May 08, 2003

Chapter 2: From Gun-toting to Computer-Toting: The Changing Culture of Clemson University

By Matthew Ables, Jim Breitmeier, Anne Hosey, James Mullinnix


Clemson University has a long history of staying at the forefront of the technological race as electronics of all kinds have advanced. This tradition has had many effects on the culture of the University. The Pilot Laptop Program is one of the most recent steps in the effort to keep up with the times. This program will most assuredly have various affects on the culture of Clemson University. Through interviews, surveys, ethnographical methods of participant observation, and analysis of information, our group has considered the consequences of this program and has presented the positive and negative effects that may come about as a result of this Laptop program so that the reader can see how this program is changing Clemson Universityís culture.


New programs are introduced and discontinued quite frequently on Clemsonís campus. Whether a program stays and is built upon or whether the program is stopped and allowed to fade into the past depends on how worthwhile and helpful it is. It also depends upon how well it performs the job for which it was created. Almost always, the programs that are accepted are the ones that fit in well with people and have a positive influence on society in general around Clemson. While the chapters that follow this one may speak on the economic issues surrounding the laptop program, or the way in which it benefits and hinders the learning process, this chapter will discuss how the program is shaping Clemsonís culture. How does the Laptop Program affect the way that the students interact? How much time do students now spend in front of a computer, and does that affect the studentsí priorities or activities on campus? How does the program draw students into the learning environment, or how does it distract from the class? All of these questions and more concern the shape of Clemsonís culture. Is it shaping it for the better, or for the worse? This is the question that we will attempt to answer. Whether this new program is worth its expenses, and whether this program satisfies the purpose of why it was introduced will decide whether this program will stick around or simply fade away like many others before it.


The goal of our research group was to find what effect the Laptop Program is having on the culture of Clemson. By discovering the effect that the program has on Clemson culture, we hope to help the stakeholders make an educated decision regarding the future of the program. The members of the culture group are Matthew Ables, Anne Hosey, Jim Breitmeier, and James Mullinnix. In order to discover the effects that the Laptop Program is having on the culture of Clemson, we used several methods of research. Members of our research team investigated histories, conducted interviews, sent out surveys, and used ethnographical methods of participant observation for both laptop and non-laptop classes in order to assess the effects of the program.

Group member Anne Hosey researched the history of Clemson University, from its founder to its most recent programs. Through historical research, the culture group was able to determine the basis for Clemson's culture, and the ways in which the laptop program might change that culture.

Matthew Ables conducted the interviews for the culture group. Ables devised questions pertaining to the culture of the University and how the Laptop Program is changing that culture. Some sample questions that he asked were "What effect has the laptop program had on the culture of Clemson?", "Do you see the program dividing people socially?", "How has the change in technology changed Clemson over the years?" and "What underlying politics are involved with a program like this?" He conducted interviews with Dr. Jeffrey Appling, Ms. Carla Rathbone, and Mr. John Kelly. Dr. Appling is a Chemistry Professor at Clemson University. Ables interviewed him because he rarely uses the laptop in his laptop classes. We hypothesized that his lack of laptop use signified that he was dissatisfied in some way with the program. Carla Rathbone is the head of the Collaborative Learning Environment (CLE) at Clemson University; so her interview focused mainly on the technical aspect of the Clemson culture. Mr. John Kelly is the Vice President of Public Services and Agriculture. That interview focused on how the Laptop Program is changing Clemson from an Agricultural school to a University that is more focused on technology. Ables conducted the three interviews, and then picked out some common themes that hesaw in each interview. He used their responses to generate several ideas of how the University has changed as a result of the increased use of technology and to speculate on what role the Laptop Program will play in the future of Clemsonís culture.

James Mullinnix created a survey question about the Laptop Program, and distributed them via email to all current laptop students (see appendix). The survey consisted of eight open ended questions that were worded not to lead the survey participants in one direction or another. The questions concentrated primarily on the cultural aspects of the Laptop Program. Mullinnix compiled the results of the surveys and used them to draw conclusions about the affect of the Laptop Program on the current Clemson culture.

