholar
      Graphical Analysis
      SPSS
      ChemDraw

      And that is nowhere near an exhaustive list. Yes, some of those do have free or common (MS Excel) alternatives. But when you have 15 years of group research data that you are using, it's not an alternative.

      And we can't SSH in - the most
  • by forkazoo (138186) <wrosecrans@gma[ ]com ['il.' in gap]> on Saturday March 28, 2009 @05:11PM (#27372985) Homepage

    When I ran one, it was a lab of Linux machines running Matlab and a bunch of other software that most student machines wouldn't have. The computer lab was extremely useful for the students. I expect that you'll continue to see labs being used for anything that isn't common on a student's computer. (Video editing, 3D animation, Matlab, anything with specialty software), or for computer skills courses. Teaching excel is a lot easier when everybody is looking at the same version.

    Sure, if it's just being used for web browsing and checking email, a computer lab may be much less useful now than it was ten years ago. Still, I think the social aspect of a computer lab shouldn't be overlooked. I expect that you'll soon see a movement of "micro computer labs" the size of a conference room with something like 3-6 computers, a conference table, and a white board, maybe a projector. Extremely useful for group projects, and things like that, but also useful by a group of completely random individuals as a small computer lab.

    • by Trepidity (597) <delirium-slashdo ... g ['ish' in gap]> on Saturday March 28, 2009 @05:21PM (#27373095)

      I agree; student laptops are useful for generic computer usage, but not that great for assuming a particular set of software, unless you're going to go the extra step and mandate that students buy a particular computer with a particular OS and software environment. If you aren't going to do that, you're stuck with some of your students running Windows, some OS X, a handful Linux, and very little you can assume about what they can install and run.

      If you have a computer lab with some known software install, you know that if you want to use some Mac-only app in the curriculum, for example, you can send them over to the Mac lab to use it (likewise for Unix- or Windows-only stuff).

      • by fishbowl (7759) on Saturday March 28, 2009 @05:30PM (#27373191)

        "I agree; student laptops are useful for generic computer usage, but not that great for assuming a particular set of software, unless you're going to go the extra step and mandate that students buy a particular computer with a particular OS and software environment. If you aren't going to do that, you're stuck with some of your students running Windows, some OS X, a handful Linux, and very little you can assume about what they can install and run."

        If you are going to do that, you'll increase costs, especially when you have to renegotiate site licenses and volume pricing because you've mandated a change.

        There's also a consideration for when your "nice to have campus wi-fi" becomes a critical component across colleges, and suddenly you've outgrown your Bluesocket solution or whatever. Campus administrators at the risk-management level of funding won't miss this sort of thing. They may be pinheads when it comes to technology, but they have uncanny talent for anticipating hidden costs, particularly when those costs can't be absorbed by a single college or department.

        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by Jah-Wren Ryel (80510)

          "I agree; student laptops are useful for generic computer usage, but not that great for assuming a particular set of software, unless you're going to go the extra step and mandate that students buy a particular computer with a particular OS and software environment. If you aren't going to do that, you're stuck with some of your students running Windows, some OS X, a handful Linux, and very little you can assume about what they can install and run."

          They could probably get away with distributing fully loaded and licensed virtual machines. Hand out usb fobs with the VM at a few central areas and maybe set them up to auto-expire after a year or 6 months or something so you can be sure that students will always have the current standard configuration.

          Might take another year or two before the tech stragglers will have systems fast enough to run VMs without any pain, but I wouldn't be surprised if at least 95% of current students were suitably equipped tod

      • by eggnoglatte (1047660) on Saturday March 28, 2009 @05:32PM (#27373201)

        Very true. This is also important for the instructors (at least in CS) - how can you mark programming assignments if the environments used for development are that diverse.

        It'll be interesting to see how VMs change that game: assignment handout is a Linux VM that runs on any host OS, an has all the necessary apps and libraries installed. Students hand in a modified VM for the instructor and TAs to run on whatever host platform they use. Not quite feasible yet, I think, but maybe in a few years?

    • by Kaboom13 (235759) <kaboom108@ b e llsouth.net> on Saturday March 28, 2009 @05:41PM (#27373307)

      I know at least at my school, they had a number of computer labs. The largest were big, general purpose labs, with little more then a web browser and e-mail. These were always deserted. I found myself spending a lot of time in them for a period of about a week when my power supply died under warranty and I was waiting on the RMA. I never saw them used more then 25%. Of course part of that is probably because they were locked down heavily and ran pretty slowly. They also had smaller, special purpose computer labs in the various departments, that were always packed. Even though they were less conveniently located, they had better computers and the various specialized software used in courses. Furthermore, they also often felt more comfortable, because you would be surrounded by peers in your department, and didn't have that "empty library" atmosphere where people talk in hushed whispers.

