Students get a choice: iPad or MacBook

George Fox University's "Computers Across the Curriculum" (CAC) program, which provided incoming undergraduate students with a laptop or tablet computer, was discontinued after the 2010-11 school year.

George Fox students will have the option of choosing the Apple iPad this fall.Incoming freshmen who enrolled at George Fox University in the fall of 2010 had a choice to make before they arrived on campus: iPad or MacBook?

With Apple’s unveiling of the iPad in January 2010, George Fox opted to give new students the option of choosing the new device or selecting its current offering, the Apple MacBook. For more than 20 years, George Fox supplied a computer for each incoming undergraduate student to keep upon graduating – a practice that ended after the 2010-11 academic year. The cost was included in tuition.

The decision to offer a choice put George Fox on the cutting edge of technology in higher education circles, according to Greg Smith, the university’s chief information officer.

“With this, we basically asked students ‘What computing system will work best for you?’” Smith said. “By giving them this option, they  chose between the iPad, a mobile device known for its networking and E-textbook capabilities, or the laptop, which offers more computing horsepower.”

The iPad features a 9.7-inch, LED-backlit IPS display with a multi-touch screen. At just one and a half pounds and a half-inch thick, it’s light and easy to transport. Like its mobile WiFi counterparts, the iPhone and iTouch, it is ideal for social networking and browsing the Internet. And, Smith adds, it could prove ideal for referencing E-textbooks, a trend whereby students can access their college textbooks electronically, with a goal for richer content and lower cost.

“The trend in higher education computing is this concept of mobility, and this fits right in with that trend,” Smith said. “At the same time, we realize there are a number of uncertainties. Will students struggle with a virtual keyboard? Can the iPad do everything students need it to do when it comes to their college education?”

For that reason, Smith stressed the importance of offering a choice.

“It would have been reckless to make a switch and only offer the iPad,” he said. “We honestly don’t know everything about it. But by doing this, we opened the door to innovation. What we learn can influence the future of technology as it pertains to higher education.”

To accommodate the offering of a mobile device, Smith said plans are in the works to expand WiFi coverage in university dormitories. The service is already offered on most of the Newberg, Ore., campus, including on its main campus quad and academic facilities.

Ultimately, the goal of the Connected Across Campus program is to offer the most innovative tools that promote teaching and learning.

“The issue for us is the changing landscape of educational computing and the value dilution of a laptop for a traditional undergraduate,” Smith said. “George Fox happens to find itself at the crossroads for both of these issues, so we felt it best to offer this alternative.”

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