Jim Breitmeier conducted participant observation sessions in both laptop and non-laptop classes in order to see the ways that students in both types of classes interacted with each other. In some cases, Breitmeier talked with students outside of class in a conversational manner in order to glean information about their classes. He did this without directly stating his goals, so not to bias the responses. After the conversations, Breitmeier informed the students of his motives, and at the students requests, has kept their identities confidential. Breitmeier visited the laptop sections of Chemistry 101 section 100, Engineering 101 section 100, English 102 section 100, and Math Science 106 section 101, and the non-laptop sections of Chemistry 101 section 2, Engineering 101 section 3, English 192 section 4, and Math Science 108 section 5 in order to gain information about the teaching and learning techniques employed, and the participation of students in the classes. After the information was collected, Breitmeier reviewed it and compiled his findings.


The interviews, surveys, and observations provided the culture group with information regarding the way that members of the Clemson community view the Laptop Program.


The historical information that follows is based on the works of several authors; Getting to Know Clemson University is Quite an Education, by Joseph C. Ellers, Tales of Tigertown, written by Mary Katherine Littlejohn, and Visions, written by Alan Schaffer. This section will offer an extensive history of Clemson University so that we may see how Clemsonís culture has changed over the passage of time, starting at the beginning.

The year is 1883. The South is in ruins, both physically and economically, as a result of the Civil War. Thomas Green Clemson sits at his desk in the house he has inherited from his late father-in-law, John C. Calhoun, a house that rests on a plantation known as Fort Hill (Ellers 6). Clemson's face is lined with sadness. The last ten years of his life have been tragic; he has endured the death of his wife and two children (Ellers, 9). The Jeffersonian farmers of the south are in poverty, outsold by the larger plantations that can grow massive amounts of cotton (Ellers 9). Clemson is writing out his will by candlelight; leaving the Fort Hill Plantation to the State of South Carolina in the hopes that an agricultural college will be established and built on his father-in-law's land (Ellers, 9). Through his own work with the Plantation throughout the 1840's and 1850's, Clemson has come to realize that the uneducated farmer is fighting a losing battle (Ellers, 6).

Throughout his life, Clemson has fought for the development of schools of scientific learning. The Morrill Act, introduced to congress under the name of the Agricultural College Act in 1857, established that each state would receive 30,000 acres of federal land per congressional representative for the purpose of education (Ellers 7).

Clemson hopes that the Morrill Act will allow for the formation of a school in South Carolina. That this will be a school that will educate the state's farmers, allowing them to break free of the endless cycle of poverty plaguing the yeomen class.

In 1893, five years after the death of Thomas Green Clemson, the Clemson Agricultural College of South Carolina opens its doors to an all male, all white, military, student body (Ellers 1). Prisoners from the South Carolina Penitentiary are working to construct the campus's first buildings (Littlejohn 1). Many of the prisoners that help to build the Clemson campus will become employees at the college after receiving their parole (Littlejohn 1). Tillman Hall, the most prominent landmark on the Clemson campus, is standing when the first class to enter Clemson arrives. The boys are given identical gray uniforms and told to stand in military formation. They have their heads shaved and are assigned to living quarters. The bells from Tillman Hall signify class and mealtime.

The first years at the Agricultural College of South Carolina, Clemsonís former name, are anything but peaceful. In the early 1900's, frustrated students protest the poor quality of the food and living conditions and the stringency of the military policy by walking off of the campus, an act prohibited by the administration (Schaffer 2). The students are severely punished; over 300 of them are expelled in 1908 as a result of the "walkouts" (Schaffer 2). "Free thinking" is not a phrase that is in the vocabulary of the college's administration. The Agricultural College of South Carolina provides a strict, conservative environment that encourages discipline.

Despite setbacks, the college continues to grow. In 1907, Clemson takes its first steps in the communication world by installing the ifirst campus telephone in Tillman Hall (Littlejohn 32). The installation of the telephone extends Clemson's communication to the "outside world," mainly Pendleton and Seneca. The campus newspaper, The Tiger, is also founded in 1907 (Littlejohn 31). The Tiger can be thought of as the beginning of communication across the curriculum, since it gives students a chance to explore campus wide issues.

In 1914, the First World War begins. Most of the students and professors leave Clemson to fight in the War. The War, while emptying the Clemson campus, gives women a chance to be employed as professors at the college. The first woman professor at Clemson, Mary Evans, begins teaching botany in 1918 (Littlejohn 41). The women are no longer thought of as being out of place on the Clemson campus.