      The other computers that were ALWAYS in use was the first floor of the library. The library had a coffee shop, and lots of computers and tables that made it easy for group collaboration.

      It seems to me that if you are a college administrator, you should probably spend a day in any computer lab you are investing resources in. See if it's being used, see what it's used for, and talk to the student's about why they chose that particular lab. Some are probably underused, some are probably in high demand. The prevalence of personal computers probably means the days of students packing the room just to use a word processor are probably over. That doesn't mean labs over all are done for.

  • Yawn (Score:3, Informative)

    by chebucto (992517) on Saturday March 28, 2009 @05:11PM (#27372987) Homepage

    A PHB fills a room with couches and cheap avant-guard office furniture, and it's the end of computer labs? Computer labs will stay with us, for the simple reasons that there will aways be students unable to afford laptops, and computers are required to complete coursework these days. Not to mention the convenience being able to check email or print stuff without having to lug around a laptop all the time.

    • You can get a perfectly serviceable laptop for $700 these days, less for a netbook. If you can afford to take classes, you can afford a laptop.

  • by Nutria (679911) on Saturday March 28, 2009 @05:11PM (#27372991)

    [Troll]
    A place where Business Major girls can go to find CompSci geeks to do their Programming for Non-majors assignments for them...
    [/Troll]

  • by FooAtWFU (699187) on Saturday March 28, 2009 @05:12PM (#27372993) Homepage
    When your laptop goes kablooey all of a sudden, it's darned handy to have a few machines around as a backup so you can type your Important Paper. You don't need hundreds, sure, but what's a couple dozen computers to a big fancy university?
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by mlts (1038732) *

      Slight digression:

      This is why universities need to have a class on basic computing sanitation. Part of this class's lab fee would be a decent laptop. One can argue what brand, but that's beside the point. Another offering by the university would be discounts on licensed software. I have seen one university offer Windows Server 2008 CDs for $25, XP for $5, and similar prices for Office, iWork, and OS X upgrades.

      This basics class should teach computing essentials of labs such as logging on, making sure yo

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      A few, sure.

      On my campus, I know of about ten computer labs, five run by campus IT and another five run by departments. I'm sure there are more departmentals I don't know about. I work in the IT labs regularly, and I almost never seem them empty. But those other labs are always empty. Shrinking the number of labs to what people actually use is a good idea.

  • by Niris (1443675) on Saturday March 28, 2009 @05:13PM (#27373003)
    Sure, this is fine for private schools, but at a lot of public universities a large amount of students are broke and trying to pay their own way through school. Getting rid of the computer lab would be a huge handicap for them, so I just don't think this would be feasible for other campuses
  • by Kindaian (577374) on Saturday March 28, 2009 @05:14PM (#27373019) Homepage

    I completly disagree with the removing of computer labs and i would just point two issues:

    a) Freshman can have a portable, but they don't have the array of servers that currently are needed for a complete CS courseware. How do they program in cluster computers, clustered database servers and so on? Yes, you may be able to skip on the ton of personal computers, but you will still need the IT infrastructure to support a proper learning experience;

    b) It is not appropriate to ask every freshman to ditch hard coin for a program just to learn something. In that case, the usual setup is for the school to have a computer room with computers and all the programs required. Also bear in mind that many programs aren't exactly instalable on a portable computer...

    So yup... you may be right that the "need" for perssonnal computers aren't currently that great, but nope, computer labs will always be needed on schools that relate to IT.

    • Don't forget c) student's laptop is down for a day or two, or even longer (hit by virus/malware, hardware failure, etc). If the necessary software for all of the student's courses is on that machine, and there's no computer lab for any of them, that student will suddenly fall behind not just on one course, but several.

  • by Legion_SB (1300215) on Saturday March 28, 2009 @05:14PM (#27373021) Homepage
    Use that money for other, more useful puposes.

