February 03, 2003

Chapter 4: Conducting Cost/Benefits Analyses: Short-term Effects of the Laptop Program

By Robert Yates , Thomas Zubrzycki, Reed Watson, Matt Ciuca

Abstract

The purpose of this project is to analyze the impact and effectiveness of the laptop program in the college of Arts, Architecture, and Humanities at Clemson University. This project was introduced to the English 102 class, and research began immediately. After this main research, the class split into four sub-groups. Each of the four small groups concentrated on specific issues of the laptop program including: short-term benefits and costs, long-term benefits and cots, the Clemson University culture, and the teaching and learning styles. The short-term group after researching found that most students felt that in lieu of the costs and combined with benefits, the program was worth continuing. The one main question left open was from where this funding will come.

Introduction

Our research started with background on the Clemson University Laptop Program, including how laptop programs were implemented in other schools and how the program was brought to Clemson. The English 102 class, including our short-term group, researched the background of the stakeholders of the University. The class as a whole researched who constituted the administrative team of the program, where the funding for the program originated, and what is foreseen to be the future of the program. What answers could not be found or inferred from this research were compiled by the class and used while we interviewed the stakeholders.

After these interviews, the class decided on the tracks that were going to be followed in the research of the program. The entire class settled on four tracks of research. Our specific group, the short-term group, investigated the short-term effects (positive and negative) and short-term costs of the laptop program. Some optimistic effects of the program that the short-term group examined were smaller class sizes, more integration of technology in classes, having a personal portable personal computer, being able to add better visualizations in teaching, (and other effects on pedagogy), and having computer technicians to report to when technical problems arise. Some negative short-term effects besides cost of the program include technology becoming a distraction in the learning environment and possibly that learning without integrated technology could be a more effective method.

Some of the short-term costs that the short-term group studied were the costs of the computers themselves, and the costs of equipment needed to implement the program many hidden costs. The hidden costs include upgrades, insurance, and theft or loss of the computer. All of this information, combined with the research of the other groups, will be organized and analyzed to make a well informed decision as to how beneficial, or non beneficial, The Laptop Program is to Clemson University and all of the students that participate in it, or whom possibly will.

Methods

The research conducted by the Short Term Group began with the interviews of several of the stakeholders of the program. The groupís method of researching and getting information from the stakeholders involved straight research and interviews. These stakeholders interviewed were two crucial developers of the program Dr. Bernadette Longo and Dr. Elisa K. Sparks, the Program Manager Laurie Sherrod, and the Dean of Arts, Architecture, and Humanities, Ms. Janice Schach. The questions for each stakeholder were based on their previous involvement with computers or their involvement in initiating other upcoming programs. From the information gathered in these interviews, the group decided to divide the research into three main categories: actual costs, hidden costs, and the overall benefits of the program. This research was conducted individually, and then collaborated in order to gather as much information as possible.

The majority of the factual research for the short-term costs and benefits of the Clemson University Laptop Program was conducted on the Internet, namely the programís own website. The researchers in the group found valuable information on grants and funding the university and other organizations have provided for the program at this site. The information gathered on the internet also included the cost of the actual computers for each of the students in the 2000 Program. This price was compared to the cost of a comparable machine purchased elsewhere. More information, such as the cost of the "Smart Classrooms," (classrooms renovated to provide internet and power connection), and teacher training, was also included in the on-line research.

In order to get a grasp of the publicís opinion of the costs of the program the group created a survey which was distributed to students currently enrolled in the program. Although some produced simple "yes" or "no" answers, the majority of the survey was intended to induce answers with more substance and meaning.

The groupís opinion was that personal answers would yield a deeper understanding of the publicís overall impression of the program and its immediate usefulness. Therefore, the groupís survey consisted mainly of non-pointed, yet carefully crafted questions that probed each studentís opinion. The surveys presented a broad perspective of the opinions and conceptions held by the nucleus of the program, the laptop students.

Results/Discussions

The data retrieved from the research done on the short-term effects of the laptop program at Clemson can basically be split into three major sections; actual costs, hidden costs, and other effects. A closer look at the numbers and information reveals much about the effectiveness and practically of the laptop program, as well as the attitudes toward it.

The actual short-term costs of the Laptop Program were traced as far back as 1997. During this year the Department of Mathematical Sciences received approximately a $49,000 Provost Innovation Grant. This money was appropriated for laptops for six professors and two "Smart Classrooms."

In December of that same year, Provost Rogers funded a three-year pilot laptop program with an annual budget of $150,000. This budget principally covers the salary of the program director, purchase of laptops and software for faculty participants, and the summer support for other faculty needs, primarily training and course development. The university has committed and estimated $450,000 to further support the program (clemsonnews.clemson.edu). This money was intended to provide network support, student and faculty hardware and software support, faculty development such as getting the teachers interested in the program and successfully training them, and the necessary scheduling and developing of courses.

