Building a 'Smart' Campus

When it comes to wireless AV, University of Illinois at Springfield leads the way.

The University of Illinois at Springfield (UIS) is a small, technologically advanced liberal arts university of about 4,500 students. It often serves as the prototype for the UI system (which includes three campuses), and for many universities nation-wide—testing and incubating new technology that impacts learning. With 95 percent of our classrooms “smart” (designed to enhance the integration of technology into curriculum), it’s no wonder UIS was also the first wireless campus with a strong online learning program.

UIS’s University Hall (completed last August) was constructed to provide a true networked wireless environment for faculty, staff, and students. The high-tech classroom/office building houses social studies, humanities, and business management programs in nearly 40 classrooms. From the get-go, I understood the impact this technology would have on student learning, and how it could also generate positive exposure regarding the university’s commitment to providing the most advanced resources and tools to help students get the very best education. However, as always, the major challenge was making this happen with a tight budget.

Partnering for a Solution

Fortunately, Illinois-based audiovisual reseller Fox River Audio Visual Inc. (www.foxgraph.com) was able to help us work around our financial limitations by partnering with the SMARTer Kids Foundation (SKF; www.smarterkids.org) to develop a solution with NEC (www.necvisuals.com), SKF’s large-area display partner. (SKF is a private organization that provides grants to equip classrooms with technology.) Fox River and NEC worked with UIS to develop a special 802.11g wireless environment with two installed NEC projectors that deliver reliable, vivid images to 32 classrooms.

The application required the hardwire networking capability of an installed NEC multimedia projector with interactive whiteboards, and PCM100 network cards to perform remote diagnostics of the projector from a local area network (to ensure each one works properly at all times). The power-zoom/power-focus features of the projector also made it easy to accommodate any surface, and allow users to switch screens and adjust image size with the push of a button.

Technology Commitment

The implementation of this technology solution has proved advantageous for our students. For instance, they can quickly broadcast presentations on projectors without having to e-mail them to their professor. Also, instead of using outdated blackboards or flip charts, interactive whiteboards powered by the projector are able to store graphics and images from a class’s brainstorming session. But one of the most significant benefits of using projection technology in the classroom is that it allows video to appear larger than life, making it easier to capture and maintain students’ attention.

For faculty and staff, the projectors are a valuable addition to the university because they’re extremely quiet, easy to set up, and operate. One exceptional feature is the control panel built into each instructor station that allows faculty to regulate every piece of equipment from the projector to the DVD player. Also, my IT team can now easily monitor our networked projectors, turning them on and off from their office, which saves energy costs, reduces lamp replacements, and enables the technology team to use their time more effectively.

The NEC/SKF grant has made it possible for us to equip students and faculty with the best technology on the market and serve as an example to other learning institutions. In the near future, UIS hopes to implement further functionality of the equipment such as digital recording and possibly streaming video. Needless to say, current and prospective students are very excited about the university’s continued commitment to providing the latest technology in our classrooms.

Albert Whittenberg is associate director of education technology for the University of Illinois at Springfield.

This article originally appeared in the 06/01/2005 issue of THE Journal.

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