    Provide (or upgrade) campus-wide wifi, provide an on-campus "geek squad" that actually knows what they're doing, etc.
    • Maybe software (Adobe CS4?) licenses, because those graphic design students still need it.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Nimey (114278)

      That's actually what my workplace (a public university) does. We've got campus-wide unencrypted 802.11g and a place where students can get their computers serviced cheaply ($5 to $35, depending on what's done, plus some support from tech fees).

      No plans to get rid of computer labs, though.

  • by j-stroy (640921) on Saturday March 28, 2009 @05:14PM (#27373025)
    When a course requires a certain software package, a consistent install base is crucial for teaching and troubleshooting.

    When a system problem can't be solved by having the student move to another workstation while IT is re-imaging a lab computer, weeks of course time and homework can be lost. It is a headache keeping track of excused late assignments.

    Not to mention software licensing issues.. It forces the instructor into a legal and moral choice between running the "new & hot" version the students are running and last years license the school purchased. Isn't your highest obligation to teach the students? And don't even start me on instant messaging.
    • When a course requires a certain software package...

      This is the problem, not what the rest of your post describes. Fix this and the rest of the problem goes away.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Trepidity (597)

        It's pretty much necessary, though, given limited time. Generally, you want to be teaching concepts, not fiddling with software details, and that's easiest if you just pick one piece of software for the purposes of teaching, and assume people can learn the details of other software on their own. So, for example, if you're teaching C++, you might want to be able to just assume everyone has access to g++ and GNU make, preferably all in the same version, instead of also dealing with XCode and Visual Studio and

      • Course software (Score:3, Insightful)

        by booyabazooka (833351)

        Spoken like a true idealist problem solver. Two of my favorite CS classes dealt with circuit design, and we depended heavily on a simulator (LogicWorks - not great, but it does the trick) instead of breadboards. I had to use the computer lab because its were the only computers available that could boot into Windows. Are you really saying that these courses should ditch the simulator, on principle, because classes shouldn't require specific software? Or that any student who finds a different simulator sh

      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by 644bd346996 (1012333)

        Mechanical engineers need to graduate with hands-on experience with a professional CAD package. Since these are far too expensive for students to buy, and there are no open-source alternatives, universities need to buy the software. When a university is buying CAD software, it makes sense to only buy one package, rather than waste money on several.

      • Sometimes a course is specifically to teach both concepts and proficiency with a certain software. No way to "fix" the dilemma by eliminating the software without eliminating the course too.

        In a class of 150 (with smaller labs) IT issues can crop up weekly. Getting rid of specific software does nothing to offload the responsibility of the school to provide and maintain a functional learning environment. A computer lab setting creates generic "seats" so students can relocate rather than being tied to th
      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        That's a lovely theory. Now let me tell you about the realities of teaching. With personally owned machines, I have to worry about XP vs Vista vs OS X, which versions, which patch levels, did the student download the right applications and install them properly, are there conflicts, do they have the latest version, whether site licensing requirements are being met if I put copies into the hands of the students, etc., etc., etc.

        1) When the software is on the lab computers, uniformity of environment and c

  • Sure, right now a lot of kids who just graduated from high school can convince their parents that they need their own computer in school (even if the school website says otherwise). Though as the economy continues to falter, parents should start taking a serious look at what their kids truly need for school (and realize that a computer of their own is not on that list).

    Spend $1,000 on that new laptop, or instead use the same $1,000 to take out less in student loans? That should be a pretty easy choice.
    • Spend $1,000 on that new laptop, or instead use the same $1,000 to take out less in student loans? That should be a pretty easy choice.

      Indeed it is easy - a laptop is available to my (hypothetical) child 24/7 wherever on campus they need or want to use it. It's entertainment, communications, education, etc... etc... in one compact package.
       
      It's a bargain at twice the price.

      • it's entertainment

        Indeed, laptops on campus often seem to end up used for that more than anything else

        communications

        That is assuming that wherever they are on campus, they have some way to connect to the campus network and/or the internet. Not always applicable for every corner of every campus.

        education

        I would say the educational value of a laptop is debatable at best. I know plenty of people who finished CSci degrees without ever owning one.

        a bargain at twice the price

        Not sure if you'd still be saying that after paying for licenses for the software that they "just hav

        • it's entertainment

          Indeed, laptops on campus often seem to end up used for that more than anything else

          And the problem with that is?

          communications

          That is assuming that wherever they are on campus, they have some way to connect to the campus network and/or the internet. Not always applicable for every corner of every campus.

