Technology: Taking It to the Streets

When it comes to connecting students to each other, their professors and the world, the University of Dayton (UD), Ohio, stands at the forefront of learning innovation. A residential, comprehensive Catholic university, UD is recruiting technology-savvy students and gearing up to prepare them for life and work in the 21st century - without sacrificing the university’s nearly 150-year-old mission of personalized education.

Wiring on Campus - And Beyond

UD is the first in the nation to network 25 blocks of homes, the equivalent of wiring a small city. It’s at the forefront of technological recruiting, accepting half of its applications this year via the Internet.

By fall, UD will be fully wired - thanks to a $7 million investment in what the New York Times called "an unusual and ambitious plan" to connect 1,500 students in 330 University-owned houses in three campus neighborhoods. The project is an extension of a technology initiative undertaken in 1994 when UD linked 4,000 students in residence halls and apartments to the campus computer network and telephone system and created a 78-channel video network for educational and entertainment programming.

When first-year students check into their residence halls in August, a computer loaded with software will await each of them. A cadre of 20 student computer consultants will make house calls and diagnose and fix technical problems. And by the end of the year, the $3 million Ryan C. Harris Learning-Teaching Center will open on the ground floor of the Roesch Library on campus. It will be a place for faculty and students to explore innovations in learning and teaching. It’s all part of UD’s vision to create a technology-enhanced learning environment that provides its 6,400 undergraduates with around-the-clock access to learning resources and collaboration tools and prepares them for the 21st-century workplace.

"The extension of the campus learning network to include all university-owned residential spaces and the provision of a standard computer and software package are part of our vision of a connected campus community where students have universal and equal access to the tools and learning resources of the information age," says Thomas Skill, assistant provost for academic technology. "This will give us a technology edge in the marketplace and meet the demands of prospective students who are looking for colleges with good learning networks."

Expert Advice

While most agree that universities need technology to remain competitive, the issues are complex. "We had questions such as, ‘Which technologies will make students more competitive in the marketplace?’" says Skill, who got advice from two technology-savvy alumni on the university’s College of Arts and Sciences Advisory Council. Dan Owen, managing general partner of HO2 Partners, a Dallas-based Internet investment company, and Garry McGuire, Sr., president and chief operating officer of Williams Communica-tions Solutions, kept administrators focused on a long-term vision rather than a short-term fix.

At one time, the university had considered linking student houses using a cable TV network, but Owen and McGuire recommended a telephony platform that would connect every student via a voice, data and video link. "Cable was a one-dimensional solution that didn’t address how to give (the student neighborhoods) access to UD’s local area networks," McGuire says.

Based upon the council’s advice and recommendations, UD entered into a five-year partnership with McGuire’s company to transform the institution into one of the most wired private, residential universities in the country. Since most UD undergraduates live on campus, no other residential campus in the country will have a greater percentage of its student body connected to a high-speed computer network, according to Skill.

The solution is flexible enough to allow UD to renovate student houses without losing its investment in technology infrastructure. "What we’re implementing will allow the university to evolve as the teaching and learning process evolves," McGuire says.

Faculty from UD and multimedia designers from Williams Communications Solutions will develop and test interactive learning applications that can be marketed nationally. The campus will become a beta site for emerging products. "This is not just a project to put in some hardware," Skill says. "Our faculty know the curriculum and are experts in face-to-face learning. Williams knows over-the-wire distance learning. Together, we’re going to create some new models for residential campuses that will enhance face-to-face learning. In many ways, we’re meeting the marketplace."

Of Suppliers, Service and Software

The partnership with Williams is not the only one UD sought out to implement its residential learning network. Tangent Computers, a manufacturer of integrated computer systems in Burlingame, Calif., will sell one of three computer packages to all incoming students, install the computers in residence halls and establish a technical support center on campus to service the machines. As part of UD’s partnership agreement with Tangent, the company will offer four years of on-site service, a four-year parts and labor warranty and lifetime toll-free technical support. Two full-time Tangent technicians will staff a support center, and a corps of 20 student residential computer consultants will be available to make house calls and serve as troubleshooters. "We’re guaranteeing the prices and the specifications, but if the market changes before August and we can improve the platform of the machines with larger hard drives or more memory or larger processors, we’ll do it," Skill says. "We want to give students the most current technology available."

UD selected Tangent Computers over a dozen other companies because it offered to improve the specifications if prices dropped and to install and maintain the computers for four years with on-site technicians. Besides investing in the infrastructure and selecting computer packages for students to buy or lease, UD is purchasing campuswide licenses for Microsoft Office, Lotus Notes and LearningSpace. The software will be loaded on all computers purchased from Tangent and be available for free on campus for all faculty, staff and students. "LearningSpace will allow us to establish distributed learning resources throughout the entire campus and over the Web," Skill says. "This application will give faculty a common platform or template for course resources, such as syllabi, multimedia material, class discussion forums and student team work areas. Students benefit by having a common interface for their classes that will allow them to deal with content more easily because they won’t struggle with different ways of accessing materials or submitting assignments."

The campus learning network will be a catalyst for creating new models that move beyond the traditional chalk-and-talk teaching that has characterized higher education. UD wants to use computers to encourage students to continue discussions beyond the classroom, work together on projects, ask professors questions that arise during readings and homework assignments, interact with experts from around the world and conduct online research. UD will offer few courses completely online.

"Information connectivity by itself is not distinctive," says Bro. Raymond L. Fitz, UD president. "Many universities will be able to duplicate the capital investment we are making in information connectivity. When we talk about connectivity, we’re talking about human connectivity. The University of Dayton has put a stake in the ground. We intend to be a residential learning community that combines the best of information connectivity with the best of human collaboration and community building to create an exciting place to learn."

Teri Rizvi is director of the office of public relations at Dayton, Ohio-based University of Dayton.

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