Tuesday, January 31, 2006

A wise friend used to tell me . . .

... never pick a fight with people who buy ink by the barrel. (I've recently seen that quote attributed to Bill Clinton, though that isn't who advised me.)

In keeping with my wise friend's advice, let me be perfectly clear (to quote another president):

I am in no way looking for any kind of fight with the folks over at the State Press. I love newspapers, I love web zines, and I'm appreciative of the interest they have shown in Downtown 1:1.

I'm just writing to expand on the information in the articles a little for those that are interested in more detail.

For those of you who may have missed it, Tara Brite wrote a story yesterday about Downtown 1:1, Downtown students may need laptops, and in the same issue there was also an OpEd piece, Editorial: Laptop requirement a no-no.

Now, after you read the articles, I suppose you might imagine that, given that I'm pushing this whole 1:1 idea, I might be a little crestfallen. I mean, neither article was exactly a ringing endorsement. And given that the editorial piece actually sort of came out against it -- right in the title -- you might figure I would be in regrouping mode today...

But as it turns out, after I read through both pieces a couple of times, I'm actually quite encouraged. Let me tell you why.

Let's start with Tara's article.

She opens with a basic summary of the facts. She says ASU is working on a plan for 1:1 for the Downtown campus. Offered as an alternative to the common computing model, Tara says 1:1 would mean no lines, but would mean student purchase of equipment, on unknown terms, with an unknown amount of aid available.

I do come across as a bit clueless I guess, when Tara paraphrases me as saying I don't yet know how much it will cost, or what the financing terms will be, but that I don't think affordability will be a problem. (Since if I don't know the cost or the terms, how could I possibly know anything about affordability?) In fairness to me and to Tara, it was a long interview, and she had to summarize the main points of our conversation. There's no doubt, I'd be a better champion if I already had the numbers worked out, but I don't. So there it is.

I thought Tara's examples were pretty evenhanded. Mike Munrow was a definite 1:1 proponent while Erica Barragan was 'not so much' with the idea because she's concerned about the financial impact on cash strapped students and kinda likes the computing labs.

All in all, I thought Tara's article was a fair report. I expect the average reader would come away with the idea that a 1:1 approach might not be a bad alternative to our current common computing strategy, but it would all depend on who's paying, how much they're paying, and what help there might be for people who can't pay.

So fair enough so far. Maybe even encouraging?

In contrast to Tara's story, the editorial piece did take, shall we say, a little harder line.

But not before acknowledging that a laptop is a pretty sweet item. Laptops are cool with the State Press editorial team, and they don't seem to be big fans of waiting in line for a computer at the Commons either. So at first, it almost seems like they're endorsing the idea.

But, like Tara and Erica, they're worried about the unknown costs, and particularly the impact those costs would have on students with limited financial wherewithal. Even if you do have to stand in a boring, frustrating line, at least with a Computing Commons everyone, regardless of financial standing, has access to the technology they need.

So, in the end, the State Press has to vote no on the concept of a requirement.

Now a lot of people might look at that as a half empty glass, but me, I figure we're almost 2/3 full. We're all pretty much agreed that 1:1 would be great, if only the laptops could be free.
So we're more than halfway there. Now, as they say, we're just haggling about the price.

But, some argue, if the laptop program can't be run for free, then maybe its better to leave things the way they are, because otherwise it won't be fair to people of limited means.

Which seems true but is in fact false.

If we leave things the way they are the digital divide doesn't narrow. It doesn't even stay the same width. It grows. Every term.

If we stick with the common computing model, then it’s only those of limited means that are going to be left out. If present tech trends continue, it's only going to be a year or two before nearly any student that wants one will have a laptop, leaving only the most financially struggling students as the ones forced to stand in line for a taste of tech.

Those with means will be on the sunny side of the digital divide, free to bypass the lines at the Commons and use their personal machines at a coffee shop instead. It will only be those without means who will have no alternative but to wait their turn for a crack at a common device.

No requirement, no aid. No aid, no personal computing for people of limited means. No personal computing, no experience of how tech works in the working world, among the technically literate -- because out in that world waiting in line to use a common computer has kinda gone out of style, unless you are really up against it. Which is not what we hope for our graduates.