          You make the false assumption that "communication" means "online". Emails can be edited offline, family photos viewed offline, etc... etc...

          a bargain at twice the

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Alarindris (1253418)
      Anyone who spends $1000 on a laptop for school is an idiot. Take notes on paper and build a desktop for $175.
  • So, anybody else want to lug a desktop PC around? Not sure if those figures tie with laptops or what, but I know that I used to hang out in the computer lab so that I wouldn't have to lug around my laptop everywhere.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday March 28, 2009 @05:18PM (#27373069)

    I'm a civil engineering student and throughout my course I had to do a bunch of projects that demanded all sorts of software and although a bunch of that software has a free counterpart (openoffice, latex, maxima, GCC, etc...), we are still forced to use software that not only doesn't have any free counterpart but also costs an arm and a leg to begin with (I'm looking at you, autocad). That alone makes the computer lab to be nothing short of invaluable. That and the fact that my school's computer lab also sells prints.

    Then there's the safety aspect. Nowadays I'm able to go to class with nothing more than a pencil, A4 paper, an USB drive. That's about 15 euros worth of stuff. If suddenly I was forced to carry around a laptop then that value would easily surpass the 600 euros mark, all that concentrated on a neat, easily stealable toy.

  • by Enleth (947766) <enleth@enleth.com> on Saturday March 28, 2009 @05:18PM (#27373077) Homepage

    At my university (specifically, at the Faculty of Electronics, which includes network and systems engineering), this would not work very well, if at all.

    First, several absurdly expensive applications like Matlab (yeah, everyone here knows about Octave, but the industry wants students to learn to use Matlab) are available only on the lab servers, and while it's possible to forward the X connection from the server and have them appear on the laptop's desktop (in fact, that's how they work on the lab computers), most Windows-using students can't be bothered even to install and use PuTTY and Xming properly, and even then, using Matlab over a WiFi connection is not for the faint of heart and weak-tempered.

    Second, some things are to be accessed only from university-owned computers, such as the IEEE Xplore database and several scientific journals, and there's nothing the university could do about this, it's just how academic licensing works.

    There are probably some more cases such as those, so the labs are here to stay for some more time, I think.

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by 644bd346996 (1012333)

      Your university needs to stop being so cheap with it's MATLAB licenses. There's no reason why you should be running MATLAB only on servers when The MathWorks is quite willing to license MATLAB on terms that allow it to be installed on any student's laptop, with the only server necessary being the license server.

    • Yep (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Sycraft-fu (314770)

      Where I work (university department) we aren't getting rid of our labs, despite the budget cuts. We really couldn't even if we wanted to. In no small part this is because of software. We have a number of classes that use software that is licensed only for university systems. Sometimes it is licensed only for a select few systems in our department. Thus we can't say "Just use your own computer." We have to provide systems. I suppose in theory it could be terminal server computers or the like, but I don't kno

  • Mission Change (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday March 28, 2009 @05:21PM (#27373099)
    Computer labs won't go away, they will just change their mission. Instead of labs for general computing needs (email, info searches, web browsing), they will become support for specialized computing needs.
    They are still needed to provide access to specialized professional applications which would be too expensive for individual students to license. High end scientific, art, media and simulation applications are too expensive or require too much computing power for the average student with a laptop to realistically use.
  • Students might have computers, but what they don't necessarily have:

    -Matlab
    -Mathematica
    -Pro/E
    -Solidworks
    -Autocad
    -FPGA Dev. Software
    -Oracle DB software
    etc.
    etc.
    etc.

    Tons of people I know use the computer lab for school licensed software.

    • by langelgjm (860756)

      Exactly.

      It's not just about how many freshman come to campus with computers. Practically every academic discipline is going to have its own specialized software. Maybe you want to go look at an electronic version of the Dead Sea Scrolls in the original languages.

      "Computer Labs" in the sense of a centralized location where expensive software can be installed so that a bunch of people can use it are not going anywhere.

  • by PolygamousRanchKid (1290638) on Saturday March 28, 2009 @05:26PM (#27373141)

    One of my favorite professors, Arthur Lo, said of his course:

    "Most of my students say that they get the most from this course from the lab exercises. I think that they get the most from their lab partners."

    This was back when a computer "lab" really meant a "terminal room." But you could take a quick break, discuss assignments with other students, to make sure that you understood it correctly, ask older students which courses were good, tell younger courses which course sucked.

