Access issues have been identified as one of the most important and potentially damaging situations that surround the use of computers in the classroom. If a given class includes a large number of computer-based assignments, students with easy access to public computer labs (such as students with on-campus housing at a largely commuter-based institution) or students with their own equipment will have more time to complete those assignments, thus giving students with their own equipment a potential advantage over students without such easy access.
According to a recent article in the Chronicle for Higher Education, "[t]echnology has also burdened students with new fees, either added to tuition bills or collected for individual services -- among them laser printing, e-mail accounts, and at-home Internet access" (Colleges With Computers).
This disparity is eased in the case of courses which schedule large amounts of computer time during class times or which are entirely scheduled in a lab environment and in which students are given time to write during the class. However, even in these cases it is not eliminated, only reduced.
One solution is to require or to provide computer equipment for all students, staff, and faculty, and to provide inexpensive software through site licensing. This has been done on a limited basis - at several institutions, students are required to purchase laptops before beginning classes, and UIC is presently in the process of equipping all faculty members with their own office computers.
Given the economic clout of universities - large number of potential consumers all gathered together to benefit from a single program - we should be able to solve the access problem.
But we will never solve it by building more labs unless we are willing to commit to "every classroom a lab." That is, we could provide enough access by making every single classroom computer equipped. Even this would create a disparity between those students that own their own equipment and those that do not.
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Last Modified: August 2, 1996
Copyright © 1996 by Keith Dorwick