Let’s stop moving backward

Jeremy Ostergaard

As our university tries to keep up with the ever evolving technology market, it’s taking a few steps backward.  Since 2000, NMU’s Technology, Learning and Communication Initiative has provided students with an essential tool for their academic careers – a personal laptop.  NMU is now planning possible changes to the TLC program, which involve longer leases, a new network and switching to tablets moves in the wrong direction for students.

When the TLC program first started, students received ThinkPad laptops that were exchanged every two years.  This kept up well Moore’s law, which states that processor power follows a trend of doubling every two years.  In 2012, this was changed to a three-year cycle.

Now, NMU is extending laptop leases to four years.  The senior class this year, instead of receiving newer laptops, was told they would be keeping their current models until graduation.  While NMU hasn’t confirmed that four years will be the standard going forward, they have said it is a possibility.  Mentions of three-year laptop leases have also been removed recently from nmu.edu.  Having to use slower, four-year-old laptops is a pain, and it’s hard for graduates to settle for buying them when there’s newer, faster models available.

NMU is also planning to move from WiMAX to LTE, a faster wireless technology, according to HelpDesk documents obtained from EduCat.  While LTE provides improvements, it’s not the right time to make sacrifices to switch. HelpDesk meetings in May stated that money saved by extending seniors’ leases is being used for the LTE transition.  It’s unfair to take funding away that benefits seniors and use it for a network that won’t be completed until after they graduate.  I’d like to see this money to the senior class in some way, perhaps via a refund.  WiMAX is still capable, and there are options like mobile hotspots to keep using it.  Meanwhile, the LTE network is years from completion, with only a few functional towers for testing.

The most concerning change is that tablets are being considered for replacing laptops.  NMU’s marketing division wants to make the college look high-tech, and what better way than shiny and sleek mobile devices?  They’re reducing the current inventory of computers, which makes a transition to tablets easier.  The HelpDesk is also currently testing a ThinkPad tablet that has no attachable keyboard, only 64 GBs of storage and much less processor power and memory than current NMU computers.

With features like that, tablets cannot meet the needs of college students.  While Windows tablets can run the same programs of a full PC, they lack the same computing ability, storage capacity and versatility.  Intensive programs that engineering or science majors use could lag badly.  Connecting to multiple USB devices or the faster wired network would require special adapters.  Smaller screens and keyboards would make projects and papers even more difficult to finish.  I myself own a tablet, and while it’s fun for entertainment, it’s not capable of replacing my laptop.

Tablets would also have issues with durability and repairability.  A large, exposed screen is easier to damage and a handheld device is more likely to be dropped.  Tablets are notoriously hard to repair, often requiring prying and melting adhesive.  This means that instead of Micro Repair taking care of your broken screen, it might be shipped back to the manufacturer, resulting in the loss of student jobs on campus.

NMU should reconsider these changes and think about what would benefit the students most.  ASNMU is currently taking feedback on the future of the TLC program.  If you’d like to voice your concerns, please email [email protected]