    Computer folks tend to be introverted enough anyway; encourage them to get out a bit, instead of hacking alone in their dorm rooms.

  • Hardware cost is nothing compared to the cost and maintenance of Adobe CS4, Avid or Final Cut Suite, Maya, AutoCad, MS Office, a Laser printer, a large format ink jet, or for that matter a community of users.

    Once certs are generated to run all software on all hardware*, these kids running around with cracked apps are going to vanish into memories of the Old West.

    kulakovich

    * anyone else working on developing for the iPhone? Yeah.
  • by Propagandhi (570791) on Saturday March 28, 2009 @05:28PM (#27373155) Journal

    I still find computer labs on campus useful. Some of the reasons have already been mentioned (printing, obscure software licenses, collaboration, etc..).

    What I'd like to see more of is docking stations for laptops. USB keyboards and mice, large monitors, no boxen. Its still difficult to get access to these in most labs, they're often locked to the box in an inconvient manner...

    The modern computer lab can still have computers, but they should accomodate the fact that many students have their own computers. Just include an actual computer at every other station or something...

  • In other words, they're having LAN parties there.

    *whistle*

  • by King_TJ (85913) on Saturday March 28, 2009 @05:33PM (#27373213) Journal

    I can see the "computer lab" simply evolving to better meet the needs of the modern student.

    You're probably going to want to provide some comfortable workspaces where a laptop can be placed, and possibly offer amenities like a USB docking station with full-size keyboard, mouse and 20" or 22" LCD display attached. Network printers should be available as well.

    You'd also want to have a number of desktop systems in the lab, loaded with specialized software packages needed for courses - but too expensive to expect students to buy for individual use. (EG. My ex-g/f had to use the SPSS statistical software for several of her psychology courses.)

    • by Bazman (4849)

      We solved the 'specialized software' problem by going open-source. Our introductory maths course uses Scilab instead of Matlab to teach linear algebra processing, R instead of SPSS for statistics, and Maxima instead of Maple for computer algebra. We help the students download and install these programs on their laptops.

      We do still have PC labs because it seems quite a few students don't like having to lug in the massive weight of a laptop computer when they live off-campus. I also imagine there are students

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by MoonBuggy (611105)

        Alternative open source solutions certainly have their place, but they're not always appropriate, particularly for courses that rely on audio, graphical or CAD software where knowledge and experience of a specific software package is often expected. Sure, it's fairly easy for a moderately competent user to switch from Word to Writer, and the mathematics doesn't change if you go from Matlab to Octave, but being expected to work with Photoshop at a high level if you've only been trained on Gimp would be surpr

  • I've seen several schools just bundle in the cost of a laptop with tuition for incoming students. Every professor knows that their students have a laptop, and certain software so they can require the use of a computer for assignments.

    Especially in the age of cheap netbooks and OpenOffice, why isn't every school offering such a program?

    Heck, we have a high school doing that in Omaha, except the school pays for a laptop and checks it out to the students for the school year.

  • by ender06 (913978) on Saturday March 28, 2009 @05:35PM (#27373235)
    Computer labs are essential to any good engineering program. The smartest and easiest way to provide access to and support for an array of engineering software is through University run computer labs.

    At the University of Michigan, where I attend, there is a huge amount of software that engineering students have access to on any of the CAEN (computer aided engineering network) computers. All my complaints aside, the engineering network is one of the most useful resources. I have a fair amount of University storage space, access to all my files on any CAEN computer, and generally a lot more computing power available than on most student's laptops.

    Students will routinely run simulations and analyses on the computers, letting them run overnight, or even days. Above all, without an engineering computer network, student teams, such as Solar Car, FSAE, Baja, etc. would not be able to design, build, and compete on the same level.

    A properly run computer network can be a great way to provide access to a huge resource with an array of software otherwise unavailable or too costly for students.
  • I remember when I first began Engineering at my local university, many of the kids did indeed have laptops. But they're (by and large) laptops running WinXP or some Apple OS. When we began our C course, not one of them knew what gcc was, or how to use XEmacs (which is what the course instructors asked us to use). Even those with laptops used the computer labs throughout the entire term.

