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March 5, 2000

No wires required for Internet access at Andrews University

By MARK HARPER / H-P Staff Writer

BERRIEN SPRINGS - Here's a dreamy, futuristic 21st Century image: A student, sprawled out an a sun-splashed patch of grass beneath a tree, exploring the Internet on a laptop computer.

That may not be far from reality at Andrews University.

Already, students with laptops equipped with plug-in cards can walk into the James White Library and parts of several other buildings and be linked up to the World Wide Web without being hooked up to any telephone lines or wires.

The university is advancing its wireless infrastructure to new buildings and is looking at eventually installing enough radio-frequency cells to cover outdoors spaces.

"We're on the leading wave," said Daniel Cress, the university's emerging technologies coordinator. "I think we're the second or third educational institution in Michigan to deploy it on this wide of a scale."

The school has consulted an Illinois hospital interested in wireless technology and will be working with other colleges, Cress said.

Currently, about 80 people on campus have cards.

Cress expects that figure to grow rapidly as the cost of the cards and laptops fall.

The school is selling cards on special for $199, but they are expected to drop in price to about $100 by this summer. When they first became available three or four years ago, they cost more than $500.

On the campus, bright green signs indicate where Wireless Zones begin and end. Five buildings, the James White Library, Campus Center and architecture, business and information services buildings, are wireless.

Two others, Harrigan and Haughey halls, are on the way.

Cells, also called access points, transmit radio frequencies. The library is covered by six cells, Cress said. It cost just $7,700 to install the wireless infrastructure in the library.

And other buildings are even less costly, because paper in the library tends to suck the strength out of radio frequency, he said.

Both the cards and cells operate on extremely low power. The amount of power a card requires is the same amount necessary for a pen light or keychain light.

Cress estimates the campus is 10 percent done with its wireless program, and will be a quarter of the way completed when the current phase of projects is complete.

There are areas of the campus, including some residence halls, which already are wired, so it is a low priority to provide wireless service there, Cress said.

But the experience with wireless technology has given Cress no reason to believe it won't work in the future.

"There's been no outages in three years," he said. "We've had snow, ice storms, it's always worked just fine."

Chief Information Officer David Heise, a member of the university president's cabinet, said the decision to go with wireless technology began with a discussion about requiring all students to carry laptops.

The discussion eventually centered on the technology that should be in place for that to work.

"The phrase I began to hear was, 'Learning is ubiquitous,'" Heise said. That is, learning is omnipresent, everywhere.

"We're excited about the possibility that we have to make innovation the norm in learning," he said.

The Division of Architecture, whose building is wireless, began requiring students to own laptops last year.

Mark Moreno, assistant professor of architecture, said having online classes has been helpful to teachers.

"It has expanded the walls and time of the one-hour classroom," Moreno said. "With wireless networks and laptops, on-line courses can happen in any room."

Before obtaining wireless technology, the architecture division had a single computer lab with six stations.

"(Radio frequency) instantly turned our entire building into a system of connectivity," he said. "Where there were standard classrooms, we now have the possibility for online curricula, in-class browsing, and file access, digital projection enhancements and alternatives to the traditional delivery and sharing of information."

Kwame Smith, an architecture student, said his laptop has enriched his studio work.

"Drawings essential to group projects can be transferred from one student to the next instantaneously," he said.

Smith, though, fears some architecture students might become too reliant upon computers.

"I fear that (wireless technology), as advantageous as it is, can become a means by which architecture students conveniently become dependent upon computers and neglect the hand drawing process essential," Smith said.

Some campus professors have not been completely receptive to the idea of in-class browsing, Heise said. While a student surfing the 'Net might be inappropriate in some instances, the possibilities make the access worthwhile, he said.

Mainly, Moreno said, teachers should embrace open discussions with students that can be fostered by the Internet.

Still, while the Internet has a great capacity for generating intriguing debate, Moreno urges caution against accepting information on the Internet as the final authority.

The wireless system might become more than an education tool for Andrews.

Cress said while he isn't the type of person who needs to be connected to the Internet 25 hours a day, he knows some people who do.

"The younger generation is demanding it," he said. Some students are selecting colleges based on "connectivity," he said.


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