From the Chronicle Wired Campus Blog, U. of Virginia Plans to Phase Out Public Computer Labs. While 99% of students bring laptops to UVA, the labs have still been heavily used. UVA decision-makers apparently consider the computer labs to be a convenient service, not an essential one, based on this:
internal data indicated that 95 percent of the time those students used the lab computers to surf the Web and read and compose text documents—tasks that officials say they could easily do on their own computers.
This strikes me as a rather cavalier decision (pardon the pun). We have a very similar situation here at Stanford — near ubiquitous laptop ownership, coupled with heavy computer cluster usage. From talking to students, we have learned that they leave their laptops home when they head off to classes in the morning. Stanford is a big campus, most kids bike to classes, and they don’t want to lug their laptops around all day. Consequently, our computer labs get heavy use during the day. Students tell me that they bring their laptops with them when they come back to the library to study after dinner. I hope we will continue to support computer labs and laptop use. Perhaps we can look at cheaper thin-client computers in the library (especially if students really are using them primarily for email, web, word processing); but it seems clear to me that computer clusters are still meeting a need for most students.