Indications that GW will phase out computer labs in residence halls in favor of common wireless hotspots are somewhat understandable, as these areas are often unused by students. Administrators should realize, however, that issues of study space, wireless access and computer lab access have all coalesced to create a convoluted policy in all three areas.
Above all, the assumption that every GW student has ready access to a wireless-enabled laptop computer for use in the proposed wireless hotspots is false. While it is not uncommon to see an empty computer lab in a residence hall or one used by one or two lone students whose personal computers have broken down, these spaces are necessary for students who need a place for private or group study.
The Gelman Library, Marvin Center and various other academic buildings are obvious alternatives for individuals without computers. Unfortunately, all of these buildings besides Gelman have limited hours. This becomes a problem after midnight, when students seeking to use a computer cram into the library, only to find long lines to use the tools they need.
College students operate on a schedule that includes all-night studying. Removal of residence hall computer labs would only force students into more limited study spaces. If administrators plan on removing these labs in favor of wireless access points, it would be necessary to open computer labs in academic buildings to 24-hour access.
GW officials should at least consider leaving two or three functional computers in residence halls for students who absolutely need them. If administrators are concerned that the computers will go to waste, they should make a sincere effort to maintain these computers’ functionality. These machines often break down and are sometimes too slow to run basic word processing and Internet access software.
In New Hall, the University converted a former computer lab and study space into more residence hall rooms. It is difficult to trust that University officials have students’ best academic interests in mind when former common spaces are converted for an entirely different use.
The plan to phase out computer labs is one effect of a broader, disconnected technology policy. Though University officials, on a number of occasions, stated that campus-wide wireless is not likely to be implemented due to security concerns, their proposal for the residence hall common wireless areas indicates that wireless access is possible in the residence halls. If common wireless access points are created, why not extend wireless to the entire hall?
Furthermore, certain dorm computer labs have been completely eliminated, while others, such as the one in Ivory Tower, are thriving.
Technology planners must view computer labs, wireless access and study space as three interconnected issues. Such a consideration would indicate that eliminating dorm room computer labs altogether without providing access to other spaces has negative ramifications for all students on campus.
A divided bureaucracy often hinders developments within the University, but looking at technology and study space issues as a single problem would provide clarity for planners and a tangible benefit for students.