(The huge issu
s are still not
D AN ANDERSON
best suited to quantitative subjects, like the
sciences and math, Richardson said. Son"le
hlll"lanities professors have found innovative
uses for the new technology as well.
Frontiers, and distractions
In fall 1999, about half of the incoming
freshmen took advantage ofa pilot offering
of ThinkPads at the IBM contract price
through UNe Student Stores. Low-interest
loans were available as needed. Pilot classes
laid the groundwork for this year's laptop
requirement: two sections of English
composition, two sections of calculus, six
chemistry labs and a first-year seminar in
English. Some of the classes used wireless
network connections, allowing professors
and students to use the Web while main-
taining flexible seating arrangements.
In focus groups near the end of the
semester, students gave generally favorable
reports, despite predictable complaints about
lugging the computers around and adapting
to new technology. True to Richardson's
expectation, comp uters proved most directly
applicable in the calculus course and the
Venable Hall houses the freshn"lan
chemistry labs. Witl"l their slate counters and
institutional-drab paint, they look almost
exactly as they did more than 30 years ago.
Even in rooms with skylights, the lighting
seems dingy on a sunny day.
But on the shelves above the sinks are
small black electronic boxes that have proved
to be a clear success in the University's
early e}..'perirnents in laptop applications.
Through these boxes, chemistry students
connect their laptops to probes that measure
variables such as pH, voltage, color and
In the window of the House Undergraduate Library, looking out on the Pit, is a little box that resembles an answering machine with two cordless phone antennas
sticking out of it. Add a network card (currently about $150) to your CC/-approved
laptop, and you can surf the 'net or e-mail home for money while lounging in the
Pit-without plugging in to anything.
Last spring, Assistant Professor Daniel Anderson had the little boxes in some of
his English classes. Anderson requires computers in his writing and literature classes,
but his Greenlaw Hall classrooms aren't wired, so he hands out network cards as
students come in the room.
"We pass out the cards, they put them in, and
have everybody on the
network;' Anderson said. His students compose papers on their laptops, then e-mail
them to classmates who can insert comments. Since the word processor can keep
track of what's original copy and where revisions have been made, students learn
about the process of revising text.
"You're on the low end of what a computer can do," Anderson said, "but they
become aware of the process of writing and editing. The students loved it. Some of
them were just thrilled with the convenience. Others also appreciated the way it
helped them think through the class."
In his Shakespeare class, students were assigned to take a raw version of
and create a user-friendlier edition with editorial notes for the reader. They
compose multimedia projects that help them begin to think about the ways printed
and electronic composition differ.
Anderson learned quickly that wireless changes things. The student who's having
a bad attention span day easily be can nabbed for working the crossword puzzle;
it's a different story when a whole group of students who appear to be writing
English papers wander off the path and beginning instant-messaging each other on
unrelated topics.Yesterday's inkwell is today's computer battery-if it runs low
you're out of business, and a full day of classes, research and socializing can make
battery juggling a challenge.
On top of all that are logistical problems. In rooms such as those in Greenlaw,
the desktops are too small to hold a laptop; and they're tilted-a $2,900 computer
can easily slide off onto the floor.
The wireless tether to your professors and classmates, and to the research
resources of the Internet, is the standard of the very near future. Carolina is
employing wireless in a limited number of classes this fall and is placing the hubs that
send to and receive from laptops in strategic common areas across the campus-
the hubs have a range of about 50 feet. But the Carolina Computing Initiative is being
careful not to move too fast: Transmission speed and other aspects of wireless
technology are changing so quickly that to cover the whole campus would mean
wasting a lot of money on standards that soon will be obsolete.
Jim Gogan, director of networking for Carolina's Academic Technology and
Networks, said his group has set up I I English classrooms and a couple in Davie
Hall for wireless. There are hubs covering the Pit, the Union lounges and parts of
the Davis and Undergraduate libraries.
"We're not just throwing out equipment everywhere just to say, 'We've got
wireless,'" Gogan said."We're wary of applications where a guy gets a hammer and
then goes looking for all the nails out there."
Wireless cards are not yet a requirement of the CCI, although the required
laptops will accommodate them. Once the price of the cards drops below $100,
Gogan said, they probably will be required.
Does the move to wireless render the massive computer wiring of the campus
obsolete? No. Wired computers still have a 10-fold advantage in speed, and they
always are more secure.A wired computer is dedicated, whereas by going wireless
you are sharing bandwidth. making some applications difficult or impossible.
But it's impractical to put a computer jack by every chair in the Student Union.
Wireless can go everywhere-and one day soon it will.
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