January 1998 // Case Studies
Information Technology Initiative Comes of Age at Grove City College
by John G. Inman
Note: This article was originally published in The Technology Source (http://ts.mivu.org/) as: John G. Inman "Information Technology Initiative Comes of Age at Grove City College" The Technology Source, January 1998. Available online at http://ts.mivu.org/default.asp?show=article&id=1034. The article is reprinted here with permission of the publisher.

Since the fall of 1994, every entering freshman at Grove City (PA) College has received a personal laptop computer as part of the College’s Information Technology Initiative. Then, as now, one of the more dominant principles behind this Initiative was to lay the foundation for success in using technology, not only during the students' academic careers but also during their professional careers as well.

The initiative continues today as the 559 students who entered Grove City College in the fall of 1997 were issued a Compaq Armada 1510DM computer loaded with Microsoft Windows 95 and Works Version 4.0. Bundled with each computer was a Canon BJC-240L Color Bubble Jet printer. The College retains ownership of each computer system until a student graduates.

Grove City College is a four-year, private, liberal arts school with a faculty of nearly 140. Current enrollment includes 2,250 students. Tuition, room and board is $11,050 per year.

Program Objectives

The Grove City College Information Technology Initiative was started to accomplish the following:

  1. To prepare students for excellence in their chosen profession by providing the necessary technological tools and instruction;
  2. To recognize, in a tangible manner, the fact that state-of-the-art computing is moving away from centralized computing and rapidly toward distributed computing facilities following the concept of Anytime/Anywhere Learning;
  3. To increase the technological resources available to students on campus while reducing the total cost of technology ownership to the College; and
  4. To centralize all support activities including the computer help desk, training and repair shop staff.

Why a Laptop Computer?

In 1994, Grove City College, like many other institutions of higher education, was being challenged by the speed at which computer technology was changing. Students were graduating with what was felt to be only a limited understanding of technology. Not all students were required to use a computer and those who were required to use a certain application did so only for their class assignment and did not take the next step to integrate an application into a personal life need. Also, students were required to use one of the many computer labs on campus. These labs had to be constantly staffed, maintained and improved. The College support staff spent much time traveling to remote labs to reload corrupted software. Requests to upgrade computer hardware two or three years after purchase began to increase the cost to our students.

Furthermore, standards for hardware or software had not been established. The small software support staff was overwhelmed with the duty of supporting numerous software packages on campus. Although desktop computers typically provide more hardware for the money, the lack of portability and increased support costs made the decision to use laptop computers clear.

After considering these major issues, the College adopted a laptop based one-computer-per-student model. Through this model, Grove City College provided a similar computer system to each faculty member. Software was standardized to include Microsoft Works for students and Microsoft Office for faculty.

The standardization of both hardware and software on campus has been the single most important decision related to the Initiative to date. The College has been able to control its costs for training, support and upgrades because of these standard platforms. Overall, the decision to distribute a laptop computer to each student and faculty member was based upon the following benefits:

  1. Laptop computers can easily be transported to a classroom or laboratory to be used in place of a traditional desktop computer.
  2. Laptop computers are the only true mechanism that can be used to create an Anytime/Anywhere Learning environment.
  3. Students have convenient and continual access to technology. In fact, students are allowed to take the computer system home with them during breaks.
  4. New technology is introduced each year through the purchase of equipment for freshmen students.
  5. The number of computer labs on campus has been greatly reduced.
  6. Students and faculty are required to bring defective equipment to a central repair shop, thus eliminating the need for technicians to travel to an office or dorm room.

Program Support

The Computer Help Desk and the Computer Repair Shop work in tandem to address customers' computer needs. The Computer Help Desk is staffed with a full-time college manager and 35 student workers who work shifts between 8:00 am and midnight weekdays with reduced hours on weekends. Students are trained to address software, hardware, and networking issues. All technology-related questions are funneled first through the Help Desk, before college staff become involved. If a resolution cannot be found, then the question is forwarded to the Repair Shop staff.

The Help Desk is also the clearinghouse for software training. This one-stop-shopping model was created to make it easy for customers to gain access to the information they desired. The Computer Repair Shop is staffed with two service technicians who have been certified by Compaq and Canon to fix and repair equipment onsite. Appropriate service procedures have been established to ensure that computer systems are repaired within 24 hours.

The one major computer lab remaining on campus is located near the Help Desk. This lab is used by students who have a computer in the Repair Shop for service or to house software too expensive for students to buy.

Classroom Integration

The process of integrating the laptop computer and its associated software into the curriculum has been gradual. Classes have been taught for faculty to increase skill levels on Microsoft Windows, Works, Office, and Internet/e-mail tools. Many faculty members have integrated Microsoft PowerPoint presentations into their lectures. Assignments and readings are distributed through e-mail, floppy disk, or via the network. Students are taught how to use their computers as data acquisition tools in physics and physiology labs and gather assignments from the chemistry department’s Intranet page.

The Communication Department is currently evaluating online collaborative learning software and exploring the creation of a digital video editing program. The music curriculum integrates MIDI technology, foreign language classes access Internet readings online, and the use of complicated spreadsheets and databases in the business curriculum is now commonplace.

Students use their computer systems in classes and as a study aid. Many students meet in the library, student union, or dorm rooms and use their computers to take notes, access online information or review study materials (of course, a few computer games have been played too). For students, it’s a matter of convenience. No time is spent in open labs waiting for access to a computer. With the completion of a campus-wide network during the summer of 1997, student collaboration via e-mail has increased dramatically, and the laptop computer has become a part of daily student life.

Future Plans

Two issues exist that must be addressed in regard to the Grove City College Initiative.

First, some students are disappointed because they must keep the same computer system during the entire four years that they are on campus. Currently, the College does not offer a computer refresher program that would allow students to turn in their current computer system for a newer model. The cost to purchase two or more computers over four years is higher than what the College has desired to pass on through tuition. Students may purchase more RAM, a larger hard drive or external devices, but they cannot upgrade to a newer computer model.

Consideration is being given to purchasing a more advanced computer for new freshmen, in the hope that the technology will remain current for a longer time. During the next purchase cycle, the College will again explore a two-year refresher program; however, the high cost and low residual value of a two-year-old computer will probably eliminate this option again.

Second, the College is considering standardizing on Microsoft Office for both faculty and student laptops. Currently, Microsoft Works is installed on each student computer to keep software costs low and Microsoft Office is installed only on faculty computers, in order to provide more software power. However, supporting the dual Works/Office platform has increased our Help Desk costs, as training is required on both programs. Also, students employed at the Help Desk are not as familiar with the Office software; therefore, faculty who call the Help Desk do not normally receive in-depth support.

Additionally, this disparity in software packages may mean that students cannot perform tasks demonstrated by faculty during class. In fact, we have found that many students use the computer center lab to prepare PowerPoint presentations that will later be shown in a class while using a professor's computer. Also, faculty have made it clear that Office, not Works, is more likely to be the application suite in business and industry. For these reasons, the benefits of incorporating Office into the students' systems may well outweigh the added cost of the software.


Overall, the Information Technology Initiative has required a great deal of planning and work. However, the benefits have far outweighed the effort extended. Grove City College students have become well versed in technology. They are now accustomed to using technology in their daily work, as software learned in class is now put into practical application in their personal lives. Is this a model for your school? This is a question that can be answered only by examining the cost of supporting distributed computer labs and the benefits of providing true "anytime/anywhere" learning to students.

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