NOTE: This article was originally printed with a photo from an incorrect program. The photo used was from Network Engineering Technology, not DMIT. The Nugget regrets the error and any confusion it may have caused.
At the start of the winter 2023 semester, students from NAIT’s Digital Media and IT (DMIT) program received an email informing them that their program was transitioning to “Bring Your Own Device” (BYOD). Starting in Fall 2023, DMIT students will now be required to purchase personal laptops instead of using computer labs provided by the school. For some DMIT students, this news of an unexpected expense was shocking, especially during a time of massive inflation and tuition hikes. Although many NAIT programs already employ BYOD, some DMIT students feel the decision doesn’t honour the financial hardships of current students, nor does it represent the current workforce trend.
In the fall, NAIT will remove all computer labs used by the DMIT program. Currently, these labs provide hardware suitable for the technology-heavy DMIT concentration streams—from virtual machine capabilities to animation and rendering software. After the Summer 2023 semester, students will be required to bring their own devices to class with the proper hardware capabilities needed to run the software specific to their stream.
According to an email sent to DMIT students by Steve Chattargoon, the program’s chair, NAIT based the decision on several factors. “In some cases, the students [have] more robust systems than what [is] already in the labs and [prefer] using their own devices,” read the email. The email also stated that “NAIT aligns itself with the direction our global workforce is headed … media and IT employers are now transitioning their workforce to allow for more remote work.”
The email provided students with laptop specification information for each concentration. It listed an expected cost of anywhere between $1,500 to $3,500 to purchase a suitable laptop. For a device on the higher end of the range, students must pay a similar amount as one semester’s tuition. Twenty-one credits are offered a term in the DMIT program, each costing $169. That comes out to $3549, only 49 dollars higher than the end range of a required laptop.
DMIT is not the first program at NAIT to switch to a BYOD model. “Many other programs have already gone there, as well as institutions around us have also gone down this road,” said Daryl Allenby, NAIT’s AVP IT and Chief Info Officer, in an interview with the Nugget. The School of Business already uses a BYOD program, as does Forestry, Alternative Energy, Interior Design and several others.
Although the initial email stated that “overall increasing or bettering our student experience does matter to NAIT,” some students feel the change isn’t reflective of the desires of the student body.
“NAIT’s thinly veiled cost-saving measure is made all the more insulting by their justification for doing so. They suggest that they [aim to] improve the student experience by accommodating the increasing number of people who bought portable devices over the past few years. However… nothing currently exists to prevent students from using their own devices,” said Yiannis Chroniaris, a DMIT Animation student.
Chroniaris doesn’t believe that the reasoning about following workplace trends makes sense.
“Using industry shifts as a justification for transitioning the program to BYOD is similarly flawed. Many employers will still provide the option to work using on-site computers, [and] near-universally provide laptops during their employment at the company,” Chroniaris explained.
Another DMIT Animation student, Sidney Wincott, expressed concern regarding device differences and troubleshooting.
“As someone who attended a high school with a similar model, it significantly stressed teachers and students,” Wincott recalled. “Every student will have differences with their device, and each can have issues with digital programs needed in classes; teachers will be unable to help fix multiple and various technical-based matters, which isn’t a problem with the current labs.”
Other common concerns revolve around NAIT’s poor network connectivity, even within its classrooms. Without ethernet cables, students are wary of the institution’s unstable Wi-Fi within the HP building and how it may affect class sessions.
“Doing homework on campus, [the Wi-Fi] is not very consistent,” a DMIT student who wished to remain anonymous said. “You’ll find yourself even like having to switch to data a few times, depending on where you sit, or all the good places that have better Wi-Fi are always taken really quickly just because there’s almost, like, just dead spots in certain places around campus.”
Allenby reassured the Nugget that programs already following a BYOD structure had implemented quality Wi-Fi connections in those specific parts of the buildings and that the DMIT program would be accommodated accordingly.
Allenby also provided another reason for the decision in the interview with the Nugget–one not giving in the email to the student body.
““[There exists] unmet demand for the program. We knew that lots of students wanted to take the program but couldn’t get in because of physical constraints. The way that the program had previously been taught and deployed required the classroom and has a very specific configuration and a fixed number of seats,” Allenby stated.
He was also asked about student concerns regarding the high costs of DMIT-appropriate laptops and concerns from students who had invested in a home PC build. “The institute would not want this decision to be a serious impediment for anybody to progress through their current programming,”Allenby explained.
“Certainly, on a case-by-case basis, if there was undue hardship that fell outside of our normal accommodation processes, there would be something in place to assist those students.” Allenby did not have specific information on what such assistance would look like at the time of the interview as the details of the program were not finalized. He did comment on students who already own a PC and how they strengthen the ability of a student to work more flexibly.
On behalf of NAIT, Allenby states that “[NAIT] will always want to respond to student sentiments.” When asked why NAIT did not consult with the student body before making the decision, the program responded, “changes to program delivery do not require student consultation.” They echoed Allenby’s explanation of the reasoning behind the changes, citing “increasing enrolment pressure and demand to expand the program, and scheduling and space limitations of the computer labs” as motivating factors.
In a survey conducted by the Nugget, more than half of the 35 DMIT students who participated expressed that they could only afford a new laptop with additional student aid. Less than 35 percent of participants had purchased laptops for their stream, while many others opted to buy a PC. Roughly 30 percent of students expressed that they would not have enrolled in the program had they known about the BYOD program switch in advance, and another 25 percent say they most likely would not have applied at all.
“I have already invested a significant amount into a custom-built PC on which I do all my homework,” a student who wished to remain anonymous wrote. “Investing in a pricey laptop would put me into a financially uncomfortable situation, and with inflation impacting all aspects of life, it’s a situation I don’t want to be in.”
Another student, who already owns a laptop, sympathizes with those needing to purchase one for the fall. “I find it mind-blowing that a building and institution focused on teaching programs that need technology will include… no technology! I won’t personally have issues with this, but I know many people will.” Despite not needing to purchase additional hardware, knowing about the transition before attending NAIT would have affected their enrollment. “If I knew this was going to happen, I would’ve chosen to go somewhere else for my education.”
NAIT sees BYOD as an opportunity to allow a broader capacity of students to take the program by minimizing the costly constraints of physical computer lab classrooms. But for some DMIT students, the change is indicative of a much larger issue on campus that could affect the student body as a whole. As one student explained, “I think it says a lot when you talk to your instructors about a new program like this, and they’re also just as frustrated as you are.”