New Scientific Computing Laptop Lending Program

For the first time this semester, you will be assigned a laptop for use in PHYS 218 - Dynamical Systems in Scientific Computing. This laptop has been loaded with pretty much all the scientific software that Kenyon has licenses for. Depending on your major department, you may find that certain software tools are more familiar to you than others. Feel free to use the tool most familiar to you. The laptop also has IDL, the high level programming and visualization language we will be learning in this course whcih is not generally available on lab computers on campus. Since the college's software licenses generally prohibit installation of licensed software on computers not owned by the college, we cannot add these programs to your personal laptop.

You will be given adminstrator privileges so that you can install software that you have a legal right to on the laptop and otherwise customize the laptop for your own use. However, we have only one method available to resolve software problems (viri, worms, Trojans, etc.) and that is to reformat the hard drive and reload it. Thus, we encourage you to do two things. One, back up important files to your H: drive often. Second, practice "safe-surfing" to avoid malware of all kinds.  You should feel free to do work for other classes with your class laptop and, subject to the "safe-surfing" caveat, use it for entertainment purposes (legal music, video, etc.). You are also bound by the rules of the college regarding appropriate use of college computers.

You are also asked to treat the laptop as if it were owned by your best friend's father. This laptop has to remain usable for at least three years, so aim to return it in good condition at the end of the semester. Generally, if your class laptop is lost or damaged due to circumstances beyond your control, you will not be charged for damage. However, if the laptop is lost or damaged due to circumstances over which you had control, there will be an intense discussion over your personal liability for the loss or damage. For example, the only laptops I have heard about being stolen at Kenyon were those left unattended for considerable periods of time. I would consider leaving a Kenyon owned laptop unattended for so long to be an inexcusable neglect of the student's responsibility.

You will turn in your college laptop at the same time as you turn in your final project (or at the time you withdraw from the class for any reason). Please remember to have moved copies of any files that are of importance to you, as the laptops will be reformatted and reloaded before use in the next class. Also, please be sure to return the padded briefcase and the power cord that came with the laptop.

Added after the course was complete:

The new laptop plan was assessed in two ways. The first was a pre/post survey of students who used the laptop. The second was the recorded observations of Professor Sullivan, the instructor of the class.

Students were asked to fill out a survey after about one week of using the laptops in class. Then they were given the same survey during the last week of classes, a separation in time of 13 weeks. The survey is available here. The results were analyzed by Professor of Psychology Sarah Murnen, who summarizes the results in this way: "Because of the small sample size (N = 8), there are few statistically significant results (lack of statistical power).  Also, this sample is likely unusual in that (the students) owned other computers - some had both laptops and desktops of their own (so use of physics laptop is only about 1/3 of their computer use).  The students' use of the laptops for other academic work did increase throughout the semester, and their attitudes became significantly more positive on 4 of the 14 survey items concerning their attitudes." The complete statistical results are given here.

Professor Sullivan noted the following about the use of laptops by students: