A New Era for Computer Labs?
A recent article in the The Chronicle of Higher Education examined how computer labs fit into the current academic culture, and how universities are planning their futures. With a large number of students owning laptops (83% according to the article), schools are finding traditional computer labs increasingly unnecessary. If students already have computers that they can carry around with them, why should the university spend hundreds of thousands of dollars maintaining computer labs?
Many schools have already begun eliminating the presence of labs on campus. The University of Virginia announced a plan this year to remove all of its computer labs in the next three years. In doing so, they join schools like Case Western and Wake Forest as schools without traditional computer labs.
However, this doesn’t mean that schools are against the computer lab environment. Schools have begun taking a creative approach at how to offer students access to the expensive software present in labs, as well as a communal work environment. Many schools have begun to offer a virtual lab environment, which students can access from any computer. These virtual labs have all the software that students need. Additionally, many schools have begun building a new type of computer lab:
Pennsylvania State University and UVa have already started building the Lab 2.0. Both universities offer a number of lounge-style labs on their campuses, replete with modular furniture and 60-inch flat-screen televisions. And Penn State recently turned an old computer lab into a gaming center, where Xbox 360s, Wiis, and flat screens replaced more than a half-dozen Mac computers.
While the general trend appears to be going smaller, some schools, like Temple, have been building newer and bigger labs. What should Penn State do? The thing that bothers me is that while 83% of students own a laptop, that means that still 17% of students don’t. Is Penn State responsible in this economy to pressure students into buying laptops? Is it really fair to eliminate the access to computers which these students need to complete their school work? With so much emphasis on using the internet (ANGEL, eLion), how can we get rid of these labs?
What do you think? How often do you use the labs? What would you like to see happen in the future?