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:
- Students came early to class and were hard at work programming on their laptops when I arrived to start class.
- Students were so focussed on their projects that they initiated
the learning process, rather than waiting for me to lecture, for
example. This was good because students learn better when they are
motivated. However, I was not prepared for this response and did not
adequately provide resources for them to learn on their own. In the
same vein, they were not patient when I tried to lecture, preferring to
take in information only when they needed it. This was reminiscent of
the "Just-in-time-teaching" method ( http://www.indiana.edu/~rcapub/v22n1/p08.html ).
- Having all of the necessary software available to the students
24/7 made my job easier. I did not need to make sure that all of the
software was available and working on all computers in all the computer
labs that they had access to. This was especially true because the
students came from different departments. I also believe that having
all the software available all the time allowed students to put in more
time on the class exercises. Having software used by several different
science departments for data analysis made it easier for students from
all these departments to participate in this interdisciplinary class.
- All laptops were returned at the end of the semester in excellent condition. No student computers became infected with malware.
- Student evaluations of the course on the standard College form
were exceedingly positive. The highest ratings I have ever received.