Chris Faigle sent along an article from our local NBC station that UVA plans to close most of its public computing labs by the summer of 2011. It’s a fiscal decision in a rough economy, with a stated rationale that with 99% of students bringing their own laptops to school, there isn’t a need for public computers.
This reasoning seems contrary to the pervasive use of public machines I see here at Richmond. It also runs contrary to data from the MISO Survey, a quantitative measure of faculty, student use and satisfaction with higher education IT and Library resources and services (disclaimer: I am a member of the MISO Survey team).
This past year was the first year that institutions took the survey for a second time, giving us our first longitudinal look at students, faculty, and staff. Within a 3-year period, students reported a 9% increase in laptop ownership (from 84.4% to 93.6%). In that same period, use of public computing labs on campus rose at a statistically significant rate (Time 1 mean 3.59 on a 1-4 scale, n=2617, STD 1.25; Time 2 mean 3.66, n=1949, STD=1.21).
It would be interesting to research the reason for an increase in public computing at the same time as a rise in laptop ownership. Is it specialty software? The social aspects of public labs? Insufficient power support for laptops on campuses?
I agree with the cost concerns around public computing. At Richmond, we’re concluding a Virtual Desktop Infrastructure proof-of-concept project, with the hope that we will be able to make software available to students on their own computers (similar to NCSU’s VCL) or at least via a thin client solution. There will always be a need for fat clients in some spaces, but these alternatives will make our environment easier to manage and our resources more ubiquitous. But UVA’s move seems unsupported by the data, and I will be curious to see what the long-term impact is for their students.