Laurentian to create wireless campus

Laurentian University in Sudbury, Ont., has announced plans to have a completely wireless campus by the year 2003, and has partnered with Bell Canada to accomplish the task.

The University is still examining all the technological options for the project, according to its president, Dr. Jean Watters.

“What we intend to do is run a number of pilot projects next year and the year after, before looking at the full implementation either by the year 2002 or 2003,” Watters said.

It is still not known what technologies will be used or what specific devices students will be given. For the pilot projects, the school will provide the students with the devices, but it isn’t known for sure what will happen once the project is completed. The school is considering several different handheld devices and has yet to find a suitable one.

Johanne Pomerleau is the executive director of the Institute of Innovation, Learning and Technology at Laurentian. She said at this point, while many things are still being taken into consideration, there are some aspects of the project that have been determined.

“We’re definitely going to be combining the wired technology and the wireless technology. The wireless will mostly be for areas on campus where we can’t change the architectures of buildings,” she said. Areas of high student traffic

such as the cafeteria or the student lounge “plus our long corridor in the art building are part of our target area to be connected through wireless technology for next year. And we’re in the process right now of evaluating what is needed and defining exactly how one will interface with the other.”

Jim Godin, business solutions manager at Bell Canada, said there is a lot of work to be done.

“We know it’s going to be the utilization of wireless components or technology,” he said, “but what will be at the transmitting or the receiving ends of that, that has yet to be determined. And this is where a lot of the time, energy and — I’ll call it the contribution of the vendor — has to come into play in order to get the variety of people that we need to make this a reality, because there’s going to be a lot of different individuals involved to create and to build this type of a wireless structure itself.”

During a recent walk-through of the school, Godin said he noticed a lot of students studying in the cafeteria.

“The void today is students in these types of areas do not have accessibility to e-mail, course-ware, which they could drive from technology such as a laptop” or other devices, he said.

Implementing a wireless component into these areas will give students the chance to work in an environment they’re comfortable in, which in turn will result in more productivity, Godin explained.

This will be the first pilot project for the university and Bell. So far, it is also still in its planning stages for its implementation this September.

Godin said the partners have gone in to sit down with faculty as well as students to discuss what the technology will be able to do for them.

The “information session”, as Godin referred to it, provided everyone with the opportunity to understand what is going to happen and what some of the benefits will be.

“We provided that type of an overview, and we’ve asked basically for their input in terms of where is it that they wish to go in terms of some of the pilot projects and what are some of

the objectives, or applications that they would want to experience,” he said.

The main motivation behind the project is “accessibility, first of all,” said Watters. “Accessibility on campus and off campus. That’s one thing. Flexibility also.”

As well, he said, the school wants to be unique and in three years intends to be the most innovative university in Ontario.

In the long run, Watters expects this plan could save the school money. In a few years the tablets will be a lot cheaper, he said, which will definitely be an advantage for the University. As well, he notes, students could even download their books, eliminating another cost. “We will save a lot of money also, because what we don’t have to do is re-wire our entire campus.”

And although it’s going to take a lot of work, the only disadvantage Watters said he can foresee is “that when you’re the first one, you end up with all the bugs.”

Despite all the advantages surrounding the integration of wireless technology on campus, Pomerleau and Watters still both stressed the importance of the human element in learning. And that is where Contact North, a company involved in the application and integration of technologies in distance learning, comes into the project.

“In order to learn, students will still need to regroup from time to time, and Contact North could become like an extension of the campus for some activities that need to be done face to face,” Pomerleau explained.

They are interested in “finding out which technology is best for some type of running activity,” she said, as well as what would be best for different courses of study.

Also, “what would need to be done face to face, and what can be done in a virtual environment so that you don’t lose the human contact,” she said.