Digital Services: FrEEE No More

Beginning winter quarter 2012, UC Irvine will launch the Educational Technology Initiative (eTech@UCI) which, according to the eTech@UCI website, aims at “… funding the maintenance and improvement of education technology like EEE, classroom technology, and instructional computing labs.” Some of the proposals of eTech@UCI include a virtual computer lab, classroom course capture, expanded wireless (Wi-Fi) coverage across campus, charging stations for mobile devices and a student IT help desk.

However, due to the budget crisis, students will fund the initiative and be charged $4 for each lecture unit they take, but will pay no more than $60 per quarter. In other words, digital and technology services provided to students, such as EEE and access to on-campus internet, are no longer free.

Since there is no alternative to the current digital and technology services, students cannot opt out of paying for eTech@UCI. There are about 20,000 UCI students. Therefore, if each student pays $180 per year, assuming they pay the maximum $60 per quarter, it adds up to $3.6 million dollars that UCI receives to fund for its requested technology refresh and for staff support of technology services.

Although some of the proposals outlined in eTech@UCI are admirable, such as expanding Wi-Fi coverage in high-traffic areas like the Student Center and increasing charging stations for mobile devices including smart phones, tablets and laptops, some of the new proposals of the initiative are not practical for every student. What about students with majors and classes that do not use EEE and technology much?

For example, it doesn’t make sense to classroom record a drama class.

There is no timeline listed for when the Educational Technology Initiative will be complete. For all we know, eTech@UCI could never finish since technology seems to always be improving and expanding. This could mean that digital and technology services at UCI will never be free again with the start of the winter quarter.

Another thing worth pointing out is that eTech@UCI was pushed onto students to fund via a mass email notification. UCI’s defense for starting eTech@UCI is that UCLA, UCSB and other universities have implemented similar fees.

However, where was our vote to choose whether we wanted this initiative in the first place? We never received any notification of this initiative being proposed. Where was our vote to decide whether we wanted a technology and software refresh? We never received a survey to take whether we think UCI’s technology services and software needed a refresh. Did the student government representatives that are part of the eTech Advisory Committee consult with their peers before deciding to go forth with this initiative? We were never approached by ASUCI representatives about our opinions on the Educational Technology Initiative prior to receiving the official notification of the initiative via email.

eTech@UCI and having to pay to use digital and technology services represent another thing that students have been forced to adapt with on the fly. In the past few years, we’ve had to deal with the implementation of zone parking, the closing of certain shuttle routes, the decreasing tutoring services offered by the Learning and Academic Resource Center (LARC) and rising tuition costs to name a few. With a resolution to the budget crisis remaining unsolved, it is a valid question to ask: What is the next thing students have to pay for that they previously did not have to worry about?

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