State College Goes Wireless
By Sheron Smith
Macon State's wireless network, Dr. Mike Staman, left, can
check his e-mail outside the Student Life Center on his PDA,
while senior Chris Hood can edit student newspaper copy on
by Sheron Smith
A full load of classes and a job editing the student newspaper
keep Macon State College senior Chris Hood cooped up inside a lot.
When he needs some fresh air, he takes his new Apple iBook to the
Student Life Center's outdoor amphitheater to browse the Internet
and exchange e-mail with friends while enjoying the spring weather.
Thanks to a wireless network Macon State recently began developing,
students, faculty and staff now have unfettered access to the Internet
in selected areas of campus, including the Student Life Center atrium,
amphitheater and back patio, the cafeteria and the library. Other
wireless areas include about half of the Information Technology
classroom building, the faculty conference room, the MSC Foundation
Boardroom and a Warner Robins Center classroom. Soon, students will
be able to check out laptops from the Academic Resource Center with
wireless access capability.
With a wireless network, anybody with a properly equipped laptop
computer or PDA (personal digital assistant) can access the Internet,
check e-mail or play music without cables or active jacks. To access
a wireless network, a laptop or PDA needs a special communications
card to send and receive radio signals from access points, or boxes
installed inside and outside of buildings.
"It's great," said Hood, 24, a communications major.
"It allows me to do the same work that I would normally be
doing in the (student newspaper) office without being confined there.
I just power up my laptop and write editorials, edit stories and
photos and send the work straight to the office for our copy editor
and layout editor."
Besides convenience, Macon State's wireless network will create
opportunities for what is called mobile or nomadic learning.
Say a group of political science majors is discussing international
relations with one of their professors in the cafeteria and wants
to look up something on the U.S. State Department website. Just
shove the pizza aside, fire up that laptop and click away.
"It's something we wanted to try in the campus common areas,"
said Wanda Eanes, Macon State's director of technology support services.
"The common areas don't have a lot of data jacks available,
so this gives students with laptops more choices."
According to a recent article in The Chronicle of Higher Education,
wireless networks are no longer strictly experimental for college
campuses. More colleges are building wireless networks expecting
them to enhance teaching, learning and research. Some college officials
predict that eventually, a proliferation of laptops and wireless
networks may accelerate a trend away from college-owned, general-purpose
desktops in student computer labs.
But the article stopped short of saying wireless networks are now
"must haves" for colleges. However, Dr. Mike Staman, Peyton
Anderson Professor of IT at Macon State, said he believes campuses
do need wireless networks.
"Maybe not as the network, but as an overlay," he said.
"It's just like the cell phone has become a must-have for many
people. Think of fast-food restaurants and ATMs. Those aren't just
conveniences anymore, they've changed the way we live."
A wireless network has several advantages over a hardwired system,
such as lower installation costs. On the down side, a wireless system
delivers data more slowly and the potential for security breaches
is greater, although technological solutions for both of those problems
are rapidly advancing.
Macon State will expand the wireless network over time, particularly
as construction begins on new buildings, including the Nursing and
Professional Sciences Complex, which breaks ground this spring.
Eanes said the college will extend the network further outdoors.
Eventually, a common sight could be Macon State students in art
history classes sitting under trees while taking virtual museum
tours on their laptops.
"Soon we'll wonder how we did without the ability to access
information from any place and at any time," Staman said. "The
next step is for Ruby Tuesday's or TGI Friday's or some other restaurant
to put in a wireless port so students can do their homework while
having a hamburger."