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RIP the Campus Computer Lab, 1960-2009

kdawson posted about 5 years ago | from the passing-of-an-era dept.

Education 571

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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571 comments

Printing (5, Insightful)

twocows (1216842) | about 5 years ago | (#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:Printing (2, Informative)

JCY2K (852841) | about 5 years ago | (#27372971)

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 (4, Interesting)

slaker (53818) | about 5 years ago | (#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:Printing (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#27373417)

If your room is noisy, try turning off whatever is making the noise.

Re:Printing (4, Interesting)

forkazoo (138186) | about 5 years ago | (#27373015)

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 (1)

644bd346996 (1012333) | about 5 years ago | (#27373175)

My university already has an established print quota system to charge students by the page for printing. A few years ago, they extended this system with a web interface that allows you to upload and PDF, PostScript, or plain text document to any printer on campus. This makes printing really easy, particularly for Mac users, who don't have to set up third-party software in order to create PDFs.

Re:Printing (1)

Comtraya (1306593) | about 5 years ago | (#27373181)

Here at the University at Buffalo, we can print from our laptops to a campus printer (either in the dorms or academic buildings), and the pages are deducted from our print quota (approx. 650 pages/semester @ $0.04 per page).

And we have some nice Linux computer labs in the Engineering department.

Re:Printing (4, Funny)

troll8901 (1397145) | about 5 years ago | (#27373435)

Those Printers from Buffalo, which are intimidated by other Printers from Buffalo, also intimidate other Printers from Buffalo ...

I love your University for having good Linux computers.

Re:Printing (0, Troll)

troll8901 (1397145) | about 5 years ago | (#27373087)

I always wonder how would universities (and colleges and libraries) make it easy for users to print documents residing on their laptops.

  • USB flash drives?
  • A few workstations? What if they're all hogged by students, and there's a queue of other students waiting to print?

It'll be interesting to hear from other slashdotters.

Re:Printing (3, Interesting)

Moofie (22272) | about 5 years ago | (#27373431)

Did you know that printers can be accessed via a network? Even a WIRELESS network?

Truly, we live in the future.

Re:Printing (5, Insightful)

moderatorrater (1095745) | about 5 years ago | (#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.

Re:Printing (1)

Z00L00K (682162) | about 5 years ago | (#27373229)

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 (1)

iced_773 (857608) | about 5 years ago | (#27373319)

I have a printer, but still need the computer labs sometimes when my computer is in the shop.

If the University wants to get rid of the computer labs, they should consider this: sometimes personal laptops need repairs, and they take a while when technicians would rather try reformatting before ponying up for a warranty claim when the diagnostics clearly say there's a hardware error (I'm looking at YOU, Cavalier Computers).

I apologize for the small rant.

Still Important (5, Informative)

mathx314 (1365325) | about 5 years ago | (#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 (1)

thefringthing (1502177) | about 5 years ago | (#27373177)

When I need my University's computing resources, I just ssh.

Re:Still Important (1)

VCAGuy (660954) | about 5 years ago | (#27373205)

When I need my University's computing resources, I just ssh.

That would be nice...they force us to RDP. Blech.

Re:Still Important (1)

mathx314 (1365325) | about 5 years ago | (#27373381)

Some things at school you can ssh into. For instance, I use Maple on my computer that way fairly frequently. It doesn't help when you have to print or use a program that isn't available over ssh, however.

Re:Still Important (5, Interesting)

mlts (1038732) | about 5 years ago | (#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 (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#27373249)

All that stuff can be loaded onto virtual machines that you could access from your laptop anywhere on campus.

Re:Still Important (5, Informative)

Ludachrispeed (1326307) | about 5 years ago | (#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!

Computer Labs are still useful (5, Informative)

forkazoo (138186) | about 5 years ago | (#27372985)

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.

better anonymity (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#27373067)

Only in a computer lab can you lie in wait for some idiot to walk out without having first signed out, so you can then use their account to download all your illegal stuff without it being tracked to you.

Re:Computer Labs are still useful (4, Insightful)

Trepidity (597) | about 5 years ago | (#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).

Re:Computer Labs are still useful (5, Insightful)

fishbowl (7759) | about 5 years ago | (#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:Computer Labs are still useful (5, Interesting)

eggnoglatte (1047660) | about 5 years ago | (#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?

Re:Computer Labs are still useful (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#27373253)

For a computer security course at my university (Brown) that is exactly what is done because the vulnerabilities are very specific to the system configuration. However, this is definitely at the moment impractical for every class to do something of the sort as it takes up a lot of extra resources and requires all sorts of extra configuration for the people running the course.

