A couple weeks ago we published a blog post on all the reasons why it’s a bad idea to make Apple computers “required” at the Missouri School of Journalism.
The blog post got some attention and was picked up by PBS MediaShift, for which we did some more reporting and research, including an email interview with Mizzou J-School Associate Dean Brian “B-Dog” Brooks (no, not the fake one).
We’ve always been in favor of full transparency, if not objectivity, so we want to give Brooks the chance to respond in full to the original JSB post. Below is the email interview we conducted with Brooks, reprinted in full with his permission. Our questions are in bold followed by his responses. You’ve already heard what we think, and we got a bunch of responses from readers already, so leave more of your thoughts in the comments section below.
Why does the J-School require each student purchase a laptop?
For years, students and parents asked us for guidance on buying a computer at the start of college. Almost everyone does it, Our survey eight years ago showed that almost 90 percent of freshmen bought a new computer for college, and by now that number is much higher, even among non-journalism students. Students and parents made clear to us that they were looking for guidance about what to buy. We provided that guidance.
It made sense to the faculty to ask students to purchase a wireless laptop with MS Office installed, and the faculty of 80 or so voted unanimously to impose that requirement after a year of study. Why MS Office? In online course management systems like Blackboard, students submit assignments electronically, and teachers grade them in that form. In that environment, it is essential that a common word-processing platform be used. We would, of course, accept any word processor that produced a Word-compatible file, but college students pay less for the Office suite than they do for a typical textbook. The faculty also envisioned using Excel in some courses, which has happened, and it believes that knowledge of spreadsheets is essential for a journalist today when doing things like analyzing budgets of companies or corporate entities. And, of course, Outlook is part of the MS Office suite. So is PowerPoint, which students in our classes regularly use when making class presentations.
As for the computer itself, the laptop is portable and can be used to take notes and do work while a student is on campus between classes. A desktop provides less mobility and requires the student to go back to the dorm to work. That part has definitely worked well for us. I see droves of students every day who carry their laptops with them and work between classes. Just watch as people assemble outside an auditorium while awaiting the start of class. Laptops are everywhere.
Also, we wanted to start teaching the basics of audio and video editing as part of the curriculum. iLife, while simple, helps students learn the basics. They then easily graduate to more sophisticated programs in their advanced classes. Further, for three years now we have been able to teach some sections of the basic news writing course in labs without computers. If a student doesn’t have a computer, he or she is shut out of those lab sections and will have fewer choices.
Why does the J-School *strongly* recommend Apple computers when the iLife suite of programs is used in only a couple basic journalism classes?
Apple is our preferred solution because it comes with iLife. To add comparable programs to a Windows computer would add several hundred dollars to the cost, and even then the programs would not work seamlessly, as they do on the Apple platform. There is a real advantage to having a company bundle software and hardware, and no one does that better than Apple. Students use iLife to learn the basics. It’s simple, and it works. In the end, though, it’s not about iLife, which costs students nothing extra because it comes with the computer. It’s about having a tool — a laptop computer — that is extremely useful for any college student, regardless of major.
We also encourage our freshmen to participate in the FreshFilms movie competition. Students use iMovie, part of the iLife suite, to do that in most cases, although a few already have familiarity with programs like Final Cut Pro and use that. The movie competition does two things in our view: It engages students in a team-building activity early in the freshman year. That gets them integrated socially and gives them a sense of “place” on campus. And in the process, they teach themselves a bit about video editing, increasingly an important skill for a journalist.
Finally, while some of our programs will require students to use more sophisticated programs, for many of our students iLife is the only video-editing software they will ever own or use.
Does the J-School offer any economic assistance to less economically advantaged journalism students who might not be able to afford an Apple Computer?
Not directly. But by requiring the purchase, students with financial need under FAFSA are able to count it in their total cost calculation, which in turn increases the amount of aid for which they are eligible. The J-School also has a need-based scholarship pool, which it frequently uses to assist students who come to us when they are suffering financial stress.
Finally, David, I would offer this: Not one student has EVER complained about this requirement in the past seven years.