Wireless, handhelds and tech house latest on WFU's connected campus
By Cheryl Walker
When they return for fall classes, Wake Forest University students will be able to surf the Internet, IM friends and send their professors e-mail from nearly anywhere on campus via the new high-speed wireless network. The updated network is one of many technology initiatives, including the Technology Quarters house and handheld computers, aimed at creating a completely connected campus.
The new network, with 600 access points across campus, replaces Wake Forest's original wireless network installed in 2000. Running at 54 megabits per second, the new network places Wake Forest among a small group of colleges and universities that offer high-speed wireless Internet access in every campus building.
"We've installed a more capable, more accessible network for students," said Jay Dominick, assistant vice president for information systems. "It is faster, more reliable and in more places. This is the groundwork for exciting things to come."
The wired network has also been upgraded since May and operates ten times faster than it did before.
Every student's laptop has the capability to connect to the wireless network. The software suite on Wake Forest's new R51 IBM ThinkPad is the most comprehensive of any certified by the IBM Imaging Technology Center. Wake Forest's software suite measures 18.6 gigabytes. Software includes Windows XP Professional, Microsoft Office, Mozilla 1.6, Macromedia Dreamweaver MX, WinZip 9 and several other programs.
The computer has an integrated wireless card, modem and Ethernet card. The R51 ThinkPad computers are distributed to freshmen and juniors before the start of the fall semester. Freshmen also get a Hewlett Packard printer with scanning and color copy capability.
Each computer also comes with VitalSource EBook, an electronic reference book compilation that includes the entire works of William Shakespeare and the Oxford English Dictionary, among other resources. Dominick said the electronic textbook will provide students with a valuable resource of supplemental materials for their classes.
The university continues to explore the educational and communication uses of mobile computing devices. This fall, the university has provided 30 Wake Forest Army ROTC students with handheld computers. When there is a change in meeting location, uniform color or drill requirements for ROTC cadets, they will not be caught unaware. Wake Forest developed a software program that alerts students to important squadron developments via handheld computer.
The program acts similarly to an instant message, but does not depend on the cadet being logged on to a certain program for the message to be delivered. Using the university's new wireless network, the message is delivered instantaneously to the handheld computer. The university is piloting the messaging program within the ROTC group during the fall and hopes to roll it out to other campus groups, such as Greek organizations and other student life groups, throughout the academic year.
Nine students living in the Technology Quarters house will test new software and hardware for possible future use on campus. The technology they will test includes Cisco IP79600 phones that connect to the Internet and display Web pages on a small screen, and Cisco IP SoftPhone software. The students will be periodically surveyed throughout the fall semester to find out how they are using the devices, how they envision the device being useful to fellow students and to get comments on usability and functionality. An additional 22 students living in residence halls scattered around campus will also get these devices and provide feedback to Information Systems.
"Wake Forest has always turned to its students when considering new technology to bring to campus," Dominick said. "The students are very perceptive about new technology. They are very good at telling us what technology is useful and productive and what isn't. Getting their feedback early helps us make smart decisions about technology deployment on campus."