Re:Computer Labs are still useful (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#27373143)

i'm kind of in the middle here...

I think that while it is a good point that "public computing lab usage is becoming redundant", i too wonder what a student is to do when their laptop becomes damaged. also, this will lead to every student carrying around their laptop, which while this mobility is the laptops main function, it also can provoke a inclination to theft. If a student carries around their laptop to numerous locations every day, this allows an oppurtunity for someone to steal. also, the turbulance of walking around with a laptop may cause disk damage. While SSDs are on the rise, many students aren't aware of the dangers of walking around with laptops powered on, and disks spinning...

Re:Computer Labs are still useful (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#27373269)

Lots of software, including MATLAB, can be licensed so that students can install it on their own machine while they're a student. For other expensive software, my university has the Virtual Computing Lab [ncsu.edu] , a remote-access pool of blade machines that are re-imaged on the fly to have the packages needed. This helps keep licensing costs down, because the software doesn't need to be installed on more machines than it will get used on. It works very well for everything I've tried it with except CAD. (Fortunately, the education edition of SolidWorks is one of the packages that can be installed on student laptops.)

The VCL is also great for CS classes that involve lots of coding, because the instructor can create a custom image and standardize the class on that environment. It removes all the problems arising from complaints along the lines of "but it worked on my machine!"

Re:Computer Labs are still useful (5, Insightful)

Kaboom13 (235759) | about 5 years ago | (#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 (2, Informative)

chebucto (992517) | about 5 years ago | (#27372987)

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.

There aren't (1)

Rix (54095) | about 5 years ago | (#27373271)

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.

Re:Yawn (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#27373451)

Many universities are in fact moving to impose computer ownership requirements on all incoming students. This ensures everyone has one and for those that can't afford the purchase (although it's likely to be much less expensive than tuition), financial aid is available.

The Real Purpose Of Computer Labs (4, Funny)

Nutria (679911) | about 5 years ago | (#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]

Re:The Real Purpose Of Computer Labs (4, Funny)

MooseMuffin (799896) | about 5 years ago | (#27373043)

That's weird, I always thought of them as a place to pick up girls.

Re:The Real Purpose Of Computer Labs (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#27373325)

They who can give up integrity to obtain a little temporary sex, deserve neither a degree nor sex.

Re:The Real Purpose Of Computer Labs (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#27373415)

No, this is the University of Virginia, which was founded by Thomas Jefferson. The object of your parody is a quote attributed to Ben Franklin.

Nice try, but you fail it. You must be a Hokie.

So you're saying... (1)

jonaskoelker (922170) | about 5 years ago | (#27373285)

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

To what end? You force people to take a course, yet you allow them a way to dodgo that course's requirements making people not learn what the course is about. Why force them to take the course, then?

Oh well, it's not like the world is rational...

Oh, keep one around.... (4, Insightful)

FooAtWFU (699187) | about 5 years ago | (#27372993)

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:Oh, keep one around.... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#27373071)

"Kablooey"? "Darned handy"? "Important Paper"?

Is that you, uncle Milton? Where's grammy?

Re:Oh, keep one around.... (1)

Nerdfest (867930) | about 5 years ago | (#27373277)

Parent is correct. You only missed "Get off my lawn", and "Young whippersnappers". Put down the laptop and go back to watching Matlock.

Re:Oh, keep one around.... (1)

JCY2K (852841) | about 5 years ago | (#27373291)

If, however, there are 'a couple dozen computers' on campus they will--I guarantee--be occupied by stupid people checking facebook and watching laughing babies on youtube. Make a friend and borrow their machine...

Add to total cost for student (3, Insightful)

Niris (1443675) | about 5 years ago | (#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

Re:Add to total cost for student (1)

iced_773 (857608) | about 5 years ago | (#27373439)

That would be a good point, but TFS shows otherwise. UVa is a public school, and there's still only four students admitted in 2007 without computers.

Labs are great (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#27373005)

I spent countless hours coding in the labs at school. Good way to learn communication skills (face to face)...with other programmers.

Re:Labs are great (1)

mdwh2 (535323) | about 5 years ago | (#27373111)

Face-to-face?

I picked up communication skills such as using ICQ to chat to the person sitting across the room...

Computer labs aren't only computer rooms... (5, Insightful)

Kindaian (577374) | about 5 years ago | (#27373019)

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.