The Great Depression hits the United States, affecting everything from businesses to colleges. Clemson professors face severe pay cuts, but continue to teach at the college (Ellers 18). Graduates have trouble finding good paying jobs; many of them end up working for free (Ellers 18-19). The professors and students continue to work despite adversity. The start of World War II in 1939 ends the Great Depression, and once again empties the Clemson campus. The government uses Clemson as a training ground during the war for the U.S. Army Air corps and engineers (Ellers 19).

Post World War II reveals the relationship between the State of South Carolina and Clemson. Many soldiers come to Clemson by means of the GI bill in order to prepare to serve the growing textile industry in the south (Ellers 19). The college responds by instructing the students in the field of textiles and industrialized farming (Ellers 19).

In the 1950's, the Honors Program begins at the college, creating an elite group of students with special privileges (Ellers 51). Another social grouping occurs in 1955 when women are admitted to the college, and the school becomes a non-military institution with ROTC offered as an option, not a mandatory requirement (Ellers 23).

By the 1960's, records are kept on IBM computers in the basement of Tillman instead of being written out by hand (Ellers 60). In 1960, local fraternities and sororities are authorized by the Clemson board of directors (Ellers 31). The first African American student, Harvey Bernard Gantt, is admitted to Clemson in 1963 (Ellers 45). Clemson is expanding socially, encompassing many different types of people and organizations. In 1964, Clemson changes its name from the Clemson Agricultural College of South Carolina to Clemson University (Ellers 59).

In the 1960's and 1970's, as unrest and anger plagues campuses across the United States, President Edwards decides to limit the growth of Clemson University to an ideal of 10,000 students (Ellers 125). In Edwards's mind, limiting the growth of the University will allow for a more controlled environment, and diffuse the potential for major problems, such as violent protests, that are occurring at other universities (Ellers 125)

Always ahead in the technology race, Clemson uses computers from their earliest form to the Pentium IIIís of today. Between the years of 1984 and 1985, DCIT starts making computer labs available to students and begins using "mainframe mail" as the earliest form of email. In 1995, Clemson forms a contract with the Novell networking system, which allows every student to have his or her own individual hard-drive space on the network and to have his or her own personal email address.

Students without their own personal computer in their rooms had access to these resources from computer labs located all over the campus. By simply signing onto a PC with his or her own user name and password, a student could access their personal files and retrieve their email, as well as surf the World Wide Web and use many other resources.

In 1998, the College of Engineering and Science begins offering a Laptop Program to its students. The College of Agriculture, Arts, and Humanities follows the lead of CES, offering the program to incoming freshmen in the year 2000. The students in the program take their personal laptops to special Laptop Classes in "smart classrooms.

According to Joseph C. Ellers in his book, Getting to Know Clemson University is Quite an Education, "as a building must rest on a firm foundation, Clemson University rests on the labors of the past" (Ellers 3). Clemson's past, and the people and events that make up that past, define the culture of the University. As time passes, Clemson culture continues to change. The Laptop Program is the newest addition to the Clemson culture. The program creates an elite group of students who are involved with technology everyday through their laptop classes. Through our research, we discovered how the Laptop Program is affecting the culture of Clemson University. How will Clemson's story continue?


The interviews with Mr. John Kelly, Ms. Carla Rathbone, and Dr. Jeffrey Appling yielded a generally positive response regarding the effects of the Laptop Program on Clemson Culture.

John Kelly, Vice President of Public Services and Agriculture, said that the increased use of technology at Clemson has had both positive and negative effects on the University. According to Kelly, email is one of the positive aspects of the increased use of technology on the Clemson campus. Kelly feels that email has changed the Clemson atmosphere and the way that things are done at the University.

Email allows information to travel to more people in a much shorter amount of time then ever before. The speed of communication improves the productivity of both the staff members and the students at
Clemson. Kelly spoke briefly on how computers have changed the way presentations are delivered as a result of PowerPoint and other graphic tools. Despite email's positive qualities, Kelly stressed the impersonal nature of emails and how easily they are misunderstood. Kelly feels that restrictions need to be placed on the things that the computer user can do in order to protect Clemsonís reputation. He did not propose any ideas for what kinds of restrictions, but we believe he meant restrictions with what can be said in emails so as not to offend people or ruin the reputation of Clemson University.

