The Thirst for Wi-Fi on Campus

An Oklahoma college tackles demand for Wi-Fi, but students want even more.

by / August 8, 2014 0
Oral Roberts University students want more wireless everywhere, and they'll soon get their wish. | Alejandro Cevallos

As athletes travel by bus for NCAA Division I games, they'll have access to the Wi-Fi they need to keep up with their studies at Tulsa, Okla.'s Oral Roberts University this year. And they'll also be able to get online in the hallways and byways within the next 18 months.

And now that the college is recovering from financial problems, the new CIO is trying to catch up with student Wi-Fi demand and open the door to innovation from students. Michael L. Mathews has already outfitted one bus with wireless and is working on getting the others equipped so that students can complete their coursework.

But even more importantly, he has access to wireless analytics that tell him when and how students are using it. Most campus leaders are missing information that helps them understand what students need from technology as they access it in a more fluid and nimble fashion, Mathews said. Wireless access, analytics and wearable technology will help them connect the dots, said Mathews, who's been invited to talk about this topic at a CIO Experience Economy Summit at Gillette Stadium with University of New Hampshire CIO Joanna Young.

A wireless-equipped bus will transport NCAA Division I athletes to competitions this year. | Photo courtesy of Oral Roberts University

"We are a stadium for freshmen," Mathews said. "They come in here, and they want to be able to access information."  

Senior Alejandro Cevallos is one of the students who wants to access information. He walks in the hallway, he hears word from a friend that a great professor is teaching a particular class the next semester. He wants to be able to sign up for that class right away, so he pulls out his smartphone. But alas, only half of the campus has wireless, and it doesn't reach the hallways yet. 

Wherever he goes on campus, he wants to be able to register for a class on his phone or iPad without walking to a particular spot with Wi-Fi. He also wants access to his personal data, including transcripts, campus bills and progress toward his degree. Instead of waiting for his senior audit to find out how far he is from graduation, he can figure out what classes he needs ahead of time and go into the audit armed with a plan.

Over the next 18 months, the campus will be covered with Wi-Fi so that students including Cevallos can access critical information wherever they are. They'll even be able to use mobile wireless pods from Extreme Networks to move Wi-Fi access to where students are.

For example, on move-in weekend, the university could put an $8,000 pod in the parking lot for parents and students to access. And on a weekend, other students might get it in a parking lot for a weight lifting competition.

As colleges continue competing for students, wireless and other technology access is proving to be a factor in students' decisions. And it also gives bragging rights to students who have access everywhere.

In a state that's part of Tornado Alley, Cevallos would like to see campus Wi-Fi that is powerful enough to go into the core of the campus where rooms are built below ground.

"If Wi-Fi can go underground, that would be phenomenal," Cevallos said. "As a student, when you know you have that much easy access to technology so fast, it just makes you feel so much more comfortable at the institution that you attend."  

And students' ideas are making it to the CIO's ears. Mathews holds Friday brainstorming sessions, keeps an open door for students and listens to how they want to design their own experience with IT on campus.

"I've got more students coming up to my office than I've ever dreamt of."

Tanya Roscorla Former Managing Editor

Tanya Roscorla covered ed tech from 2009-2017.