Asee peer logo

Faculty And Student Response To A Laptop Computer Requirement For Engineering Freshmen

Download Paper |


2005 Annual Conference


Portland, Oregon

Publication Date

June 12, 2005

Start Date

June 12, 2005

End Date

June 15, 2005



Conference Session

Computers in Education Poster Session

Page Count


Page Numbers

10.624.1 - 10.624.7



Permanent URL

Download Count


Request a correction

Paper Authors

author page

Thomas Walker

author page

Hayden Griffin

Download Paper |

NOTE: The first page of text has been automatically extracted and included below in lieu of an abstract

Faculty and Student Response to a Laptop Computer Requirement for Engineering Freshmen

O. Hayden Griffin, Jr. and Thomas D. L. Walker Department of Engineering Education Virginia Polytechnic Institute & State University


Personal computers started to become common with the introduction of the IBM PC on August 12, 1981 [1]. Computing began the transition from large mainframes to desktops at that time. Desktop computers proved very useful for faculty and students, and “computer classrooms” were created at some universities, at great cost, and with significant recurring maintenance costs for both hardware and software. Some universities began requiring students, particularly engineering and computer science students, to purchase their own computers by the mid-1980s. Limitations for teaching were immediately noticed, and faculty began to imagine what could be accomplished if the students were able to bring their own computers to class. “Portable” computers such as the Tandy Radio Shack TRS-80 Model 100 [1] were not portable enough to be brought to the classroom.

There is considerable argument over when the first “laptop” computer appeared. Some of the early “portable” computers were definitely not laptop-sized or laptop weight. One of the first “notebook” computers may have been the NEC UltraLite [1, 2], which was introduced in 1989. These computers were still not sturdy enough to be transported to the classroom and were thus not required for students.

One of the earliest laptop computer requirements appears to have been at Wake Forest University in the Fall of 1995, when several hundred students and faculty began the use of IBM ThinkPad notebook computers [3]. A similar requirement was initiated at Rose Hulman Institute of Technology [4]. These experiments attracted national attention, and a university-level task force at Virginia Tech considered a laptop requirement at that time. However, the conclusion was that the price, performance, and lack of durability were such that the time was not right to initiate a laptop requirement at that time.

Virginia Tech PC Background

For several decades, first-year engineering students at Virginia Tech have entered as general engineering students, transferring to degree-granting departments after completing a prescribed set of courses. Beginning in 1984, entering engineering freshmen were required to purchase personal computers and selected software, which have been used as an integral part of freshman courses and in appropriate courses throughout the curriculum. A side effect of this requirement was that the College no longer maintains computer labs for undergraduates, since they own computers of sufficient capability for all of their course work. As the years passed, and the capabilities of personal computers increased, so did the minimum hardware requirement. One significant change was in 1994 when students were required to purchase computers that were “multimedia capable,” which opened new pathways for delivering instructional materials.

Proceedings of the 2005 American Society for Engineering Education Annual Conference & Exposition Copyright © 2005, American Society for Engineering Education

Walker, T., & Griffin, H. (2005, June), Faculty And Student Response To A Laptop Computer Requirement For Engineering Freshmen Paper presented at 2005 Annual Conference, Portland, Oregon. 10.18260/1-2--14508

ASEE holds the copyright on this document. It may be read by the public free of charge. Authors may archive their work on personal websites or in institutional repositories with the following citation: © 2005 American Society for Engineering Education. Other scholars may excerpt or quote from these materials with the same citation. When excerpting or quoting from Conference Proceedings, authors should, in addition to noting the ASEE copyright, list all the original authors and their institutions and name the host city of the conference. - Last updated April 1, 2015