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Posted 4-18-00

Network rankings issued

A different method of counting campus computers and the lack of wireless networking projects on campus appear to be among factor's affecting CWRU's results in this year's version of Yahoo Internet Life magazine's ranking of the nation's most-wired campuses.

Rankings appear in the May issue of the magazine. Additional information is on the magazine's Web site.

The magazine ranked CWRU as the nation's top campus last year. This year, CWRU does not appear among the top 50 wired research universities in the printed rankings, nor among the top 100 wired research universities on the Web site.

The magazine made several major changes in its survey this year. First, while the magazine invited 571 schools to participate in the 1999 survey, this year's pool was broadened to include more than 3,600 accredited two- and four-year colleges and universities across the nation.

Another change was to separate rankings for research universities and baccalaureate colleges.

The printed version of the ranking lists the top 50 colleges and universities in each category, and the Web site lists the top 100 schools in each category. Also on the Web site are rankings of two-year institutions and baccalaureate II institutions (which the magazine defines as less-selective baccalaureate colleges).

In the rankings for research universities, every school in the top 50 has a program in progress to offer wireless access to network resources. However, only the top-ranked university, Carnegie Mellon University, has a full wireless program in place. The schools ranked second through 49th say that their wireless programs are in trial stages or offer only limited use.

Tentative plans are being developed to test a wireless networking program at Kelvin Smith Library beginning in the summer, according to James Barker, interim vice president for information services. The budget for this project has not yet been approved.

"It's only recently that we've been able to get relatively good connection speeds" for wireless networking technologies, Barker said. "We've been waiting to see which wireless technology has shown enough promise to be worthy of investing in."

The library project will likely involve switching to wireless network equipment in one of the electronic classrooms, he added.

The method used to count networked campus computers also may be a factor in CWRU's drop in the Yahoo rankings this year.

CWRU "reported much lower numbers in both the General Resources and Student Support categories this year," the magazine stated in the article accompanying the rankings.

"We have begun to make major changes in managing our campus network to ensure that services that are important to our students and other users receive greater attention," CWRU officials wrote in a statement to the magazine. "This year's survey responses reflect an understated assessment of our capabilities as of January 2000, building on our pioneering high-speed, all-fiber-optic configuration."

CWRU has adopted a networking philosophy called distributed computing, Barker said, which focuses on offering students network access in the residence hall rooms. Every CWRU residence hall is connected to the network, and there is a faceplate in every room -- two in double rooms.

"This campus has a rich network environment that puts computing power right in the hands of the students," Barker said.

However, many other schools instead rely more on a lab model of computing, where students are more likely to have network access through computer labs in academic and/or residential areas.

This year's Yahoo survey included a question on the number of computers "publicly available on campus for undergraduate student use."

CWRU administrators responding to the survey interpreted the question very literally to include only those computers that are in public labs, are generally available, and are generally known, according to Barker. This total was 271 computers.

After responding to the survey, administrators identified approximately another 242 computers which might be considered publicly available. However, some of these computers are in departmental labs which issue login accounts only to students in their departments, or are in buildings which have restricted access.

"We looked at the student perspective and how we should respond in a way that would be universal to all students," Barker said.

The administrator who compiled CWRU's responses to the 1999 survey, the former vice president for information services, is no longer at the University. The officials who responded to this year's questions on behalf of the University had no records available on what questions the magazine asked on last year's survey, what CWRU's responses were, or how those responses were calculated.

The 1999 edition of the survey cited 90 percent of CWRU's computers as being accessible around the clock, seven days a week.

Other changes on campus within the past year may have been factors in this year's ranking results. CWRU transferred management of the University Bookstore to Barnes and Noble College Bookstores Inc. in early May. Barnes and Noble does not carry computers, so students are no longer able to buy computers on campus.

However, the University's Microcomputer Ownership Program (MOP) still provides an interest-free loan so that undergraduate students can purchase computer equipment and repay it throughout their undergraduate careers.

Also a factor may have been the discontinuation of Cleveland Free-Net last September. Free-Net, which debuted in 1986 as the nation's first free community telecomputing network, helped illustrate the value of making a variety of information available electronically. But Free-Net was made obsolete by technologies like the World Wide Web which are more modern, offer better graphic appeal, and boast faster transfer speeds. Also, the Free-Net software was not year 2000 compatible.

"We feel our commitment to the distributed computing environment is correct. The approach emphasizes the importance of the individual and encourages placement of an essential information appliance -- today a microcomputer -- at the student's home base," Barker said.

At CWRU, all residence halls and academic buildings are connected to CWRUnet, which became the nation's first all-fiber-optic campus computer network in 1989.

Students can register for courses online, drop or add courses online, view course schedules online, apply for admission electronically, and renew library books or check the status of book reserve requests online.

Technical support is available 85 hours a week through the help desk during the academic year, and computer and network training classes are available to all new and continuing faculty, staff, and students.

Some 65 megabytes of Web storage space and 50 megabytes of network file server space are available to each user on campus. Students can print an unlimited number of pages for free on University-owned printers. Alumni can retain their e-mail accounts for life at no cost.


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