Re:Computer labs aren't only computer rooms... (1)

Cyrus20 (1345311) | about 5 years ago | (#27373225)

Also bear in mind that many programs aren't exactly instalable on a portable computer... depends on your idea of portable... my laptop is a desktop replacement and is completely portable even though it's heavier than a normal laptop

Re:Computer labs aren't only computer rooms... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#27373231)

I am a CE major at Milwaukee School of Engineering, each student is issued a laptop, as part of tuition, with a full suite of software suited to their major, it gets replaced the Jr. year to keep it up to date, and when you graduate you get to keep it. The system works fairly well, printers are scattered around campus and can easily be added via a web interface. CE's get the programming stuff they need, ME's get their autoCAD and whatnot. For any clustering or database stuff the school has a set of servers for students to learn on. Works great for us.

Re:Computer labs aren't only computer rooms... (1)

quacking duck (607555) | about 5 years ago | (#27373297)

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.

Spend the money supporting the students' PCs (2, Insightful)

Legion_SB (1300215) | about 5 years ago | (#27373021)

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.

Re:Spend the money supporting the students' PCs (1)

Tubal-Cain (1289912) | about 5 years ago | (#27373135)

Maybe software (Adobe CS4?) licenses, because those graphic design students still need it.

translation (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#27373289)

"Use that money for other, more useful purposes." > "beer..pizza"

As an instructor, software uniformity is crucial. (5, Insightful)

j-stroy (640921) | about 5 years ago | (#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.

Re:As an instructor, software uniformity is crucia (1)

Legion_SB (1300215) | about 5 years ago | (#27373051)

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:As an instructor, software uniformity is crucia (2, Insightful)

Trepidity (597) | about 5 years ago | (#27373109)

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 gcc under Cygwin and god knows what else. The easiest way to do that is just to have a Unix computer lab students have access to.

Course software (2, Insightful)

booyabazooka (833351) | about 5 years ago | (#27373163)

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 should be able to use it (which introduces all manner of hell for graders)?

Re:As an instructor, software uniformity is crucia (2, Insightful)

644bd346996 (1012333) | about 5 years ago | (#27373357)

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.

Requires a certain software package... (2, Insightful)

j-stroy (640921) | about 5 years ago | (#27373413)

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 their own possibly malfunctioning laptop. Students can not afford to have hours of down-time, let alone days.

The licensing issue rears its head when marking because either assignments may be submitted in a software/version/format the school does not have because the student cannot export backwards to earlier versions or to a compatible file format.

I prefer computer labs for work (1)

vsage3 (718267) | about 5 years ago | (#27373039)

This is unfortunate. The two universities that I am very familiar with both have very large computer labs where people can print out things. I am wholly reliant upon the university currently to print things out. I HATE toting around my laptop and so I prefer to use campus resources. That said, my department made the switch from physical computers to remote desktops. It's worked out well, but I have to say I don't like not being able to pop in and check my e-mail between classes without having to lug my laptop around like a ball and chain.

I wonder if the economy will change that back... (5, Interesting)

damn_registrars (1103043) | about 5 years ago | (#27373041)

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.

Re:I wonder if the economy will change that back.. (1)

DerekLyons (302214) | about 5 years ago | (#27373147)

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.

Re:I wonder if the economy will change that back.. (1)

damn_registrars (1103043) | about 5 years ago | (#27373255)

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 have to have". Sure, plenty of people can do just fine with OpenOffice, GIMP, and Linux. But should your child's professor be expected to know how to handle files that pass through those?

You may end up buying the laptop for $1,000; but you'll probably end up spending another $1,000 on the software that your child has to have, and the hardware upgrades to make it work properly.

And meanwhile, you're now $2,000 futher in debt than you would have been had you told that child to just use the lab like you did back when you were in school.

Re:I wonder if the economy will change that back.. (1)

DerekLyons (302214) | about 5 years ago | (#27373411)

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 price

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

Yeah, I would. But then I don't obsess over costs while handwaving away benefits.
 
 

You may end up buying the laptop for $1,000; but you'll probably end up spending another $1,000 on the software that your child has to have, and the hardware upgrades to make it work properly.

And the problem with that is? Other than you seemingly not have seen how cheap student editions of software are (I have, when my wife was in college two years ago), and your inexplicable belief that a reasonably current laptop will require some kind of hardware upgrade.
 
 

And meanwhile, you're now $2,000 futher in debt than you would have been had you told that child to just use the lab like you did back when you were in school.

Yeah, when I was in school we had to walk uphill (both ways!) through six feet of snow to get to the computer - and we liked it! (Additionally - see comment above about obsessing over cost and handwaving away benefits.)

Re:I wonder if the economy will change that back.. (1)

JCY2K (852841) | about 5 years ago | (#27373305)

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.

And if they convince you they need a mac, it may be at twice the price.

