February 03, 2003

Chapter 5: Our Crystal Ball: Long-term Effects of the Laptop Program

By Mark Stewart, Justin Haas, Jeremy Christie, and Seth Carroll


This study explores the long-term cost and benefits for the current Clemson University's laptop program and its students in the college of Architecture, Arts and Humanities for the next 15 to 20 years. The goal is to objectively inform the stakeholders of the program about its expected long-term effects on Clemson University, specifically the economic costs of the programs continuation versus the cost of not continuing the program. Some costs are obvious such as the cost of using wiring classrooms, but most long-term costs are not as clearly defined as the short-term costs. These hard to define costs are the ones incurred if the laptop program is not continued, such as lower paying jobs for graduates that are not technically apt. The rising costs of the program are mirrored by the rising costs in all areas of education.

The benefits are even harder to judge monetarily. Higher freshmen retention rates and average test scores and class rank of applicants are becoming apparent due to laptop-based programs.

The research for the long-term costs and benefits of the Clemson University Pilot Laptop Program was conducted by Mark Stewart, Justin Haas, Jeremy Christie, and Seth Carroll. Research was conducted, through a survey of Laptop students, at the Cooper Library, on the Internet and through interviews of various individuals that have direct connections to the Laptop Program.


The Pilot Laptop Program at Clemson University is at a critical point in its lifespan. Many decisions concerning the direction of the program are currently facing those involved in its administration, funding, and development. Information concerning the long-term vitality of the program may be valuable to this process. Because of this, the chief goals of this research team have been focused on examining the future benefits of the program to the University, investigating the paths that other such programs have taken, researching the projected costs of the program, and comparing the program to the technology of the future.

Since there are no programs of the like that have enough history to carry any absolute comparisons to that of our own, much of the research has been based on projections and, therefore, promise no certain outcomes. Because of the scope of our research, the Long Term Costs and Benefits team found it necessary to conduct its exploration with the use of surveys, Internet sources, and interviews. The purpose of this research is to provide as neutral and accurate presentation of our findings as possible in order to aid the Stakeholders of the Pilot Laptop program in their evaluation of the longevity and usefulness of the program.


During the first portion of research, all members of the class research groups conducted in-class interviews with the new Arts, Architecture, and Humanities dean, Janice Schach, English professors Dr. Elise Sparks, Dr. Bernadette Longo, and College of Engineering and AAH Laptop Coordinator Laurie Sherrod. After completing the interviews, the team met at Cooper Library and broke down the notes from the interviews to concentrate on the long-term costs and benefits of the program. After revising these notes, the research team compiled a list of specific benefits, costs, and hurdles for the long-term outlook of the program.

Next, the research group split into parts to examine particular items concerning the long-term evolution of the Laptop Program. However, after some problems initially, each individual redefined his research goals. Justin Haas concentrated on the long-term monetary, space, time and physiological (such as the emotional strain generated by not attaining a high-quality job because of the lack of technical skills) costs of the program. Seth Carroll looked at how the program would benefit Clemson in the future by keeping it competitive with other Universities and providing employers with a properly trained staff base. Mark Stewart examined how technological advances such as the advent of 2nd generation "laptops" and wireless networks would affect the capital expenses of the Colleges involved and the future of the program. Jeremy Christie looked into the projected future of the program such as who would have access and how it would benefit these people on an employability standpoint.

While conducting the individual research, the group met together to compose a survey of current laptop students. Wanting to prompt a response, the group decided to make the survey short and open-ended. Following the revision of some individual ideas, the survey was mailed out to all the students involved in the Laptop Program. Once all replies had returned, the group extracted what information was relevant to our research purposes.

Jeremy Christie put together a simplistic, straightforward survey posing the questions that were most important to his research and sent it to colleagues in industry, to get their views on the programs benefits and costs.

After all individual research was done, the team met to combine ideas and information. Each person was then responsible for writing a small, informal report of their findings. These findings were then drafted to form the final research paper.


