Sep 12th, 2016 @ 1:01 pm | Author: Tisa Mason, Ed.D., CAE
In 1990 the North Dakota State Board of Higher Education gave Valley City State University a mission designation to be a leader in the application of instructional technology.

In 1996 VCSU leaped into the 21st century as the first laptop computer university in the state—and one of just three universities nationwide—that provided laptop computers for all students and faculty. This fall, therefore, marks an important milestone for VCSU: 20 years as a laptop university!

It must have been very exciting to be on campus in the fall of 1996 when all students and faculty were issued laptop computers complemented by networked campus facilities and renovated classrooms equipped to promote maximum use of the laptops as tools for learning.

Here is a timeline of a few of the exciting accomplishments tied to our laptop initiative:
  • 1996: VCSU became the first university in North Dakota, as well as the first teacher preparation institution in the United States, to implement a universal laptop initiative. Then we had eight “modernized classrooms” with large-screen projection systems. Today we have 53 classrooms and nine meeting rooms with permanent audio and video projection equipment— encompassing almost every laboratory and classroom, and many of our meeting spaces. Data storage available to each user has increased over 1,250 fold since 1996!
  • 1997: VCSU was recognized by the National Council for the Accreditation of Teacher Education (NCATE) as one of the nation’s leaders in preparing future teachers for the 21st century classroom.
  • 2002: VCSU received the Distinguished Achievement Award from the International Society for Technology in Education in recognition of exemplary models of integration of National Educational Technology Standards (NETS) into the VCSU elementary education programs.
  • 2009: VCSU began providing Apple MacBooks for education to augment our PC environment because teachers in local school districts were using Macs.
  • 2013: The university adopted two platforms—PC and Mac—based on major, with departments largely selecting either the PC or Mac based on industry use in the respective postgraduate fields. Because we provide the laptop, a student who changes majors and therefore needs different technology can take a quick walk over to our Technology Service Desk to swap machines rather than make a call home to mom and dad to discuss an expensive computer switch.
  • 2015: Faculty undertook a collective, concerted effort to replace textbooks with free online resources for general education classes, a task easier to accomplish with the support of the universal laptop initiative. This past year those efforts collectively saved students more than $82,000 and provided for the use of dynamic, interactive hands-on-learning tools as well as an increase in student satisfaction, teaching, and learning.
We are very proud of our laptop initiative. The use of technology transforms the traditional classroom into a vibrant multisensory learning environment through use of on-demand Internet resources, rich audio-visual presentations, threaded discussions, and much more.

Our students experience higher productivity and reduced technical problems. If a student has an issue, it is likely that another student can quickly and easily help since everyone has a standard set of hardware and software. And students never need to go to class without a working computer. If there is a problem, our outstanding tech staff can help immediately. If the laptop cannot be fixed on the spot, a different laptop is issued immediately; the student’s academic journey is not slowed down one bit.

Jodi Shorma, assistant professor in VCSU’s Language and Literature Department, shares these thoughts:

“My students highly ranked ‘access’ as a benefit of VCSU’s laptop initiative: access to information, access to industry-specific workplace tools and software programs, and access to personal learning tools. VCSU’s technology infrastructure provides and supports laptop Internet connections allowing students access to unlimited information for completing their learning projects. VCSU’s academic programs maintain close relationships with professional experts so that classroom and online learning opportunities with workplace tools and software programs—such as SAP applications, Microsoft Project, and lesson-plan builders—model current business, industry, and education trends and practices. Access to personal learning tools, such as text-to-voice readers, text-highlighting features, and citation engines, allows students to independently support their learning needs.”

Some people have told me they believe that with the easy access students have to computers today, the VCSU laptop program is no longer needed. I strongly disagree. Can you imagine running a business where everyone brought their personal computer to work?

When all are working with the same technology, teaching and learning can be accelerated. Faculty can depend on every student having a functioning laptop with the right software (and the same version of the software). Security is better with everyone served by professional security tools.

The laptop program also provides equitable computing access—no “haves” and “have nots.” Professor Shorma weighs in again:

“My professional writing class this fall ranked ‘equality’ as the greatest benefit of VCSU’s laptop initiative. Their reasoning was simple. VCSU-issued laptops provide students equal opportunities to learn. My students’ access to technology in their high schools varied from a one-room PC computer lab of 25 desktop computers for 200 students to a school-issued tablet for all 600 students. My students inherently recognized how gaps in technology opportunities among high school students could easily translate into the same gaps among college students. My students viewed these technology gaps as a significant challenge for students and teachers in college learning situations. However, VCSU-issued laptops close the technology gap among students, providing equal opportunities for them to learn.”

At VCSU we offer exceptional programs in an active, learner-centered community that promotes meaningful scholarship, ethical service, and skilled use of technology. That is another reason why I love VCSU and why it is a great day to be a Viking!