University of Saskatchewan to expand wireless strategy

The University of Saksatchewan Monday said it would work with IBM Canada to extend its ability to offer mobile computing and e-learning options to students across its campus.


week IBM will formally meet with the school to discuss its needs and outline a plan to expand its wireless network and introduce remote desktop management capabilities, according to U of S associate vice-president for Information and Communications Technology Rick Bunt. The university has already worked with Big Blue on a number of projects including a renewal of the campus computer network and the development of its Bioinformatics Research Laboratories and research clusters.

“”This is a priority for us, as I think it is for everybody,”” Bunt said. “”We have a new generation of technology-savvy students who own their own laptops. They expected to be able to access all of our online services, all of our courseware tools.””

The University of Saskatchewan has been building out its wireless network for the last three years, Bunt said, but working with IBM will involve discussing with various academic units which classrooms, study areas and common rooms need to be added. Although some schools have opted to issue students a laptop for the duration of their post-secondary career, Bunt said the U of S will provide ways to remotely configure personal computing devices and provide site licences where appropriate.

“”When we put wireless facilities in a place it draws the students,”” he said. “”We put them in the library, and the students went to work there.””

IBM Canada general manager for the education industry John Kutcy said mobile computing has played a vital role in delivering student services and reducing lineups at registration, which has set a higher level of students’ IT expectations.

“”They cannot understand why they can do digital banking and digital just-about-everything-else, but they can’t get certain services that they think should be just a no-brainer for campuses to provide,”” he said, adding urban schools aren’t always as affected by the trend. “”They maybe don’t feel the pressure as much as smaller schools in more rural areas that do have to go the extra mile to attract students.””

Bunt agreed. “”The competition aspect is huge,”” he said. “”To be competitive in the current environment, students will look to the IT environment in terms of differentiating their choice of institution.””

Despite that competition, Bunt said it is still a challenge to make the business case to universities to make the investments necessary to deal with the additional IT management challenges that sometimes come with wireless access.

“”We don’t yet have an approved plan for ramping up the staffing levels,”” he admitted. “”Staff understand there may be some extra responsibilities associated with their day-to-day work.””

Kutcy said IBM has worked with about three dozen post-secondary institutions across Canada on various wireless projects, and there is no standard blueprint to be followed. In the longer term, he said, the competitive differentiators will not be the technology alone.

“”It will be the content the students can access, the services provided so they can be productive, their ability to access to a number of capabilities,”” he said.

Bunt said that while the two organizations have agreed to work together, the university’s relationship with IBM Canada is not an exclusive one.

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