The actual cost to the student to be in the program was best summarized by the quoted price of the project machine. Since the university required the same machine for all students and offered it at the lowest price, this cost is considered to be accurate for every member of the program. The price the university offered in 1998 was $2,463 plus any shipping and handling charges.

The program machine was a Dell Latitude CPi with a 233 MHz Pentium II processor, 64 MB of RAM, 12.1" screen, 3.2 GB hard drive, modem and Ethernet card. The software package included Microsoft Windows 95 and Microsoft Office 97 Standard. For 2000, the base price was $2,276. The machine was a Dell Latitude CPt with a 500 MHz Celeron Processor, 128 MB of RAM, 14.1" screen, 6GB hard drive, modem, Ethernet card, MS Windows 2000, and MS Office 2000 Standard.

Simple calculations put the total cost of The Laptop Program at approximately half a million dollars. This number was quite shocking to the group, considering the growth of the program and the present lack of funding for the future, since the Innovation Grant ends after this year.

As the laptop program intends to grow, more classrooms, teachers, and support facilities will be necessary to accommodate the increase in participants. Obviously more funding will be required as well, but no apparent source has been identified. The other option would be that the laptop program comes to an end. The fact that all of this money, besides what the students paid, plus the cost of remodeling and work done to Martin Hall, (the home of the laptop classes) was spent on merely 150 students was also quite alarming. The benefits of the program must strongly be considered before the program is continued further with such high costs.

Many of the hidden costs of this program cannot converge to a specific monetary value. This means that we have to look at what the tendency of this data proves to us. We found that most of the facts related to loss or theft would deal with insurance and loss of intellectual property. The loss or theft of a machine like ours cannot be replaced on a cost of machine basis. First of all, many people get insurance policies on their laptops. This was a number that could not easily be found out. After consulting three major insurance agencies, it was apparent that homeowners insurance covered the theft of a laptop. An agreement must be made between the laptop owner and their insurance company, where a deductible is set and a maximum repayment for loss is established. This varies depending on the ownerís needs and the insurerís rates and policies. Depending on deductibles and the level of insurance already being provided, adding a laptop to the policy may range between $40 and $115 per year. Deductibles are usually between $250 and $1000.

Although the money invested in these computers is very significant, large amounts of data held on the hard drives could be irreplaceable. This could include papers, programs, and other important files. Sometimes, this information can never be reacquired. There are however, many ways available to avoid the loss of data. One way is to make back-ups by means of disks or other conventional means of data coverage. The University itself implements the other main way. Each student is given 50 megabytes of space on network drives that they can put information on. But backing up big files makes this 50 MB run out quite rapidly.

These two ways can help offset the hidden costs of loss or theft. This is strictly based on the ownerís actions though. Another theft aspect is the ratio of non-laptop students to those who have one. We have a very limited number of people in the program; only 1.5% of all students at Clemson. On the other hand, at Wake Forrest, every student in the University has the laptop. In a personal interview the Wake Forest students replied that there is no need to worry about theft. They told us that every student has the exact computer that they have, therefore there would be much less incentive for theft. Of course, we know that theft can still happen for other reasons than not having a computer. Money can be a factor in this. Looking at it, we do see that the chances are far less for theft in this situation.

Other areas of hidden costs include upgrades and accessories. Many people felt like they needed more items on their computer than what the required computer was. Some people have bought external CD burners for extra storage of data. One of these was found for $225. Other areas include upgraded memory, or hard drives. Some people chose to do this. Though the base 128 MB RAM seems quite sufficient, some opted for increased speed and performance. Also, 6 GB of hard disk does really not seem enough space for all the programs and files that might possibly be needed. However, this was not something that affected each individual buyer; it was a hidden cost. Printers could be purchased separately also. A low line printer can be bought for $75 - $100.

Another item that was suggested for the laptop students were book bags and a cable to lock up your computer. A cable could be bought for as low as $25 and the book bags averaged about $55 by Jansport. There were many other book bags available.

Students also had to buy an Ethernet cable to connect them to the network on campus. This was a requirement. However, this was not listed in the price of the computer. You could get these anywhere, the bookstore, or even local computer store. A $200 deposit made by all laptop students to Clemson University mostly covered the software. This provided us with the essential software. Any software needed above and beyond this is incorporated into the hidden costs. This information was very useful. We found many areas that we, as current students of the laptop program, had not even looked into. When examined, the hidden costs are quite significant, and can be part of the decision process on the program. Here is a table of the approximate hidden costs that a prospective student would potentially encounter:

Additional Items: Cost:

CD Burner $225
Software Bundle $200
Printer $100
Book bag $55
Cable Lock $25
Ethernet Cable $5
Total: $610

This table shows a summary of costs. These costs can be expected to vary, but this should allow for an analysis on the idea of hidden costs. These hidden costs total $610. Although, compared to the entire budget of the laptop program, this amount does not seem significant, but they are significant to the applicant to the program. Although, these costs are more directly related to the personal level of the laptop program, they have to be evaluated by the people who are thinking of being in the program as well as the stakeholders. The stakeholders still need to make sure that the hidden costs would not defer students from applying for a position in the program.