    Personally, my laptop (running Ubuntu at the time) suffered a hard drive failure during the semester and I'm eternally than

  • by vic-traill (1038742) on Saturday March 28, 2009 @05:57PM (#27373459)

    In my experience there's a lot of pressure from to get rid of labs in Universities and Colleges simply to reduce costs. At it's core, this is a process of shifting the cost of computing facilities from the institution to the students. And yes, I know that when the institution pays for labs the monies are ultimately coming, at least in part, from the paying students. However, a machine in a student lab is much more highly untilised that an individual's notebook, a cost of labs is spread across all students, rather than the individual, and the economies of scale mean that the cost per unit for the institution is utually much less than the cost per unit in the individual model.

    Anyway, two reasons to retain labs:
    - some students don't have notebooks. Should ownership of a computer be a prerequisite to obtaining a post-secondary education? I'm sure the vast majority of students have their own desktop or notebook, but the single parent working part-time and supporting two kids while trying to upgrade their credentials might not.

    - speciality software (GIS, discipline-specific stuff for psychology courses, math courses, etc.) is pretty damned expensive, and typically has very restrictive licenses in terms of seat installations or concurrent users. Trying to get licensing that allows you to distribute to student PC is tough and expensive. And Microsoft is the biggest prick of them all; they hose you if you try to support virtual labs to give access even to Office applications, insisting that even if your virtual lab supports 50 concurrent users you must purchase a license for every student who could possibly use the service, which is typically in the 1000's.

    We're starting to push users toward Open Office (we should have done it a long time ago I suppose, but version 3 is pretty sweet and a step up from previous version IMHO). But the FUD out there makes students hesitant - faculty telling them their work won't be accepted if it is created using anything other than Word, for example, with both the faculty and the student not realising that they are requiring a file format, not the use of a particular program.

    Anyway, getting rid of student labs is a boon for Microsoft, and for hardware manufacturers, and hoses marginalised students, while adding yet another barrier to higher ed so that only snotty nosed kids whose parents are paying their way through school can afford to go to university.

    Okay, that last part is a little over the top, but not so far - there's truth in there.

  • by IGnatius T Foobar (4328) on Saturday March 28, 2009 @10:07PM (#27375317) Homepage Journal
    I don't like the idea of taking away the computer labs and relying on students to bring their own laptops. It's only a very small step from that, to a regime where the university begins dictating very specific requirements about what hardware and software the student is required to have. For starters, the university is probably going to dictate what operating system is being used (no bonus points for guessing it's going to be an operating system sold by a monopolist from the Pacific Northwest who recently made a large "donation" to the uni for influencing that decision). Pretty soon they're also dictating that the uni's custom suite of security programs are loaded, and other things. At the end of the day it's no longer the student's own computer -- it's a locked-down university computer that the student (or his parents) paid for. No thanks.
  • by crossmr (957846) on Sunday March 29, 2009 @04:36AM (#27377491) Journal

    even back in 1997, was apparently the thing to do for overseas students. I remember being perplexed as to why the lab was so slow when I had heard there were dual oc3 pipes coming into the place.
    I was sitting at the back so I had a quick look around and I noticed 99% of the computers were taken up by an asian student all independently streaming the same TV show..
    I don't know what the quality rate was, because it appeared to be a asian drama/movie, but whatever it was times about 50 machines would be enough to choke most connections.
    Especially since this was one of on about half a dozen labs.

    It certainly wasn't collaborative or someone would have gotten them some headphone splitters..

  • by starX (306011) on Sunday March 29, 2009 @01:07PM (#27380067) Homepage

    There was only a single semester when I *needed* the computer lab, and that was the first I had moved off campus. I didn't want to shell out the cash for internet access because, lets face it, I would spend so much time in the CS lab anyway.

    The CS lab was linked directly with the department file server, and I had been running linux full time since my sophomore year. As long as I had enough bandwidth to upload a source file, or download the occasional lib file the prof provided, there was no need for me to be in that lab, and on campus bandwidth was plentiful.

    So why do it? I liked the company. I didn't like everyone in that department, to be sure, but most of the folks I knew were pretty good guys (and a couple girls), and it was fun swapping stories of funky things we were experiencing on our own systems, problems we were having with our current projects, or the latest interesting story on Slashdot.

    I was a TA for most of my college career, but I spent so much time in the lab that the idea of logging my hours was really a joke. I think it was true for just about every one of the upperclassmen (and those who knew what they were doing) that we were always there to help out anyone who asked.

    There was a lot to be gained from that experience. The CS lab was a space where we could work with others, where we could serve as mentors, and where we could get a feel for what it might possibly like to work in a room full of other people with a common interest. I shudder to think of what my CS experience would have been like without that space.

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