Perry: All campuses need wireless, laptop environment
By ELISA SAND, Staff Reporter
Dakota State University may have been the first wireless college campus in South Dakota, but it hasn't stood alone for long. DSU unveiled the first phase of its wireless network in early 2002 and announced plans later that summer that made the entire campus wireless. The campus tablet program began with freshmen and sophomores in 2004, juniors in 2005 and seniors in 2006.|
South Dakota School of Mines & Technology followed suit with the implementation of a laptop program. Now, the South Dakota Board of Regents wants all campuses to get on the wireless bandwagon.
It's a move that includes financial contributions from each institution as well as one-time state funding, state approval for additional support staff, and implementing a requirement for student enrollment that includes the purchase of a laptop that meets certain specifications based on the program in which the student chooses to enroll.
The one-time funding need is $11 million, but the Regents have a plan that would provide that funding. Regents Executive Director Tad Perry said the Regents could free up the funding by shifting the employee payday from the last day of the month to the first day of the month.
That move puts one entire payroll into another fiscal year's budget and frees up funding for the wireless initiative in the current year's budget.
But the change isn't without consequences. Those on the regental payroll who are planning to retire in the near future could see it affect the amount of their retirement pay.
"It doesn't change anyone's pay," Perry said. "But it might affect retirement pay for those retiring in the next three years."
The Regents employ 5,500 people across the state.
Finding the funding without this payroll change has limited options.
"Without this change, the state can put up the necessary funds or the cost will get passed on to the students," Perry said.
But, making a move toward a wireless environment on all campuses is keeping with a trend that's taking place nationwide, he said.
"It's what's happening across the region," Perry said. "More universities are making the move."
Perry said that only SDSM&T and DSU are currently wireless, among 60 percent of the nation's universities that have gone wireless.
"Part of the effort is to get to 100 percent coverage," he said, referring to having all state campuses with wireless environments.
Converting to wireless, he said, is a way for universities to stay competitive.
"South Dakota is ranked among the top states for education technology," he said. "If we want to stay there, we have to move forward."
By 2011, Perry said, the Regents anticipate that 50 percent of high school students will come from a school laptop environment.
"They'll be looking for laptop environments when they graduate," he said. "We want to keep these kids in the state."
By the same token, the Regents are looking at teacher preparation in a wireless environment. Four of the five universities have teacher education programs, he said, and just one -- DSU -- has a wireless laptop environment.
That puts student teachers not coming from a wireless environment at a disadvantage, Perry said, if they aren't learning in a laptop environment.
Perry said that in order to achieve a laptop environment on all campuses, a wireless infrastructure must be installed.
Classroom environments also need to be modified to more "computer friendly" atmospheres. Perry said current individual desk environments aren't as conducive to computer use as classrooms with larger tables.
Classrooms need to have projectors and electronic podiums set up for electronic instruction.
The change will also mean additional support staff in the form of technical people and curriculum designers.
Perry said the Regents are requesting additional funding that would provide 26 technical staff members at the different campuses and 17 faculty development curriculum designers.
Both requests for the payroll change and the funding for additional staff will go before the state legislators for approval.
Campus funding, he said, will come in the form of redirected funds.
And, although students would now be required to have laptops for enrollment at a state university, Perry said, that requirement would have a minimal effect on students. According to state estimates, 90 percent or more of students enrolled at state universities already bring laptops to school.
"This shouldn't be an undue burden to the students," he said.
Perry said the first phase covers about 50 percent of existing programs as soon as the fall of 2009.
As for DSU, Perry said, its work has just begun.
"They'll share their experiences with the rest," he said, "and their charge is to stay out in front and look at the next best technology."
©Madison Daily Leader 2013
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