To examine the need for a continued progression toward technological and information based advancements at Clemson University (i.e. the Pilot Laptop Program), it is necessary to monitor trends Information Technology and to examine their relevance to the evolution of the pedagogy at Clemson University. Since such trends that directly speak of the success of Laptop Programs have not been in existence long enough to provide any certain conclusions, observance of trends in a related area, like information-based jobs, can provide insight into the probable advantages of information and technology based programs on the university level. "Reinventing Schools: The Technology is Now", a combined study of the National Academy of Sciences and the National Academy of Engineering, explains the growth of information-based jobs in the workforce over the last 195 years (Figure 1 below). Figure 1 (Par. 5)

Widely accepted historical data suggests these trends: the agrarian society of the early to mid 1800’s, whose workers livelihoods depended on cash crops (such as tobacco, cotton, rice, and indigo) gave way to the Industrial Revolution, whose workers livelihoods hinged on the production of consumer goods and manufactured products, which is, in turn, giving way to the IT (Information Technology) jobs of tomorrow, whose employees livelihoods rest upon the creation of e-commerce and information distribution.

The investigation into the long-term costs and benefits of the Pilot Laptop Program is directly related to this drive toward an IT job market, which not only affects the engineers and scientists of tomorrow, but the writers and the historians as well because they will be required to provide this information in electronic form. Undeniably, certain costs (both monetary and expansionary) must be weighed in the consideration of the value of implementing a long-standing program. According to the study "The Costs of Incorporating Technology into Education," by Brian M. Tissue of the Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, the costs of implementing such a program are:


Capital cost of computer and network hardware and software.
Installation cost, including classroom and laboratory renovation.
Hardware and software upgrades.

Support personnel for hardware and software installation, repair, and maintenance.
Support personnel and facilities for training and support of users (instructors and students).


Space converted to computer labs takes the place of classroom or laboratory space. Classrooms or laboratories that add computers or space for computers can accommodate fewer students.


Increased instructor time to remain knowledgeable of advances in information technology.

Increased instructor time to provide high-tech communication or resources that are redundant with existing low-tech activities.
Technology instruction replaces science instruction (classroom or laboratory time).
Learning technology replaces learning science (student study time)" (par 17-24).
Tissue is saying that the costs go beyond the monetary resources, that they include space for facilities and time to build space, time to train faculty, hire administration, and redesign the pedagogy.

What benefits, then, are present to balance the costs proposed by Mr. Tissue? In several interviews with those closely associated to the program, many of these benefits were outlined. According to Dr. Bernadette Longo, Assistant Professor in Clemson University’s English Department and member of the Notebook Pilot Program Committee and Dr. Elisa Sparks, Clemson University Professor of English, the introduction of technology into the classroom causes an explosion of new teaching methods and an evolution of the pedagogies. In addition, Dr. Longo is proposing the introduction of IT teaching (online communication of students and faculty, online homework, online quizzes, online research, and computer assisted learning software), in the form of the Laptop Program creates an interactive learning environment between teachers and students. Janice Schach Clemson University’s Dean of the Arts, Architecture, and Humanities College also envisions an "across-the-board experience, where all students are actively involved in the learning environment."

A key example of this concept is the campus-wide laptop program initiated by Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, North Carolina started in 1997. Wake Forest includes the price of the laptop in the tuition of the students, replaces it after two years, and the machine becomes the property of the student immediately after graduation ( par 1). An important part of the , is a laptop community called STARS (Student Technology Advisors). This program involves intimate student/faculty interaction where students have "one-on-one partnership to explore the use of technology in teaching and research" (More about:, par 1.)

The results from Jeremy Christie’s Survey showed that the employees and employers in the workforce that were sampled, felt that the project was a positive addition to the University and was well worth the cost on taxpayers and students alike. This group also felt that any deficiencies developed in the oral tradition of communication, wasn’t the fault of the use of technology in the classroom but the failure of the liberal arts class such as English, History, and other humanities to adequately teach these skills.