1:1 is a way to bridge the digital divide not widen it. It's a strategy designed to bring all of us into the future instead of trapping the least fortunate of us in the past.

(Faithful readers of this blog will recall that I wrote a piece on this issue a month or so ago, talking about why I think we need a requirement, and touching on how affordable we hope we can make this program, especially in combination with a digital textbook initiative.)

Now I suppose it’s fair to wonder, "Why not just buy more common computers and spread them around the campuses so students don't have to wait in line?.

Well, to ensure no lines, we'd need a lot more machines, say 1 for every 10 students; maybe more. And many of the students we would be buying these machines on behalf of would already have machines of their own, more and more of them every year. ASU would continue to spend all of its support resources keeping those common machines running, leaving no time, energy or money left over to help students to maintain their own machines.

Clearly, given the tumbling price of technology, there has to come a day when students bring their own devices. I mean, we don't have common calculator labs, where students wait in line for 15 minutes with a TI-55. So, when is that day? What is that magic price point? If it’s anytime in the next few years, I just don't see how it can make sense to set up the new Downtown campus to follow a technology model established back in the 1980's.

Now maybe in a perfect world you'd do it all. You'd help people acquire devices of their own, you'd put devices all over the place for people to use, and you'd have enough support resources to provide excellent support for everyone, no matter how they did their computing.

But we're none of us rich enough for that, so choices have to be made. And I'm advocating that the right choice is for us to acknowledge the trend that is already happening, do what needs to be done to get everyone on the right side of the digital divide, and then use these new technologies for all they're worth.

Look, until we really work out three things,

  • the actual price,

  • the actual terms, and

  • the results of the survey

we are all of us shooting in the dark. (The survey results, by the way, Sam DiGangi assures me will be ready around Valentine's Day.) I wish we'd had more time to get ready for the Downtown opening but we don't, so we are going as fast as we can to try and get these things figured out in time for opening day. If we fail, then we deploy the common model. But if we succeed I think we're preparing for the future.

Like a lot of issues, when things are left undefined, people have to fill in the blanks, and often they fill in those blanks with the worst case. People's primary concern right now seems to be cost and that's unfortunately what we can say the least about. As Sarah said, that is the tricky part.

But know that we're working on it and we'll be transparent about what we come up with.

It’s clear that not so many people like to wait in line for the Commons/Technopolis/computing site computers. There is no way that model will continue forever. Downtown 1:1 is about ushering in the next way now.

Watch this space for future developments.


I thought the State Press editorial made a good point when it asked, "If I already have a desktop, why do I need a laptop?"

I'm still thinking about that. On the one hand, I agree. If you brought a desktop to school, and we go 1:1, then the same software delivery mechanisms and support services that work for a laptop user would work for you too. So no more need to stand in line, which is good.

But on the other hand, when you want that computer during the course of your day, you'll need to bring it with you or else go home and work there. Not so convenient. And as we improve the instructional technology system, I'm hoping that, as a student, the expanding range of instruction services will be so cool that you'll want recourse to them all the time.

That's why I'm focused on laptops/notebooks/tablets -- for the mobility and the ubiquity. A laptop is a mobile device that supports both content display and content creation, the combination required to support an active learner. These devices won't always be the right choice, because every year brings new options and new tools -- but I think a laptop is what most programs would pick as their platform if they had to pick today.

Other articles about ASU 1:1 ...
In Defense of 1:1

“Establishing the ASU Way”


Cameron Scholtz February 1, 2006 at 9:13 AM  

The goal is 1:1 computing--not laptops for all. An easy way to fast-track 1:1 (on the client end) is the cell phone. Cell phones have three P's if you will: Power, Popularity and Price.

A *lot* of 1:1 can be done without the users needing thier own laptops. I have a laptop and I rarely use it. For 95% of my computing I use my desktop and I use my cell phone.

One could argue that the cell phone is already the device of choice for consuming services including PodCasts, email and RSS. And they're increasingly being used for blogging, file sharing, storage and downloads. The high resolution of the latest cell phone screens makes it easy to read thousands of words throughout daily use. And today's cell phones even have TV and keyboard connections. If you have not seen the Cingular 2125, go try one out! In my opinion, phones like this are the future of connected computing.

