Laptop Loaner Program Provides Solution to New Computer Requirement

As Iowa State University students geared up for an earlier-than-normal start to the semester, an extra to-do was added to their list: acquire a laptop. Beginning fall 2020, all students enrolled at Iowa State University are required to own or obtain a laptop computer or other device appropriate to their discipline.

The decision comes after campus leaders faced questions of how to prioritize student health amidst the global coronavirus health crisis. According to university officials, the decision to require students to own or obtain a laptop was not made lightly, but ultimately the best way to guarantee access to online course content while mitigating the spread of COVID-19 on campus.

Students remain at greater risk of contracting COVID-19 if using shared items like computing resources. Many spaces with these resources like study rooms or computer labs do not allow for proper social distancing and therefore increase the risk of virus exposure. The use of personal laptops, however, reduces the risk, and students do not have to share computing resources or spaces with a potentially-ill peer.

Additionally, personal laptops provide more consistent access to course content, especially as students attend online or “hybrid” classes from their apartments, dorm rooms or other non-classroom locations. “Hybrid,” sometimes called “blended,” learning combines in-person and online modes of instruction. In the event that COVID activity increases too drastically to safely continue with in-person instruction, a personal laptop will allow for an easier transition to online learning if necessary.

“I previously had my own laptop,” said chemical engineering senior Olivia Devitt, “and I like it because I can go more places and use it anywhere I want. Now with the requirement, we’re not all packed into a computer lab.” 

In setting parameters for the laptop requirement, the university recommends that students not use a tablet, smart phone or netbook as their primary computing device. Many courses rely on video and interactive content, and some mobile devices do not support those file types. A webcam, either built into the computer or separate, may also be required for use with proctoring software when taking exams online. For more information on what type of laptop or equipment to acquire, the Major Success web app developed by TechCyte can provide students with information about device requirements issued by their college or major. 

Recognizing the challenge that acquiring a laptop presents to some students, the Office of Student Financial Aid and the University Library have provided two options: students can apply for funding available through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act funds and purchase a laptop or request to participate in the university’s expanded Laptop Loaner Program.

To take advantage of either opportunity, a student must submit a single form requesting assistance acquiring a laptop. Once the form is received, the Office of Student Financial Aid determines if they are eligible to receive CARES Act funding. If the student is not eligible, they are put on a list to participate in the Laptop Loaner Program. Nearly 1,000 laptops are available through the program, and library staff are optimistic that everyone who is signed up to participate will receive a device. However, full-time, degree-seeking students with the greatest financial need and those who have exhausted other options for financial aid receive will receive priority if necessary.

The deadline for submitting a request to receive funding or participate in the program is August 28. For more information about the laptop requirement, please visit the ITS laptop requirement web page.