The computer requirement at Virginia Tech exists but is often superseded by college-wide or departmental requirements. The tablet requirement of the College of Engineering is perhaps the most well-known and controversial of these requirements.
College of Engineering
The tablet requirement came into effect in the fall of 2006. There was strong opposition at its instantiation by various student groups such as the Student Technology Council, the Linux and Unix Users Group, and the Macintosh Users Group and faculty. The requirement was introduced against the advice and opinion of the Computer Science faculty. Although Microsoft Windows is required, the required version consistently lags the latest release.
Tablet Requirement Gripes and Complaints
As stated in other articles, the software used to "interact" using a Tablet PC is proprietary, and OS-dependent. In addition, certain freshman engineering classes require homework submitted in a "OneNote document." Given the nature of some assignments, this requirement proves difficult. Creating a mechanical drawing of a part is significantly more difficult with tablet and stylus versus drafting pencil and paper. There is a lack of tactile response and feedback, in addition and engineer's rule cannot be safely used on the tablet screen (speaking of which, why did the use of rules disappear from the curriculum. They used to be part of the freshman engineering kit in 2001).
The software used (DyKnow, Classrom Presenter, etc.) only runs in one OS. It functions like a glorified PowerPoint presentation. This may be fine for students who are visual and auditory learners. Forcing interaction over this software puts kinesthetic learners at a disadvantage. Where the kinesthetic learners wish to write and draw notes, instead they must use this software to perform trivial exercises.
The tablet form also poses a significant disadvantage to left-handed students. To get the tablet to function correctly, touch input must be disabled. It is common for left-handed individuals to drag their hand across the screen which can create some interesting glitches as the stylus is lifted between letters and words. In addition, the left hand/forearm occludes a significant portion of the screen. Whereas on paper, the occlusion still exists but the individual has the option to use more of the paper to space out their writing (8.5"x11" paper versus ~7"x~9" tablet)
The software bundle is a required purchase of all engineering students and includes the Microsoft Campus Agreement, LabView, MATLAB, and PDF Annotator. Despite an overwhelmingly successful pilot Macintosh tablet program put together by the Student Technology Council and the Macintosh Users Group, the software requirements have rarely changed; the most recent was a $50 addition for PDF Annotator, a less featurful knockoff of Jarnal.