WINONA - The school that brought you the first laptop university is also proving to a be trailblazer with the tablet.
In what is considered to be a first for a public university in the Midwest, if not nationally, Winona State University this fall will provide its students with both a laptop and a tablet.
Ken Janz, WSU's associate vice president/chief information officer, said the impact of its laptop program, first launched in the fall of 1997, made it easier for the school to embrace the tablet. In student surveys, nearly 50 percent of students cite the laptop program as a factor in their decision to attend the 8,600-student Winona campus.
"We have a student body that was already receptive to technology," Janz said. "It was an easier sell than I think it would have been at some other institutions. We see it as distinctive, too."
Another big selling point: Students won't pay a single dollar more in technology costs than they did this past year. That comes to about $465 a semester. In return, students will receive an iPad mini or an Android-based tablet along with their Mac or PC laptop. The costs also cover tech support and a variety of software applications, including Microsoft Office and Adobe products.
Janz attributed WSU's ability to add the tablet without raising program costs to significantly lower leasing rates for equipment. Plus, Apple offered a "very good deal" for WSU that bundled tablets with laptops in a package deal.
"We got some very aggressive pricing, better than what you would get on the street," Janz said.
WSU uses a two-year cycle to get new devices into the hands of students. The school will begin offering both tablets and laptops to freshmen and juniors this fall and reach full coverage by 2014. Students in WSU's Rochester branch can participate in the ewarrior program, but it is not required, officials say.
The decision to add the tablet as a requirement follows two years of pilot projects in which the devices were used in science projects, nursing programs and K-12 classrooms.
The move also follows a deepening trend toward the use of mobile devices by students in both the consumption of education and entertainment. Nearly 75 percent of WSU students have a smartphone, and online options such as Netflicks and Hulu-plus are displacing traditional television as the preferred mode of consuming media. Given that trend, WSU has been putting more of its lectures and video in digital formats, so students "can use the tablet to view that content."
"What's neat about having a tablet is you can flip it on its side and then watch the video and still use the laptop to take notes," Janz said.
A laptop and tablet can be used in similar ways, but there are certain activities for which they are more naturally suited. Officials describe the tablet as a "content consumption device," good for reading ebooks and digital textbooks, whereas laptops are bettered used for writing a paper, editing video and "producing content."
"It's really hard to read a book on a laptop," Janz said.