... 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”