Re:I wonder if the economy will change that back.. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#27373183)

$1000 for a laptop.

Why do a college student need a $1000 laptop? You can get a perfectly usable laptop for a lot less these days. If you are not CompSci, a $300-$400 netbook running XP is plenty.

Re:I wonder if the economy will change that back.. (1)

damn_registrars (1103043) | about 5 years ago | (#27373373)

Why do a college student need a $1000 laptop?

Good question, and the answer is simple.

$1,000 is the starting price for the macbook.

The reason why this is important is because many of the kids who just graduated high school and have convinced their parents to buy they a new laptop for college are the same ones who convinced their parents that they needed an iPod in high school. And of course for these kids, whose lives revolve around facebook and their iPod, the most important aspect of a laptop is iPod compatibility.

Sure, they could be a lam3r and use something other than a mac to sync their iPod, but on mommy & daddy's buck, why?

Re:I wonder if the economy will change that back.. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#27373199)

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.

But it's not $1,000: my netbook was ~$400...

Re:I wonder if the economy will change that back.. (2, Insightful)

Alarindris (1253418) | about 5 years ago | (#27373313)

Anyone who spends $1000 on a laptop for school is an idiot. Take notes on paper and build a desktop for $175.

Re:I wonder if the economy will change that back.. (1)

damn_registrars (1103043) | about 5 years ago | (#27373425)

Anyone who spends $1000 on a laptop for school is an idiot

Which unfortunately means we have an astonishing number of idiots in this country. Not sure whether or not that should surprise anyone.

Take notes on paper and build a desktop for $175.

I couldn't agree with you more on that that one. My cheap desktop worked just fine for my undergrad years, and anytime I needed more computational power I had access to that through the school for whatever project I was attached too that needed that power.

Re:I wonder if the economy will change that back.. (1)

TimMD909 (260285) | about 5 years ago | (#27373421)

As a person with a history of issues, primary of which is social anxiety, the value of having my own computing platform can not be easily measured. Having laptops allowed me to work in an environment of my choosing, where I was able to work more efficiently without dosing myself regularly on Rx anxiety medication.

Second, I live off campus. The trips to school would've killed enormous amounts of time and money. I'd've spent thousands on the commute, even if it was only $5 there and back.

Also, there has been a myriad of times that something I was working on could only be accomplished on my own platform. Try building a OpenGL physics simulation at an art school that's filled with Macs without Xcode and Windows PCs without Visual Studio.

True, I'm probably the only kid that knows C++ in the school. It's also true that my own pursuit of knowledge would've been hampered had I not had my trusty Linux laptop. (Feel free to mod up for excessive use of the term 'Linux')

Lastly, you can't drink beer in school labs. Fuck that :-D

Laptops, heavy and easily stealable. (1)

TinBromide (921574) | about 5 years ago | (#27373045)

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.

I don't know about there labs... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#27373053)

But when I did my comp-sci degree, there was numerous reasons to go to the lab. For one, they had printers, but also that had the correct OS (usually Linux or UNIX, where my PC had windows), the correct programs even when I was running the same OS (licensed versions of various development suits and such), and finally simply the ability to get help from fellow students, or such, while at the campus.

CAD, Photoshop, MS Office (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#27373059)

Computer labs are still useful. Most students don't own Mastercam, Photoshop, or even the latest version of MS Office, which our classes often require.

linguistic philosophy rides in (0)

smchris (464899) | about 5 years ago | (#27373061)

As people are discussing, there are computer labs and then there are "computer labs". No reason why "computer labs" shouldn't die. My library got five desktop _calculators_ when those were new in the 70s too. Be stupid today. Same thing.

What about software? (5, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#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.

Not always going to work (4, Insightful)

Enleth (947766) | about 5 years ago | (#27373077)

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:Not always going to work (2, Insightful)

644bd346996 (1012333) | about 5 years ago | (#27373395)

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.

Mission Change (5, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#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.

It's the Software, dummy. (1)

427_ci_505 (1009677) | about 5 years ago | (#27373105)

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.

Re:It's the Software, dummy. (1)

langelgjm (860756) | about 5 years ago | (#27373223)

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.

Re:It's the Software, dummy. (1)

egcagrac0 (1410377) | about 5 years ago | (#27373349)

True, but general purpose computer labs don't make sense. Having a CAD/CAM lab, a Graphic Arts lab, etc where there are dozens of machines capable of running the specialized software makes sense.

200+ seat labs for general purpose use (Word, WWW, email) don't make sense.

Loaner (or rental) laptops for while the tech is working on a student's laptop might make sense.

