Internet revamps GW technology

Every student remembers trying to locate classrooms across GW’s campus during the first week of freshman year. Students looked at paper maps and attempted to decipher which code went with which building and then struggled to figure out how to actually get there.

Next year’s class will have a different experience. Most will probably point and click their way through GW’s new online interactive map (www.gwu.edu/~map). Students can navigate the map to find the names of buildings and their locations. The map is also filled with pictures including several 360-degree panoramas of spots on campus.

This is just one of the ways technology has dramatically changed at GW over the last four years.

The largest component of growing technology on campus has been the growth of the University’s fiber-optic network, said Dave Swartz, Chief Information Officer of Information Systems and Services.

Four years ago, the fastest connection faculty members had was a shared Ethernet connection. In the residence halls, students could only have an ISN line, which carried 9600 bits per second. Students who opted for this service had to pay a monthly fee and were limited to checking their Pine e-mail accounts and text-based Web-site browsing.

This was slower access than students at other peer institutions had, Swartz said.

(ISN) was nice technology for when it was rolled out, which was thirteen years ago, but it was still here four years ago and it shouldn’t have been, said Guy Jones, director of Technology Services. When I got here four years ago, there was a recognition that GW had to take out what was here and build a new infrastructure.

To upgrade the campus technologically, the Millennium Project was implemented in 1997. The three-phase, $126 million project involved replacing the University’s existing technologies with a state-of-the-art fiber-optic network.

Sometimes when you’re behind everybody you can leapfrog, Swartz said.

Although the fiber-based network was more expensive at the time, Swartz said he believes the benefits will show themselves in the years to come.

Fiber networks can carry voice and video along with high speed Internet. Swartz said GW is one of the only universities with a network that has every computer connected with fiber cables.

GW has 9,000 fiber drops and will add 1,000 more every year, Jones said. The Gelman Library will begin a pilot program using Wireless Internet connections next fall.

Aside from creating a high-tech network, part of the Millennium Project dealt with wiring the residence halls. During the 1996-97 academic year, no residence halls were wired, said Alexa Kim, director of Student and Academic Support Services Communication and Technology.

New Hall, built as wired dorm, opened in 1997. Also during that year, Francis Scott Key and Crawford Halls were the first to be wired. During 1998-99 there was a large push to connect the majority of residence halls. In the last phase, which took place this past summer, Madison and Mitchell Halls were wired.

Today, only a few of GW’s residence halls are not wired, but each will be wired on a hall by hall basis, Kim said. There are 3,800 connections in the residence halls, Kim said. Eighty to 85 percent of them are being used this year.

To create an interface for students with Internet access in the residence halls, ResNet was created in 1997.

ResNet provides all the education, support and troubleshooting for all wired residence halls, Kim said.

Having a wired campus has changed the way many students interact with faculty and other students. The high-speed fiber connectivity in residence halls has enabled students to use applications like Web mail and Web registration. Web mail has seen a growth rate of 300 percent in the last year and 80 percent of student registered online this semester, Swartz said.

One such application that has been embraced is Prometheus, Swartz said. When Prometheus first debuted last year, 160 courses were online. This year 1,700 courses are online.

The educational experience will hopefully grow so that instead of taking notes, you will be able to have material that you can study already prepped for you and be focusing classroom time for that synchronous exchange between you and the faculty member, Jones said.

Jones said technology will continue to change the classroom environment.

It will allow those people who want to sit in the residence halls in their pajamas early in the morning to participate (in class) even though they can’t drag themselves out of bed and go to class, Jones said.

The Internet has also changed the way students communicate with other students.

Four years ago posting something on a Web site was unheard of, Kim said. Very few departments had Web sites and the GW Web site was in very, very sorry condition in 1996. It wasn’t the heavily trafficked area that it is now.

Kim said SASS has tried to use the Internet as a way of reaching out to students and creating a community with its GWired Web site (www.gwired.gwu.edu).

Fred McConnell, Operations Coordinator of ResNet and a 1996 graduate of GW, said he believes students use the Internet the same way they did four years ago, but they can do more things on it.

It’s great to keep people in touch, McConnell said. Chat wasn’t such a big thing four years ago.

Both McConnell and Kim said e-mail and instant messages have become a standard way of communicating. They also said using the Internet has become more common.

Its only a short time since having a computer sort of typified you as total techie-geeky, McConnell said. That’s not the case anymore.

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