Europe and Japan, help me out here. You know what I’m talking about. I rarely see someone standing around listening to a PodCast on their tablet PC. But I do see people everywhere engrossed in their cell phones. Students would rather tote a cell phone than a laptop. Hello--they can't talk into a laptop. They can’t take a laptop everywhere. But it’s amazing how much they can do on a tiny 2-inch screen.

Here's a test. Give a kid a laptop and a 2125. Betcha I know which one gets used the most. I can certainly tell you which is more connected.

First thing's first--get students connected. Cell phones are cheap. Cell phones are the ACME of connectivity. Power + Popularity + Price = Cell Phones. 1:1 the modern way.



Nate February 1, 2006 at 10:28 AM  

Adrian, I'm afraid I must take up a bone of contention with your numbers.

You wrote: "Well, to ensure no lines, we’d need a lot more machines, say 1 for every 10 students..."

While the accuracy of that statement hinges upon one's definition of "a lot", I'd argue that it is not supported by the facts.

During Fall 2005, the open-access computing sites had a peak demand (counting all users plus those waiting in line) of just under 700 concurrent PC customers. At that time we were providing 660 PCs. We would have needed an additional 40 PCs. This is hardly a large number in the grand scheme.

On the other hand, due to a continuing failure/inability/lack of desire/whatever to secure technology refresh funding for this equipment, only 394 PCs in the open-access computing sites have a 2GHz processor or better. The rest are sub-1GHz machines.

Because we are neither up to date in terms of number or quality of machines available, we are now in a position of needing some 306 or more new PC workstations along with a place to put them -- we just lost physical space to other demands -- (though our current staffing level would be adequate to support this theoretical facility just fine), it does ultimately seem that your 1:1 vision may be appropriate...

...and it is very much the "ASU way". Other people call such things a self-fulfilling prophecy.

If you un-build it, they will go I suppose.

Adrian,  February 1, 2006 at 3:05 PM  

This just in....A reader writes...

I was having a conversation with my daughter about the need for a laptop for school, she is currently an ASU sophomore, the parental reply is, I do not have the money so use the one in your room; this started a debate on justification for this laptop. What would help her; convince me to buy her a laptop? I started a list on the positives and negatives and this is what I think would be a good sell for the purchase/requirement of the laptop, please do not mention this to my daughter.


The $360.00 book store charge every semester for CDs books and these little notes or sheets of paper for $15.00 for her labs. I should have invested in the publishing company, to get some return on the books that the Bookstores do not want returned.

This is a positive, if ASU can convince the publishers to offer the books online or work a deal with Google to copy the books for us and post them online, only if they have worked out the copyright issues, which they were having problems with the book publishers back in 2003.

Her bedroom would be neater and she would be more organized with her school work because of her new laptop.

Utopia, the first generation of the paperless society, think of all the trees that could be used for something else, like building new building for more students and research at ASU.

This is a positive.

The new laptop/IPOD, could be used to record the lecture, incase she missed something in class also sell the lectures to her classmates, if they missed that day, possible R.O.I. (Return on Investment) that could be positive, I will need a lawyer to count that positive

The students could share wireless access information and build maps of all the free wireless APs across the valley, free wireless this is a positive.

Negatives I hate to be negative about anything but the price point of laptops needs to be reasonable and scalable to last 4-5 years because technology changes very quickly.

Remote desktop services are not capable of handle large numbers of clients.

Security issues don’t get me started on that, I put my daughter to sleep preaching to her about security on the network, the old rule personal responsibility and still I am not understood, thousands of students on campus, with a personal laptop and security holes, I wonder what could happen.

Who is going to help them, when the laptop crashes? Local support staff nice idea it will keep us busy and we can charge for that service, that is good enterprising. Could be positive

vinnys,  February 2, 2006 at 2:45 AM  

A Suggestion to the University for Students that cannot afford to buy notebooks. BYU rents refurbished desktops to students who can't afford their own. $15 a month off campus and $12 a month for on campus students. Could ASU do this with notebooks? Although this does not get ASU completely out from providing machines it is a good compromise and start.