I'll miss the opportunity to buy all the cheap surplus computers that they retire, but I'll understand.

Computer labs provide forums to exchange ideas (5, Interesting)

PolygamousRanchKid (1290638) | about 5 years ago | (#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.

When all apps are signed, they will return. (1)

kulakovich (580584) | about 5 years ago | (#27373145)

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.

They're still useful, but they should change (2, Interesting)

Propagandhi (570791) | about 5 years ago | (#27373155)

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...

"technology-rich collaboration area." (1)

Chas (5144) | about 5 years ago | (#27373157)

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

*whistle*

Been a long time since I was in college, but .... (3, Interesting)

King_TJ (85913) | about 5 years ago | (#27373213)

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.)

Re:Been a long time since I was in college, but .. (1)

Bazman (4849) | about 5 years ago | (#27373363)

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 who have a pimped-out gaming rig instead of a laptop.

Bundle In Cost (1)

Enderandrew (866215) | about 5 years ago | (#27373217)

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.

One word: Engineering (5, Insightful)

ender06 (913978) | about 5 years ago | (#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.

pick up chicks? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#27373239)

So where would I go to pick up chicks now?

Centralized labs enhance learning (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#27373267)

As a retired CS professor, it is clear that students, in a centralized lab setting, learn a great deal from each other. General computer usage knowledge sharing, (non-cheating) discussions among students in the same class, and (most important) a centralized lab provides the setting for working on team projects.

Sure, offer ubiquitous wireless networking on campus, but modify some labs to maximize team project meetings and similar collaborations.

Operating System and Applications (2, Interesting)

kasdaye (1243382) | about 5 years ago | (#27373329)

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 thankful I had access to the computer labs during that time.

Not everyone takes their laptops to school (1)

billlava (1270394) | about 5 years ago | (#27373339)

At my University, most people have laptops or personal computers at home, but not everyone takes them to school - I don't. Sometimes having all your software (games, music, etc...) at your fingertips is too much of a distraction. When I really want to get work done, I go to a computer lab where the hard drives are wiped nightly and only software that students need for school is installed. It helps me be productive and it apparently helps others too. I frequently see computer labs on campus full or near capacity during peak hours. That said, They'll probably still vanish in fvor of some sort of cloud computing server that students can log into to access university software within 10 years anyway.

No need for the labs! (1)

CaptainJeff (731782) | about 5 years ago | (#27373387)

Many people here are arguing that computer labs are useful so students can use software that is not typically installed on their own computers (Matlab, etc) or to interact with high-end lab equipment such as "cluster computers, clustered database servers and so on."

That is what remote access (RDP, ssh, X, etc) is for. A university can stand up many systems that run this software and provide access to them (the "server" resources) without a physical computer lab with the "client" access portions (thin clients, PCs running ssh or X software, etc).

Everyone has their own client-side computers now. The server/services can be provided by the university without needing to provide the client piece.

How terrible (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#27373419)

I'm sure this will be great news for all the economically disadvantaged students who can barely afford to go to school in the first place, much less buy a laptop that will run all the software they need.

Also, laptops get stolen.

collaboration environments.... (1)

codgur (1518013) | about 5 years ago | (#27373429)

The dungeon I called it. Gray, cold, smelly, mildew scent, low lights, slumped shoulders befitting someone who's 80 not 20, glowing monitors, code....lots of code....and collaboration. What set the stage for the future was this collaboration in the dungeon of my university where CS majors were vanquished to do 'whatever it is we do'. This collaboration still takes place today in data centers freezing cold working 8 hours helping to install sql server as no one else is brave enough (or stupid enough) to do, coding in cubes small enough and restricted enough so if you swing your chair you will hit someone else coding. Collaborating anywhere, in halls, using napkins to get your point across. Anything now where I'm paid to collaborate is better than the dungeon. I'm concerned that these "technology-rich collaboration area[s]" will not make em suffer sufficiently to take on the challenge. Not the code, not the hardware, but the challenge of working in sub-optimal conditions and still be able to perform. That is the true test and that is what my dungeon gave me. What did it give you?

Why Have Student Labs - Two Reasons (3, Interesting)

vic-traill (1038742) | about 5 years ago | (#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.

Demented and sad, but social (1)

otis wildflower (4889) | about 5 years ago | (#27373461)

I remember the campus computing labs being as valuable for nerd socializing (MUDs, netrek, etc) as for getting academic work done. Not to mention it was a pretty decent place to work, and the experience I gained managing a computer lab was more valuable as a job skill than just about anything else I got whilst at university.

It would be a shame for that aspect to be lost.

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