3 in 4 students own laptops, but many leave them at home

The latest student survey from Computer Lab Management tackles a small campus mystery: With laptop ownership soaring among UC Davis students, why don't they bring their computers to campus more often?

The apparent answer: Lugging the machines around all day is not so easy. And any faculty or staff member who disagrees should try using their laptops the way students do.

Computer Lab Management, a unit of Information and Educational Technology, surveys students each winter to track their use of computers, computer rooms, and related technology and services. The latest two surveys--about trends among students in general, and about laptops in particular--have now been posted at CLM's Web site.

The unit surveyed 2,000 students who used campus computer rooms in the winter quarter. Of the 230 who responded, 72.6 percent said they own laptops, up about 9 points from a year earlier. Ownership of desktop models continued its slide of the last four years, dropping another 10 points to 25.7 percent.

"However, in general students don't appear to bring their computers to campus," says the interpretation of the results in the laptop survey--even though the responses show "that students would like to bring their laptops to campus more."

Blame limits in wireless network coverage, lack of power outlets, the physical setup of lecture halls, laptops' weight, and the "general hassle of carrying a laptop--many students feel it's easier to wait in line in the computer rooms."

"These results seem very odd to many faculty and staff who use their laptop computers regularly," the interpretation says. But try using your laptop within the limits students endure, it continues, and you'll understand why many students leave their machines at home:
  • Don't use a docking station or attach a ke yboard, mouse or monitor to your laptop.
  • Carry the laptop with you all the time, even into bathrooms. For a more realistic experience, also carry a couple of hardbound textbooks, some notebooks, a cell phone, and maybe an iPod.
  • Use your laptop on your lap, not at a desk or table. The desks in most classrooms and lecture halls are too small to hold the machines.
  • Go someplace new at least every two hours, preferably at least 10 minutes away by foot, even on rainy days.
  • Charge your laptop for no more than two or three hours at a time, because power outlets can be hard to find on campus.
The wireless issue is being addressed, the survey interpretation says, but other improvements might have to await the development of lighter computers with more powerful batteries.

Overhauling classroom desks would be expensive, slow, and probably reduce the number of seats. Perhaps the campus could add lockers, maybe with recharging outlets. But students generally buy just one laptop, and would want the most powerful model so they can play computer games. That would keep the laptops heavy, and harder to carry around.

Find more data in the surveys, plus past results, at the CLM publications page.