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Building Computer Laboratories Through Equipment Grants (I)

Introduction

In higher education today, computer access for student education is essential. The benefits towards students are seemingly endless. Curricula are being rapidly modified to make as much use of the technology as possible. Many works describe such changes or the need for such changes [7, 8]. Personal computers can adequately fulfill many of the student's computer needs [4]. However, in spite of the relative cheapness of personal computers, universities are sometimes finding it difficult to provide laboratories of such computers. A medium-sized university of 10,000 students would require a significant expenditure in the millions of dollars to provide a computer to student ratio of 10%.

One approach to acquiring computing equipment for computer labs is to raise student fees and tuition, passing the cost directly onto the students. These rising costs may cause problems for the students who might then require (additional) financial aid. Another approach, which again passes the cost directly to the students, is in requiring that every student purchase their own personal computer (there are several articles referencing such universities in [2]). When available, however, a more reasonable approach which does not transfer the cost onto the students is to build computer laboratories out of equipment donations from computer companies. This paper will discuss this approach, hopefully providing the reader with rationale for how it is done and why. The paper will also look at a concrete example of how the University of Texas - Pan American has built many of their computer labs through equipment grants.

Types of Donations

Researchers at universities are used to writing research proposals and receiving grants from a variety of sources. Most of these grants are monetary in nature where the researchers use funds to support the costs of performing the research. These costs include faculty salary, staff salary, student stipends, travel expenses, and equipment expenditures. The equipment will often include computer hardware and software. Funding sources often frown on a researcher building a computer laboratory solely at their expense, but are often happy to include funds for some computer equipment.

If one is not performing research, or if the construction of a computer laboratory is tangential to the research, how can one obtain proper funding? Most often, the funding is not available in this form. However, there are other avenues. Rather than requesting monetary funds, many companies, notably computer companies, will directly donate computer hardware and software in the form of equipment donations. Equipment donations can come in many forms.

  • A company may donate whole computer systems including all of the necessary hardware, software, network connections and peripheral devices. Here, the computer system may be personal computers or workstations, or in rare events, minicomputers or mainframe computers.
  • A company may donate computer components such as processors or motherboards, additional memory, and internal or external hard disk drives. Here, the donation may allow the university to upgrade older computers, replace broken components, or construct their own computers out of the parts.
  • A company may donate peripheral devices such as monitors, network cards, keyboards and mice. Again, these components can be used as upgrades or replacement parts.
  • A company may donate a server to control a local area network. The university may then be required to purchase the computers to connect to the server.
  • A company may donate routers and bridges to connect a network to the Internet.
  • A company may donate software.

A company may choose to make donations which also combine any of the above possibilities.

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