Kelly's opinion of the Laptop Program is very positive. He enjoys the fact that the laptop students hold classes in the Botanical Gardens, and stresses the importance of having the flexibility to take the computers everywhere. Kelly also thinks it is important for the students to combine learning activities such as writing papers with technological skills, like designing web sites for those papers. He feels that the Laptop Program brings students and faculty together through their common love for computers.

Carla Rathbone, director of the Collaborative Learning Environment (CLE) at Clemson, spoke about the history of the network on the Clemson campus. She stressed how advanced Clemsonís labs are compared to labs at other Universities. Among those advances is the quality of computers (every lab computer is a Pentium II or higher), abundance of computers, availability of labs over all of the campus, and the user-friendliness. Rathbone said that Clemson is unique because every student has access to a computer (through public labs), their own email accounts, and their own storage space on the network. The concept of every student having his or her own place on the University lab computers is termed a "virtual laptop". Rathbone felt that laptops could be used for some activities that lab computers could not, such as holding class outside of the classroom or conducting projects out of doors. However, she did not feel that these things were a necessity.

Dr. Jeffrey Appling, a Chemistry Professor and the co-author of the Chemistry CD-ROM used by students at Clemson spoke extensively about the use of computers on campus. Appling favors email because he dislikes the constant interruption that telephones cause. He believes that email eases the communication process by allowing him to get information to his students faster and all at once. However, he did not like the fact that his students can use email as a way to send him hate mail, criticizing his teaching or just simply being offensive, as he has had experience with in the past.

Although we thought that Appling would have a negative view of the Laptop Program, his interview proved otherwise. Appling believes that the Laptop Program is useful for some classes, but not for others, and that it is not useful for his Chemistry classes because computers were being used in the Chemistry classes before the Laptop Program came along. He believes that the way that the Laptop Program works has taken time away from the things the Chemistry classes have done in the past. He feels that the Laptop Program is designed to encourage the use of computers, which he considers a good idea, but just not for all classes.Appling stated that laptops distract the less disciplined students very easily, so he makes his students close their laptops until they are ready to use them. He has found that some students canít discipline themselves enough to not play games or surf the web during class. This could cause a major problem in studentsí grades and interrupt the learning process. Therefore, he tells his students to keep the tops down on the laptops until they are working on a project that uses them. He liked that the Laptop Program makes his classes smaller because it allows him to get to know his students better. However, he fears that the smaller classes aspect of the program will disappear as the program expands because of the higher number of students that are enrolling in the classes. Appling reported no difference between the grades in his regular classes and the grades in his laptop classes. He also stated that the Laptop Program seems to bring his students together.

Many of the laptop students have the same classes, and they share a common interest in computer related areas like MP3's, computer games, and web sites. He feels that laptop students have more control over their learning environment than non-laptop students. If students can take their computer anywhere, they are much more likely to use it. One problem that Appling is finding with the Laptop Program is thestudent's dependency on the machine. This provides students with excuses such as "my computer crashed" or "WebCT is not working", when it is time for assignments to be turned in.


Although 374 surveys were sent out to students in the Laptop Program (see appendix), only forty-four of the students responded. The students that did respond seemed to have a positive opinion of the Laptop Program. This could be an example of voluntary response bias, since people with strong opinions are usually the ones to respond to surveys.

The first question asked the laptop students whether they noticed a change in their interaction with other students in the Laptop Program. In response to this question, there were twenty-seven "yes" answers and fourteen "not really" answers. The rest of the questions in the survey were designed to discover more information regarding the interaction between students in the laptop classes, and how it differs from students in non-laptop classes. The second question asked students if they spent more or less time meeting outside of class with students in the Laptop Program for school assignments. The results on the second question yielded fifteen "yes, more" responses and twelve "no" responses.

Question Three asked whether or not the student's laptop classes ever meet in online environments. Most students answered "yes" to this question.

Question Four through Question Six attempted to determine whether or not the Laptop P rogram has an effect on the time the students in the program spend online.

Twenty-five survey participants said that their amount of online activity stayed about the same upon entering the laptop program. Eleven students said that their online activity increased upon entering the program, while five students reported a considerable decrease in online activity. The last question in the survey asked, "Do you find it easier, harder, or the same to interact with people in your laptop classes as opposed to non-laptop classes?" Twenty-six people found that it was easier to interact with people in the Laptop Program, eight people saw no difference, and only three found it harder to interact with people in their laptop classes.