Education correspondent for ABC News, Bill Blakemore, summed up the dilemma of modern education when he said:
In the information age, the human beings that industry needs are those who can do their own thinking, get actively involved, work in teams, and be innovative, not merely industrious. The problem is, the factory model school, which doesn’t encourage those qualities, is still with us and needs to be replaced with a new kind of schooling that does (Reinventing Education, par 4).

Blakemore’s "new kind of schooling" could easily be found in the Clemson University Laptop Program, a program that teaches students to "…own what they learn" (Sparks). In the Reinventing Education study, the new age of information is introduced as something that requires people to think for a living rather than perform manual labor. This evolution of the job market forces the educational system to create innovators, critical thinkers, communicators, and go-getters (, par 8).

The opportunity, as broached by many, is in the way technology can open doors. For instance, students who previously disliked English, now enjoy the classes due to their affinity for the laptops in front of them. The laptops allow for an interaction and sense of community among the students and faculty alike. In addition, they allow Liberal Arts students exposure to technological growth, while fostering an appreciation of the Arts in students of the sciences and math (Sparks and Longo). This attitude was shared by Dr. John A. Dossey of Illinois State University in a speech on transforming schools to meet the needs of modern society:

Technology itself is not the curriculum. Technology is a key that opens opportunities for students to learn in the classroom. It is a way in which we can bridge what in the past have been large gorges that have separated students from opportunity. (Reinventing Education, par 16)
And the learning doesn’t stop in the classroom. Michigan State University professors have recently advocated a radical change in the teaching methods of universities to "…reformulate teaching methods to encourage continued learning after graduation (Interactive Learning, par 3). This is to be accomplished by the use of "…different teaching techniques…" (Interactive Learning, par 5), "…more classroom interaction…" (Interactive Learning, par 6)., and "Using technology…" (Interactive Learning, par 8).

However, there are many obstacles to overcome en route to this information evolution. From problems with the machines themselves, to lack of administration, improvements and renovation will have to be made across the board. Not only are the logistics of the program in question, but its place in the university. Even if the program continues, will it be campus-wide, a separate college, or integrated into one or more colleges that already exist all of these questions must be answered to determine the future of the program (Sherrod). Unfortunately, there is no real evidence from other programs, because none exist, to answer these questions. Therefore, the decision to move forward or not will be made with these uncertainties.


When considering these long-term effects, costs, benefits, and other details of the laptop program’s effect on the college of art architecture and humanities, one must take several things into account. Before making a final decision as to the future of the Clemson University Laptop Program, these positive and negative aspects of the program must be evaluated. After a close evaluation of all the long-term effects of the program, it appears that the program is a step in the right direction for Clemson University and should be continued. This conclusion is based on several ideas that were found through research. Obviously, when cutting-edge technology is involved, there are inevitable costs that come. Several costs were found during research. Some of these costs were tangible, while others were intangible. In the case of costs, it often happened that the hidden costs turned out to be more valuable than those that were not. Costs included such things as money for hardware and software, but also the loss of normal education and loss of time. These costs and several others make up the negative aspects of the laptop program. However, as our research showed, there is a tremendous amount of benefit that comes with the use of more technology in the classroom. Whether it be a simple thing like enjoying a class more, or being better prepared to work in today’s world, the laptop program offers an immense amount of benefits.

When weighing negative aspects against benefits of the program, the benefits far outweigh any costs that the program may entail. However, the decision to continue the program is not going to be an easy one.

The program’s pilot status and lack of support by some faculty makes it a large risk to continue. Because there is no tangible proof that point to the success of the program, it is difficult to gain support from some people. While our research supports the program it is merely an educated guess at best at what the outcome of the program will be. That stated, and realizing the risk involved, the laptop program should be continued. This conclusion is based on the idea that it is necessary to take risk to make great gains. Clemson University owes this chance to its students so that they can be more prepared to succeed in life. If this institution truly is one of the best colleges in the country, than its students should be given every chance to succeed. In the long run, the laptop program has a promising future as to how it can help students to succeed.

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