The other short-term effects of the laptop program besides costs may give us better insight into whether this program is truly worthwhile and worth the funds. In our interview with Dr. Longo, who is an English teacher of a laptop section herself, we found that she obviously has definite perceptions about the short-term effects of the laptop program. She feels that since over 80% of students are entering Clemson University with computers already, the transition to a laptop will come easily the majority of students that choose to enroll in the program. The program itself will aid in the transition, mainly due to the fact that the laptop program greatly decreases the size of classes and turns classes that have the possibility of being large lecture halls into a closer knit learning environment with great student teacher interaction. This interaction basically enables the students take charge of their own learning.

In our interview with the dean of AAH, Janice C. Schach, we discovered that she feels that the laptop program could excite students about learning, which in the short term would most likely enhance their performance in classes, or at least interest. The dean went on to explain that the laptop style of teaching is based in pedagogy. Technology supports a pedagogy that uses a computer to enhance learning. Dean Schach eventually sees the university going completely wired, so it is important now to initiate a base of strong technology to build on in the future.

In the survey we conducted, four survey questions did not have strictly yes or no answers. (A copy of the survey can be found in the appendix at the end of this document.)

The first question, "What would you estimate a top of the line laptop would cost?" is almost self-explanatory. The answers range from $2,000 up to $10,000. The mode answer was $3,500, and the mean was $4270. The next question, "Should faculty members be paid extra to teach laptop sections? If so, how much?" was split almost in half. Extra pay for faculty teaching laptop sections would encourage more professors to go through the training and put the time in to do so, but in turn serves as yet another added cost to this already expensive program.

57% of people surveyed believe that teachers should not be paid more. Of the 43% of students who do believe that teachers should be paid more as an incentive to teach laptop sections, most are in concurrence that the teachers should only be paid more if their specific class required more planning and work because of the laptops, or if new software needs to be learned in order to teach it to the class.

Another question was, "After the innovation grant ends, (after this year), who should make up the difference in funding?" 69% of students believe that the university should make up the difference. If this program does prove to be effective and worthy of university funds, then this would be a simple answer to the cost problem. But the university needs those funds for many other things, and if the program does not merit university funding, then it would be unreasonable to ask for it. Another 28% donít know where the funding should come from, and the other 3% believe that it should be taken care of by the laptop students themselves, since they are the ones benefiting from the program. This does seem unreasonable, because the program costs entirely too much to be funded by a mere 250 students. Our last open ended question was, "With such a high cost to the University, what do you see as the benefits being? Do these benefits justify the costs of the program?" 14% percent believe that the costs outweigh the benefits. The other 86% reason that the long term effects of the program will be very helpful in the workplace, and that the short term effects such as more interest in learning and communication skills can be utilized now. (See full results in the Appendix)

From the results of the yes/no section of the survey, it is apparent that all students would prefer to have smaller classes when possible, because they believe it will make their learning environment more concentrated. Of these students, 91% of them believe that the integration of technology in this concentrated learning environment will be more conducive to their learning and benefit their education in the long run. When asked the question concerning incorporating laptops and software into classrooms, 87% believed that it would enhance their teachersí pedagogy. This shows that the students are willing to try new methods of learning because they believe it will benefit them more than it could hurt them. This idea is very appealing to students if they know that there will be a help desk to assist them with any computer related problems (100% answered yes).

Though the majority of students do favor the use of technology and laptops in the learning environment, the 42% believe that the technology could become a distraction in the classroom. Considering that, the students still believe that that these innovations can replace traditional teaching methods. Furthermore, the students believe that the additional costs of a laptop are outweighed by the additional benefits in the classroom. In conclusion however, the students want these benefits but do not realize the costs of running the program.

Conclusion

The short-term costs of the Clemson University Laptop Program vary widely from the actual cost of the machines for the students to the development, support, and continuation of the program. This ranges from "Smart Classrooms" to teacher training and administrative to software support. Presently, the Innovation Grant, which totals $450,000 for three years, covers the majority of these and numerous other expenditures, but will terminate at the end of this year. After reviewing and compiling the survey results, it is apparent to our team that the majority of the students involved are in favor of the laptop program and integrating technology in the classroom, but are not in favor of any increased costs a program such as this might produce. Instead, they feel that the university should pick up any of these costs after the grant ends; however, it does not seem apparent to these people that the school picking up such costs would increase tuition, another financial increase the people would not like to see.

The question still stands: Who will provide the necessary funding for the program after this year? Regardless of where the funding will come from in the future, the research that has been gathered has led the Short Term Research Group to conclude that the overall costs to continue the program are quite extensive, yet necessary. It is not possible, however, to judge the overall merit of the program after only evaluating the short-term costs of the laptop program. This will only be possible after all research groups present their research analysis.

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