Initiative lets student laptops roam the Web cord-free

Branden Peterson

It is difficult to find a University class that doesn’t require using a computer for Internet research, e-mail or word processing. To offset these evolutions in the classroom, the University has committed to making it easy for students to reach the Web anywhere on campus.

Thanks to the University’s wireless initiative, accessing the Internet on a laptop computer in class is becoming a reality.

Shih-Pau Yen, deputy chief information officer at the Office of Information Technology, is organizing the effort to make the University wireless. Yen said there are more than 50 wireless hubs stretched across the University campuses, and that number will likely double by the end of the academic year.

“Student, staff and faculty are demanding immediate access to the Internet regardless of where the person may be physically on campus,” Yen stated in a report outlining the University’s wireless initiative.

Yen set a goal for making the entire University campus wireless by the end of 2005. Though he said certain financial restrictions might temporarily preclude that goal, it’s likely that 70 percent of campus could be wireless by that time.

Following Yen’s plan, several University colleges started to investigate how to make the best use of wireless capabilities. Among them, the College of Agriculture, Food and Environmental Sciences decided to explore its wireless possibilities.

Ann Hill Duin, associate dean of academic programs at the College of Agriculture, organized a committee of students and faculty to develop a program for an “exemplary wireless environment” in the college.

“The key is to get students access to key research information,” Duin said. “We looked at our student needs and realized that students are very mobile and the amount of places that students could actually have wireless access was over half our classroom space.”

In an attempt to promote the University’s initiative, the College of Agriculture also began offering free wireless networking cards to the college’s undergraduate students with laptops. The College of Agriculture also purchased 10 wireless-equipped laptop computers for experimentation in the classroom.

Laura Gurak, rhetoric professor in the College of Agriculture, became the first instructor in the college to teach a wireless-based course during the summer. She said teaching in a cord-free environment allows her students to be spontaneous, flexible and capable of quickly completing Internet tasks. They can also share information with classmates by passing laptops from desk to desk.

Many students say using wireless laptops helps with tasks such as note taking to writing test essays quickly and neatly.

“Classes are now being integrated with the Web so much that the whole class benefits,” said Sean Mackey, a senior computer science major, of his wireless class.

But Mackey also suggested wireless laptop use in class is not always good because students can become easily distracted.

“If everyone had their own computers then everyone would be in their own world. The fact that we have to share kind of moderates what you’re looking at,” he said.

Though the College of Agriculture’s wireless initiative is still in its early stages, Duin said she is confident wireless use on campus will continue to grow.

“I feel it’s catching on. My prediction is that it just will become a common part of the learning experience no matter where you are,” she said.

The Carlson School of Management and the University Law School also currently have wireless classrooms.


Branden Peterson welcomes comments at [email protected]