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‘U.S. News’ Highlights ‘Most Wired’ Campuses, but Some Question Methodology

A list released today by U.S. News & World Report highlights the nation’s 15 “most-wired campuses,” comparing each college’s student population to the number of computers on campus.

This is the first year that U.S. News has dedicated a list to the topic. In a survey of 1,700 undergraduate programs last year, 1,280 programs submitted data on their student populations and the number of computers on campus. U.S. News reported that the average computer-to-student ratio on campuses nationwide is 0.14—roughly seven students to one computer—but the top 15 institutions on the list tout computer-to-student ratios starting at 0.83.

Ringling College of Art and Design, in Florida, landed at the top of the list: The college’s 1,318 students have access to 2,500 computers, which is nearly two computers per student.

The publication’s methodology considered only the number of computers relative to the total student population, according to Brian Burnsed, a U.S. News education reporter.

But David Parry, an assistant professor of emerging media and communications at the University of Texas at Dallas, questions the list’s value. The computer-to-student ratio by “no means measures what’s really important,” he said. “It’s as if you were to say, ‘Let’s measure the strength of a university’s English program by counting the number of books in the library.’”

Measuring how students and professors use the computers would provide a more accurate picture of how “wired” a campus truly is, Mr. Parry said. Taking into account the amount of bandwidth a college uses, how many students own smartphones or laptops, and the ways instructors use technology in the classroom are better benchmarks than counting computers, he argued.

“Increasingly, ‘wiredness’ or visual literacy is moving away from desktop computing and into distributed computing, like smartphones and iPads,” Mr. Parry said. “If they aren’t taking that into account, they probably aren’t measuring the cutting edge.”

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