College rolls out Digital Excellence Commitment
September 2, 2022
William Farley Fieldhouse was repurposed on Sunday, Monday and Tuesday as students received their new College-provided MacBooks, iPads and Apple Pencils and set them up with the help of Bowdoin Information Technology (IT) department staff.
This day was years in the making. Before Covid-19 hit and the College decided to provide all students with iPads for flexible cellular connection access, the goal was to distribute MacBooks to campus.
“The students we’ve interacted with have given us a lot of positive feedback,” Senior Vice President and Chief Information Officer Michael Cato said.
The Digital Excellence Commitment (DExC) was launched in February 2022 to enhance the IT department’s engagement with digital equity. As part of DExC, new students received a 13-inch MacBook Pro, iPad mini and Apple Pencil, while returning students received the MacBook Pro in addition to the iPad Pro and Apple Pencil they received in either Fall 2020 or Fall 2021.
Cato emphasized two primary benefits of the implementation of new technology in classes. The first is equalizing students’ access to computing resources and software utilized in class. According to Cato, most Bowdoin students arrive at school with a laptop. The difference arises in varying capabilities among students’ computers.
For example, some students would come to Bowdoin with a computer that was several years old, while others would purchase a new computer upon entering college. The other benefit is that professors now know that all students have the same programs and technologies at their disposal when assigning work.
Over the summer, Apple released a new MacBook model, the MacBook Pro M2. The new release spurred conversation around which model the College would distribute to its students: the newly released M2, or the previously planned M1. Ultimately, the College decided on the newer M2 due to its additional RAM and storage, which will increase the machine’s longevity.
The iPads were incorporated into DExC after students and professors highlighted their useful features, such as writing non-Roman characters and recording in electronic lab notebooks. Cato wants to make students aware of collaborative features between the iPad and MacBook, remarking that not many students know that the tablet screen can be used as an extension of the laptop screen when the devices are connected.
With 512 gigabytes and 16 gigs of RAM, the laptops are meant to last students through all of college and beyond.
Once logged into the new laptops, students were expected to sign a liability waiver, granting the College permission to control the laptops.
Chris Zhang ’25, who spent his summer interning with the IT department and assisted with unboxing the shipment from Apple, reassured that this feature is not to monitor student activity.
“[The control features makes] it easier to regulate and manage certain apps because there’s a self service application that [the College] can use to push apps that you need to use for your classes,” Zhang said.
Despite the initiative’s focus on equity, some students have raised questions about who is excluded by the program. Historically, some THRIVE students, including all Geoffrey Canada Scholars (GCS) have received new laptops at the start of their Bowdoin careers. Because of this, the College has decided not to supply these students with new laptops through the initiative, even in the case of seniors who have had their slower, older laptops since freshman year. This decision has received backlash from THRIVE students. The College will not be allowing any appeals to the decision at this time.
Cobra Curtis ’23, a member of GCS, received a laptop when he started at Bowdoin as part of the program and won’t be receiving a new one from the college. According to Curtis, the provided MacBook model is notorious for having keyboard issues–Curtis’ own “delete” key and spacebar get stuck, causing many issues to arise as he tries to write on his laptop.
“It’s just taking away resources from students who probably would benefit from it,” Curtis said. “And that’s just not even looking at sort of the ways in which it singles out the students who are in THRIVE who are already more likely to be targeted from microaggressions. We’re sitting there with four year old laptops.”
Seniors who received new laptops this year will also have the advantage of utilizing their computers when they enter the workforce. Curtis, who is majoring in Computer Science, was told at his internship this past summer that his computer was too old for the work he was required to do. Even in his first year, he had to purchase a different computer using grant money he had received from Bowdoin to do his job at the Emerging Technologies Lab. His Bowdoin-provided laptop was not powerful enough to accomplish the task.
“It was just really disheartening when other students on campus are getting an additional laptop,” Curtis said.
The THRIVE computers are under a warranty similar to that of the new laptops, but Curtis said that they don’t work well enough where repairs would fix the issues. However, getting new laptops is not an option either—since Bowdoin still owns the devices, students cannot sell or exchange them for a higher functioning model.
For students who need any assistance setting up their devices, The Tech Hub, located upstairs in Smith Union, will be open for tech support seven days a week, from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Thursday, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Fridays and from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on weekends.
Zhang, like many Bowdoin students, already had a laptop but is excited about the new one because it will be lighter to carry around.
“I think it’s a nice gesture from the College to provide equity across students. Especially with everyone getting the same machines, it kind of just evens out some differences,” Zhang said.
Cato is eager to hear from more of the student body on how the transition is shaping out and what it’s like to be a part of this initiative.
“We’re just excited to see what comes forward. One of the things we’re looking for is getting feedback from [students],” Cato said. “What are the things that these [devices] are helping, what questions are you having? What are some things that are barriers or things you’d like to do but aren’t quite sure? Getting the technology to you is only the first part of that.”
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When I look back at my time in Bowdoin, it’s the people that I remember the most. In recent years, the college seems to be investing heavily on new facilities and equipments, but I hope to see them use the funds for attracting the best faculties. Computer Science department would be a good start, as their current salary is making it nearly impossible to hire professors from top CS schools