The Columns

Wireless Explosion

— by on November 12th, 2010

For the past two years, Washington and Lee’s Information Technology Services, in collaboration with the Office of Institutional Effectiveness, has surveyed incoming first-year students to find out what kinds of technology they are bringing to campus. Those of us in the manual-typewriter and clock-radio generation of college students can only look in awe at what we’re seeing on campus today, especially the explosion in wireless devices.

For instance, about 60 percent of the entering students this fall brought smart phones with them. Smart phones are defined as those cell phones that offer data service, including Web browsing and e-mail. That represents a significant increase of 21 percent over just one year ago. As Jeff Overholtzer, director of strategic planning and communications for ITS, indicates, this is only the beginning. “We expect the increase in ownership of smart phones to continue. Virtually all students use cell phones, and use them in many ways, including texting (99 percent); the Web (61 percent); Facebook (59 percent); e-mail (55 percent); personal calendar (45 percent); and music (34 percent).”

When it comes to computers, only two out of 466 entering students did not bring one. On the other hand, 36 students brought two more more computers. And laptops now represent almost 99 percent of the total computers. While Macs had been in a steady climb in recent years, that trend leveled out this year, with about 61 percent of students bringing Macs.

The number and variety of wireless devices continue to grow, and as Overholtzer notes,  students overwhelmingly prefer to use their laptops in wireless mode rather than plugging into the W&L network. In addition to the smart-phone surge, other wireless devices include the iPod Touch (36 percent of first-years) and the Xbox 360 gaming device (20 percent of first-years). First-years also brought Rokus (for streaming movies over the Internet) and wireless printers.

One device that appeared on the survey for the first time is the iPad, but only 10 students brought them. The same is true with the e-readers like Amazon Kindle and Barnes and Noble Nook, with just 5 percent of the entering students using them.