An Information Technology Services initiative announced in September aimed at providing students and faculty access to wireless from anywhere on campus is well underway, ITS representatives said, but it may still be some time before all 12 residential colleges enjoy full coverage.
Having expanded wireless Internet access to fully cover Linsly-Chittenden Hall, William L. Harkness Hall, the Hall of Graduate Studies and Connecticut Hall over the summer, ITS has brought wireless coverage to 40 additional buildings around campus since July, said Joe Paolillo, ITS’ senior director of infrastructure services. About 130 buildings remain to be fitted into the wireless network — a process that is slotted for completion by the end of 2009, he said.
The upgrade has been a priority for ITS for several years now as the result of an increased demand among students and faculty for Internet in classrooms, offices and dorms, said Charles Powell, director of academic media and technology.
“Demand is growing in response to a ‘Starbucks effect,’ ” Paolillo said. “Every place you go now, you can find wireless. The time had come to accelerate coverage on campus.”
The wireless access expansion has been making its way down from the northeast end of campus, Powell said. Over the course of this academic year, several buildings and spaces along Hillhouse Avenue, on Science Hill and on the Yale Medical School campus have received upgrades, Paolillo said.
But fitting each of the residential colleges with full wireless access — which will include Internet access from student dorm rooms — remains a challenge for technicians during the school year while students are occupying their rooms, he said. As a result, it will take at least until the summer for technicians to begin work on that part of the project.
Officials said ITS will implement wireless access in as many of the colleges as it can, but it is unlikely that all 12 will receive full coverage by the end of the summer.
To date, Swing Space, Trumbull College and Silliman College all have full wireless access, and Jonathan Edwards College is currently being fitted with the technology as part of its renovation.
Wireless Internet has become much more affordable in recent years, Paolillo said, putting the expansion within the University’s reach. When wireless was first brought to campus in 2001, access points cost about $1,200 each, whereas they each cost about $400 today, he explained.
The technology itself has also improved, having been upgraded from stand-alone devices to “intelligent” units that feed back into a larger wireless network and can substitute for each other in the case of failure, which allows “seamless coverage as you move around,” Paolillo said. The new technology also improves the performance of bandwidth-intensive applications, such as large data transfers and streaming video, he said.
Wireless Internet access around campus has been growing slowly for seven years, Powell said.
When it was first brought to campus seven years ago, all residential colleges had wireless access in their courtyards, libraries and dining calls, as did a handful of public spaces on campus, such as libraries, he said.
But at the time, desktops and chalkboard lectures were the norm. Now, 93 percent of students use laptops, according to Yale’s Student Computing group, and teachers have increasingly begun to integrate technology into their classes.
“[The expansion] is a much needed addition to campus,” Swetha Totapally ’09 remarked.
But some professors have expressed concern that wireless access in classrooms may encourage students to tune out during lectures and use the Internet for non-classroom-related activities.
Paul Freedman, professor of history, said the Internet provides “a huge temptation” for students to misuse their laptops.
“I am a little worried about students’ getting distracted during lectures,” he said. “I’ve noticed, at least among undergraduates, you can find many looking at computer screens [during class], but its clear they’re not taking notes.”
But Powell said the upgrade will not give students anything that is not already available to them, since students can access the Internet wherever they go from their cell phones and other personal devices.
He said the University’s policy is one of instructor management, since policing students by regulating their Internet use during classroom time would be infeasible and “frighteningly big-brother-like.”
“Faculty should make their preferences clear — and enforce their own rules within their classrooms, rather than looking for technology to enforce policy,” he said.
“[That’s] a losing battle,” he added.
Several students interviewed said the expansion will be an asset to classrooms, allowing students to follow along on professors’ lecture slides, access online documents and Web pages for clarification, and type notes more quickly than they would be able to write them by hand.
Powell said he also expects that the upgrade will enhance classroom use because many instructors may begin using the Internet — and the increased bandwidth capability under the new wireless technology — to their advantage.
“We’ve needed this expansion for a long time,” he said, “It’s the right thing to do.”