Wireless "Cloud" Connects the Campus

Installing 802.11N network puts Westmont at the forefront of wireless technology and keeps campus well connected

Westmont has suddenly emerged as a leader in wireless technology, becoming the only school in the country to completely move to an 802.11n wireless network that creates a wireless cloud over the entire campus. This computing technology, which the college began installing in August, offers many benefits to faculty, staff, students and visitors, who are increasingly using laptop computers and handheld, Internet-based devices such as an iPhone or Palm Pre.

“We just haven’t had the same level of excellence in our technology infrastructure that we’ve accomplished in our academic program,” says Vice President and CIO of Information Technology Reed Sheard, who spearheaded the effort. “We picked some vital areas where we wanted to lead, and now Westmont has one of the better networks of any higher education institution in the country. That’s a good thing for the school, a very good thing.”

In fact, studies of high school juniors and seniors have shown that the top three criteria for choosing a college are: major or program, location, and technology. These three factors have become even more important than cost.

Sheard says the standard evaluation for a well-networked campus used to be the number of computer ports on campus per student. “We’re effectively saying that the ports-per-pillow measurement is dead,” he says. “The wireless network isn’t just a network that people would like to have, it’s actually the preferred network. Instead of ports per pillow, it’s performance, coverage and ease of use. And I would stack our wireless network with anyone’s now.”

Instead of being plugged into a port, mobile device users can access the network in every building and classroom, all major outdoor areas and athletic complexes and walk areas. Wireless connectivity covers the entire campus except the formal gardens. “Just because we can doesn’t mean we have to,” Sheard says. “It’s a place where we didn’t want technology because that’s where people sit, pray and reflect.”

The new Wi Fi network is about six times faster than the old network and has nearly three times the coverage. The old network was also difficult to access and users would frequently get dropped. Members of the Westmont community are able to log in, authenticate one time and receive service through the academic year before having to authenticate again. Guests to the campus will receive 48 hours of access before having to sign in again.

The college is engaged in five different pilot projects with faculty members, using the technology to support the creation of supplemental material for face-to-face instruction. “Having robust wireless access in the classroom and around campus will be a key part of undergirding our academic work,” Sheard says. “This is incredibly valuable to our academic mission. We have many options now about how we can use technology to conduct the important work of the college.”

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