What does it mean to be one of the first organizations in the world to do something? Specifically, what does it mean that The Anderson School at UCLA was of the first ever to have both a 100% student laptop ownership requirement and a 100% networked educational environment? In this article, I'm going to answer this question from a variety of perspectives: as a planner, as a manager, as a teacher, and, as a student. Although the former two perspectives are my own, the ladder two perspectives incorporate the feedback solicited from the faculty and students. First some overall background and the applications of these technologies.
The announcement in 1987 that a new management education complex at UCLA was to come into being stimulated considerable discussion regarding what and how it should be created, and, specifically, the role of computers, communication, and information technologies. During 1990-91, a comprehensive information needs assessment of the faculty and students was conducted, and in 1992 a faculty retreat to focus on the role of information technology in the management curriculum was held. All of these events served as inputs in the development of our fully-networked environment and the laptop requirement.
Having been first, we've had a steady stream of visitors from around the world (including all the schools mentioned above). Many schools are evaluating what we are doing as they consider their own programs. For example, Harvard Business School recently sent teams of students to six business schools (Columbia, MIT, NYU, Stanford, UCLA, and Wharton ) to evaluate their use of technology. They concluded that Anderson is the leader at this time. Anderson was also recently visited by the dean and architectural team responsible for building the new business school at Oxford University. Following their tour of several U.S. business schools, they have asked us to advise them as they proceed with their new complex.
When the printing press came into being, it enabled new and different approaches to information access; this is also the case with laptop technology. As a mnemonic, the word BOOK can mean "Best Organization Of Knowledge." You can carry a book anywhere, use its index to locate what you want, and access the information directly (not just sequentially from the beginning). But there is a major drawback to a book: its limited size and focus. Encyclopedias are meant to provide something on every topic, but we would never consider carrying a set of volumes everywhere we went.
I believe our use of "personal digital assistants" (currently as laptop computers) can be seen as a natural extension of a BOOK for us as individuals. We can store vast amounts of information (literally several encyclopedic collections), and we can index these personal collections for direct access to the information desired.
Laptop computers allow students to organize their MBA educational experiences for their own personal benefit. A student can enter into the computer the complete curriculum and a personal cognitive map of his or her journey through the program, with links that will extend the MBA content into professional life. We expect students to internalize reference points (notes or indexes) which they construct within the laptop, and which guide them to the necessary concepts, models, and data as each becomes relevant to their needs. The concept of developing these reference points shifts significant responsibility to students, requiring them to create their own temporary or permanent structures for capturing their learning and integrating the curriculum into their academic experience. In so doing, students use the laptop as an organic tool-as an extension of their own memories and analytic capabilities.
The laptop has broken down the boundaries of the traditional classroom walls in many ways, facilitating communication and information exchange to an extent far beyond what existed before. Electronic communications between faculty members and students supplement office hour visits. Student group processes have been enhanced by the electronic exchange of information as it supports all aspects of team collaboration, from inception to final product.
So what does it mean that Anderson is the first ever to have both a 100% student laptop ownership requirement and a 100% networked educational environment? The laptop initiative is helping us to move closer to a problem-oriented, student-centered model of learning that recognizes that people and teamwork are a primary source of sustainable competitive advantage. We are on the forefront of the effort to develop learning models and methods, which, I believe, will have consequences far beyond the classroom.
There are two aspects to the successful achievement of the information access goals: creating the technological infrastructure, and changing individual behaviors to make use of the new environment. The former required translating the goals into technical network specifications, and then implementing this plan. This was no minor feat. We began about five years ago, and we have an ongoing commitment to maintain quality of service. Although the technology aspects were daunting, we have had at least some control over the variables. This is not the case, though, on the user side of the equation.
Fulfilling the information access goals completely requires changes both in the ways we behave, and in how we think about using the environment to gain real educational value. Anderson Computing and Information Services (ACIS) has made a steady and consistent effort to expand services to fulfill these goals, most recently with the introduction of remote access to CD-ROM-based Library resources. In fact, ACIS often measures its achievements by the rate at which services are adopted and taken for granted by the Anderson community. In contrast to the situation today, three years ago exchanging spreadsheets or written documents meant passing paper or floppy disks back and forth. Faculty members had to order a computer cart for their classes, and students relied on computer labs when doing much of their work. Internet access was limited, and The Anderson School had no Web site of its own.
We created our network and the laptop requirement with the broad goal of enhancing the overall quality of the Anderson MBA experience. There are three technology-related objectives that I believe are essential to the preparation of managers for the next century:
Students cannot expect to fulfill these objectives during their first term in the program, nor should they expect every faculty member to endorse and completely support every objective. The richness of the MBA experience comes from a diversity of ideas and exposure to a variety of perspectives and teaching methods. Laptop use and learning extend across the entire curriculum, and the benefits accrue over a student's entire program and career.