Lou K,  February 2, 2006 at 4:29 AM  


A report just came out that talks about cell phones being one of the technologies to watch for educational purposes within the next 2-3 years. Its called the 2006 Horizon Report and it is a collaboration between the New Media Consortium and the EDUCAUSE Learning Initiative. You can download the PDF version from here: 2006 Horizon Report

Adrian,  February 4, 2006 at 12:33 PM  

A list of schools with laptop requirements...


pchorner,  February 6, 2006 at 5:27 AM  

Again, pretty much the way I view everything, I look at the 1:1 vision from a business perspective. ASU classes require students to purchase materials (books, articles, supplies, etc.) This is above and beyond the cost of tuition. How do students get these resources? ASU does not give them away nor even make these materials available via loan from its libraries. Students find the means to pay for them. The most frequently used source is financial aid. Financial aid formulation is very generous. Loan amounts exceed actual costs. I am going to go out on a limb here and speculate that probably over 90% of financial aid recipients receive enough funding to purchase a laptop. I performed a non-empirical impromptu survey and asked students what they used their excess financial aid money on- beer, TV set, Playstation, auto registration, road trip. I think some of you are making a mountain out of a molehill.
As for one person's concern about support of laptops- I don't see the need. Think about this, ASU provides the ability for you to park your car in an ASU provided parking space. Consider this the core access infrastructure (wireless gateway.) You brought your own car, not an ASU provided one. You acquired your car through your own means. ASU does not provide you with roadside assistance, a repair center, etc. for your car. Your manufacturer, dealer, or buddy down the street provides you with this service. Just like your laptop manufacturer, dealer, or buddy provides you this service for your machine. Nobody should expect ASU to provide these automotive services. You do expect ASU to provide parking spaces for your car. Just like I would expect ASU to provide a laptop-friendly environment. Now some of you are probably saying "Perry, I don't have a car. I can't afford it. I use the bus, I ride a bicycle. What do you say about that?" I say you are taking my analogy too far. ASU expects that you show up for your class. How you get to class is really up to you. If ASU required that you get to class via an automobile, then it would provide more parking. If ASU required electronic access/production devices, then it would be expected to provide the infrastructure to support the magnitude of devices. We are not in the mid-90s anymore with the $3000+ pricetags for laptops that are a couple generations behind in CPU than a desktop. Today we have every major laptop manufacturer with product lines in the sub $1000 category that are on-par with desktop capabilities.

STUDENT: Hmm... my financial aid check has an excess of over $700... new TV... new laptop... trip to Rocky Point...

lparsons,  February 7, 2006 at 7:09 AM  

It seems that most people agree that students would benefit from greater access to technology and that a laptop is a good fit for most situations right now. The main issue is how we (ASU) can help them get one. Of course, many students already have one, or at least the means to get one. However, there is certainly a sizable minority who will have difficulty procuring one. From that perspective, making laptops a "requirement" seems that it will provide more and better opportunities for ASU to help facilitate laptop purchases by those students. This can be through volume discount programs (I would assume most vendors would be willing to make very nice agreements with ASU to get their laptop brand in the hands of 40,000+ students), financial aid, and other programs to help defray costs.

Deciding which expenses are an individual responsibility and which the institution will help defray is a common and not so simple one. However, defraying these costs is exactly what an institution like ASU can do by sharing the costs among all University members. The computing labs are an example of how we do that today, by using everyone's tuition and tax money to provide computers for those who need it. The SRC, however, uses a different model where those that want to use it, pay, and those that do not, don't have to pay (as much). The SRC is considered more of luxury, while computer access is a necessity.

I have to agree with Adrian that personal computers are becoming a necessity, but have not yet reached a price point where we can expect everyone who needs one will be able to afford one. A 1:1 initiative at ASU would be a great way to enable ASU to assist it's students and put everyone on a (more) level playing field.

axness,  February 9, 2006 at 6:52 PM  

I am A ISU student that watched Adria speak earlier this week. This man is nuts in a refreshing kind of way. I fully support the $100 dollar computer initiative from Davos. $100 dollars is a huge amount of money to a person in the develping world. Yet, this amount of money is achievable for those with the ambition, and only those with the ambition will truly benefit from this technology. I plan on monitoring this blog. Thank you for your speech Adian. Keep pushing the ball up the hill.

JohnFrangerson,  February 1, 2007 at 3:12 AM  

Nice Post.

That was well said. Always appreciate your indepth views. Keep up the great work!