Supported by a generous donation from a supporter of UH Maui College, a pilot computer-assisted learning project provided 150 students and faculty in four programs with netbook computers for daily classroom work and study outside of the classroom.
Students and faculty are enthusiastic about the access to information that the netbook computers offer. Instructors distribute material online that students can retrieve when they need it, along with their own notes from lectures and labs. With the funds - from a donor who specified it eventually provide all students with expanded computer access to the Internet - UH Maui College purchased Dell Latitude 2100 minilaptops that were issued to students in Culinary Arts, Dental Assisting, Dental Hygiene and Nursing cohorts.
For each cohort, the netbooks were loaded with curriculum software specific to the course of studies. For first semester Culinary Arts students, for instance, the programming included recipes and a program for adapting and resizing basic recipes. Programs for Nursing, Dental Hygiene and Dental Assisting cohorts included technical data and interactive displays on anatomy and teeth identification.
Faculty input homework and research assignments, conducted quizzes online and provided students with charts, images and class outlines. Materials were available for students to review out of class while faculty spent less time preparing handouts for distribution, saving paper.
"The course outlines and materials were all downloaded and available to the students. If students missed a class, they were able to review the material and when they returned to class, they were not lagging far behind," said Dental Assisting Program Coordinator Joyce Yamada.
In appreciation, Dental Assisting students took a picture of themselves and their netbooks to be presented to the donor that made the project possible.
Culinary Arts instructor Juli Umetsu said the students had access to videos on service techniques, took quizzes and were familiarized with technology in use in the industry.
"Our students will be in step with the expectations of the industry," she said. "We are reaching out to 21st century learners with 21st century technology. Most of them found it easier and faster to access the classroom materials."
Dell provided tech support to orient students and faculty and to deal with hardware failures. Two malfunctioning devices were replaced under a three-year warranty.
Some students did need help in navigating with the netbooks or felt the minilaptops were more cumbersome than their personal computers.
But not all students had access to a personal computer and many asked to keep the Dell Latitudes assigned to them. The program has an option for students to own their laptops when they complete their four-semester programs.
Students pay a $75 fee per semester. It is an issue for those on tight budgets, but students eligible for financial aid are able to include this cost where the college program requires students to acquire and use netbooks.
Students who have personal laptops generally would prefer to use their own and the project committee is reviewing the technological feasibility. All students will need similar if not the same software installed for access to the materials used in the classroom. As part of the project, the college netbooks will be returned to the college's Computing Services Center at the end of the spring semester for maintenance and to update software and connections for peripherals. In each program, students are provided a specialty curriculum with software that would need to be installed in privately owned computers posing potential operating system compatibility issues. The netbook pilot project avoids this problem.
General acceptance by students and faculty in the pilot project has justified expansion to other departments in which students advance in cohorts and online curriculum can be effectively utilized. The Netbook Initiative is no longer just a pilot project, but will be offered as a tool that enhances student access to information in other UH Maui College sections.
* Clyde Sakamoto is chancellor of the University of Hawaii Maui College. Ka'ana Mana'o, which means "sharing thoughts, is penned by UH Maui College staff and is intended to provide the community of Maui County information about opportunities available through the college at its Kahului campus and its education centers.