The Student Laptop Initiative is a project designed to put in place the policies and support services required to enable UQ’s aspirations for high-value classroom experiences, using technologies where coordinators choose to take advantage of them.

This initiative is endorsed by the DVC(A) and led by Dr Sam McKenzie (ITaLI) in collaboration with ITS and the Library.

Strategic alignment

To achieve the University’s vision of high-value classes in a place-based learning institution, it plans to increase active learning in classrooms. To achieve that goal many coordinators have been embracing a range of technologies that enhance the face-to-face experience, such as audience response systems, and eAssessment systems. Currently, taking appropriate advantage of these technologies is impeded by the lack of a requirement for our students to bring a laptop to class. Instructors need to know their students will have a laptop in the class in order to use these tools.

Project overview

The goal is for all University students to own a laptop in a way that allows them to study in any location, at home or in study areas or in class. This proposal for ubiquitous laptop ownership is based on an adjustment in our enrolment requirements, combined with support and equity services. To cater for the fact that most students already own a laptop, and to allow fine-tuning of support, the laptop requirement would be introduced in phases starting with first-year undergraduate courses and postgraduate courses.

For several years now the University has progressively been adopting a range of technologies that enhance the face-to-face experience in our classrooms including audience response systems to gauge student understanding of topics; live in-class discussions boards; live co-editing systems for brainstorming and collaboration; eExams; and the new UQ course evaluation system, which students currently have to answer predominantly in class. Examples include ExamSoft, Responseware, WordCloud, UQPoll, Padlet, WordStream, and Mirroring360. It may also be possible in future to make some laboratory applications available to students via their laptops using virtual desktop technology.

This initiative is strategically compatible with the Student Strategy’s push for flexible and active learning. In addition, student-owned laptops are a key prerequisite for the University’s eAssessment Project that aims to create and develop digitised assessment practices that facilitate improved pedagogical practices and increased administrative efficiencies.

Benefits

With an adjustment to our student computer support services, and with a move away from University owned desktops towards student-owned laptops, we have an opportunity to enable more flexible and in-class active learning on campus. This adjustment may improve the value and attractiveness of the UQ in-class learning experience, and focus investment where it provides the greatest value to students.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

If we know that most students already own a laptop, why do we need a policy for all students to have one?

While some technologies can work adequately under a collaborative/sharing arrangement, there are increasingly technologies where coordinators need to know that ALL students in the class have their own device. For instance, students can’t share a device to sit an eExam.

What if some of the existing 95% student-owned laptops are underpowered or unreliable for the required applications?

Processing power will be addressed with a phased introduction over four years, where students studying first-year subjects are given reasonable notice of the requirement, and the recommended specifications. The UQ’s Scholarships and Support scheme offers Equity Scholarships for students that require support. In early 2019 a laptop will be "highly recommended", followed by policy change making it a requirement.

Why can’t we get by with library/lab computer on campus, and students owned devices at home?

Library and lab computers cannot be taken to class. It's not feasible to fit out every classroom with a computer because it would be a duplication of computers in Libraries and labs and other study spaces, and student computers at home.

What if a coordinator does not want to use laptop based learning technologies in class?

Coordinators can indicate that a laptop is not required in the ECP. This preference should not prevent other coordinators from making use of student laptops in their class if they elect.

Many laptops will not have sufficient battery life to last a full day and so late classes may not work.

It may be sensible to increase the number of electrical sockets in study spaces to help with recharging, so where a student has both an early and a later class they can recharge. However, it is not feasible to install electrical charge points at every seat in every theatre and library/study space. With improvements in battery tech, it may be redundant before it is complete. The proposed solution is to encourage students to purchase a portable power bank suitable for a laptop if they think they require. The bookshop can be asked to stock these.

Why do students need an actual laptop? Can’t they use a tablet or a smartphone?

Small screen Wi-Fi-enabled portable devices, such as tablets or smartphones, can be used for some in-class learning activities. However, the same devices are not ideal for writing significant pieces of assessment (e.g. 1000+ words) due to the small screens and keyboards.

What if students can’t manage their own software properly or use unlicensed software, or experience reliability issues that interfere with in-class use?

The vast majority of students are already managing their laptop software on their own, with the support of AskUs. AskUs resourcing can be increased if required, as the policy is incrementally introduced.

For electronic exams, can’t we just use desktop computers in labs?

There can never be enough labs to run most end of semester exams as eExams.

Student laptops will not be able to run some lab applications.

Not all labs will be made redundant with the introduction of the laptop policy. Some will have to be maintained if they require special hardware connections or particular processing capabilities. It may be possible to move some of these special applications to a virtual or cloud environment.