Breitmeier's observations revealed information about the differences between laptop classes and non-laptop classes. In classes like English and Calculus, the Laptop Program has little effect on class size and a strong effect on content. Conversely in both the Engineering and Chemistry courses, the laptops reduced the size of the classes, but held little advantage in the educational experience received. Of the laptop courses, the Calculus, Chemistry, and Engineering courses were comprised primarily of CES students, while their non-laptop counterparts consisted of a mixture of students studying a wide range of fields. The laptop sections had only minimal loss of students, and relatively high attendance compared to the non-laptop sections of these courses. This could be a result of the innovativeness of the professors teaching in the Laptop Program; their classes are more interesting and therefore their students are have a positive attitude regarding attendance.


Clemson's culture is revealed through the history, social structure, and technological development of the University, starting from the day it opened its doors. The Laptop Program, the latest development here at Clemson, has effects on the Clemson culture. The effect of the Laptop Program, however, can be likened to any change on the Clemson campus. The installation of the first telephone, the admission of different races and genders to the University, and the development of the Honors Program all served to change the culture of Clemson.

The admission of women and African Americans allowed for the formation of different social groups around campus. The acceptance of fraternities and sororities and the creation of the Honors Program allowed for elite groups of students to form. These changes in the Clemson culture have had many positive effects on the University; positive affects that arguably outweigh the negative ones. The Honors Program and the Greek system do create elite groups of students. The Honors program, however, gives students an incentive to work hard and also offers programs like tutoring that serve the rest of the community. Fraternities and sororities also serve the University through community service. Hopefully, the students in the Laptop Program will use their knowledge to help other students at the University as well.

Based on the results of the histories, surveys, interviews, and observations, it is evident that the Laptop Program is affecting the culture of Clemson. In general, students in the Laptop Program find it easier to interact with their classmates, spend more time out of class on projects and assignments, and share a common bond with their classmates through their interest in computers. Laptop classes seem to have a higher rate of attendance than non-laptop classes. The Laptop Program seems to facilitate a learning environment that involves not only the students in the program but the professors as well.

The interviews support the theory that the Laptop Program is increasing student interaction and creating a learning environment, since the people interviewed praised email's ability to increase communication between the students and the professors. Although the laptop computer sometimes serves as a distraction to students in the program, it is in general viewed as a positive learning tool.

The Laptop Program is creating an elite group of students. However, this group is elite in name only. Since every student on campus has access to a "virtual laptop" through the University labs, the "elite group" of students in the Laptop Program is only elite because the students have laptop computers that they can take to class. Since the CLE is accessible to all students, it is possible for any class to meet in an online environment. Each student has a space for a personal web page, so the Laptop Program
is not elite in that aspect either. There are many students at Clemson who are technologically skilled but choose not to participate in the Laptop Program. The laptop students, therefore, are really no different from students in non-laptop classes. We have merely been given a title. As the Laptop Program expands, the "program" itself will become obsolete in a way because it will become so large and broad over the entire university. The program will begin to include more colleges, and the diversity of the laptop classes will increase. In the future, every student at Clemson will probably have a laptop, and it will be used in class much like we in the Laptop Program use ours.


The culture of Clemson is changing. The increased use of technology is bringing the campus closer together, allowing for easier communication, and preparing students for the future. Clemson culture has come a long way from its birth in the secluded, militaristic environment of the University. Clemson University has the ability to communicate not only across the curriculum but also with the rest of the world. The Clemson culture will continue to expand, most likely becoming more liberal as Clemson students become globally aware. The changes in the culture of Clemson are probably inevitable, and the University does have the responsibility to stay at the top of the wave of progress, lest they be left behind and drowned by more technology-oriented schools.

The Laptop Program is the next logical step in the technological evolution of the campus. The program will allow Clemson to keep up with developments in technology world wide, and will allow South Carolina to stay on the cutting edge of technology as well. The program, however, will soon become obsolete. In the future, there will be continued integration of technology and learning. If the laptop program expands to include the entire university, then there will be no real need for a specific Laptop Program. It will be absorbed into the culture of the university, just like changes throughout Clemson's history.

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