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Are Computer Labs Necessary Anymore?

The Chronicle of Higher Ed is running a story about the University of Virginia’s plan to phase out public computer labs on its campus. They claim that 99% of its students have their own laptops, and that a large percentage of the computer lab usage only involves basic computing programs like web browsers, PDF document readers, and office applications, all of which most of their students have access to on their personal computers.

This story struck a chord with me because for the last year we have been piloting a laptop program in the FYC program I teach in. In addition to a number of computer lab sections, as well as tech free sections, we have been offering several laptop only sections, for which students must agree to bring their own computers to class with them every day. The university loves the idea because it frees up a lot of the demand for lab space on campus and it keeps the FYC director happy. Also, the students seem to like working with their own computers more so than the school’s computers – at least for the purposes of FYC.

I’m not sure how I feel about the potential of phasing out computer labs all together, though, as Virginia is planning. I can see the financial benefits, but I wonder how well the decision really serves the needs of the student body.

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