UTSA initiative to expand technology reach

(April 26, 2004)--UTSA's Teaching and Learning Initiative steering committee continues to work to expand the use of technology in classrooms to enhance the learning experiences of students at the university.

The steering committee, representing students, faculty and staff, will soon propose to UTSA President Ricardo Romo a plan to begin a laptop initiative that will, over the next several years, expand student access to their courses and research materials via the Internet.

Several university committees currently are reviewing information from computer manufacturers to provide computers and support services to UTSA students. "To best serve the students and entire university community, we are seeking input from all academic areas of the institution," said David Johnson, executive vice provost and chairman of the Learning and Technology Initiative steering committee.

"Our hope is to develop a plan for UTSA that best serves the largest number of stakeholders while at the same time helping us make the transition toward becoming a campus where students use either a laptop or a tablet PC as part of their learning experience," he added.

"At this time, we are reviewing information from the country's largest computer vendors to determine whether or not we want to select one or possibly a couple of companies to be UTSA’s preferred provider of information technology for the laptop initiative," said Johnson.

In preparation for this program, UTSA is installing a wireless computer network on both its 1604 and Downtown campuses that will allow students to access the UTSA computer network from most public areas on campus and almost all classrooms. Installation of the wireless network will begin this spring and should be completed in 18 months.

Using the wireless network, authorized computer users can log on to a public segment of the network, tentatively named AirRowdy, and access online applications such as Banner/ASAP, library resources, WebCT and the Internet.

As part of this interview, Johnson answered some frequently asked questions related to the technology initiative:

What are the objectives of this initiative?

Many universities around the nation have been incorporating Web technology into their courses for several years now. Studies of these early experiments indicate that technological innovations that are properly designed and implemented can enrich the learning experiences of students and enhance their academic performance.

Reflecting this national trend, many faculty at UTSA have integrated Web technology as a valuable learning tool in their own courses. Our initiative seeks to build upon the work of those pioneering faculty by encouraging a wider adoption of technology in our courses and by developing the means for all of our students to gain access to this important learning experience.

How will the initiative be phased in?

We are planning to create an environment for technology-assisted learning with two converging strategies. First, we will work with faculty to develop their knowledge and ability to supplement an increasing number of their courses with Web-based assignments and materials that enrich their course content.

Second, we will develop a partnership with one or perhaps two major vendors who can provide our students with affordably priced laptops and appropriate support services so that students can access the growing amount of coursework being offered online. We initially will concentrate our efforts to develop Web-based course content for English composition and college algebra classes, both of which are now taught through the Office of the Freshman Initiative.

Will laptops be mandatory for students at UTSA?

Committed to providing access to excellence, UTSA continually wrestles with financial aid challenges facing its students. As a result, issues related to cost of the laptop computers and financing options are very important considerations for the committee. As we phase in this initiative, students taking English composition and college algebra will be able to check out laptops that will be available in their classrooms.

When we have selected a vendor or vendors who can work with our students to obtain affordable laptops, we will phase in over the next several years an expectation that our students will have a laptop to assist them in their coursework.

Does that mean I may never have to buy a laptop?

Again, UTSA will undertake a gradual implementation of the laptop initiative. During the early stages of the Freshman Initiative, if a student is unable to purchase a laptop and is enrolled in a pilot class that requires one, a laptop will be available as a loaner during the time of the class.

Currently at UTSA, some classes require the use of computer technology, whether a student uses a computer at home or in the computer lab – or uses a laptop. And students should realize that very soon additional classes, labs and even textbooks will require computer technology. As a result, a laptop computer accessing the campus wireless network will become the most efficient means for students to use WebCT, the Internet and other online applications used in their courses.

Everyone seems to have a favorite computer company. As a result, can students buy whatever product they prefer for the laptop initiative?

A laptop initiative at UTSA will support one or possibly two preferred computer vendors. By doing so, UTSA will be able to provide on-campus repair services and other technical support for the students who purchased their computer from the selected vendor or vendors.

This does not mean that other laptops cannot be used depending on their configurations, but the best scenario for a student at UTSA will be to purchase a laptop from the company selected to be a partner with the university. Again, this will be phased in over time to help students adjust to the new learning environment.

Can I provide input to the steering committee?

Absolutely, as the committees responsible for looking at proposals from the major computer vendors are reviewing their proposals at this time. Please send your thoughts and suggestions to David Gabler, assistant vice president for university communications.

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