Purdue hopes to explore new ways to use 4G in the classroom

Purdue University will join the 38 major metropolitan areas and more than 60 commercial airports that Verizon plans to cover in the first large-scale 4G Long Term Evolution Network, which should result in many new opportunities to use smart phones and other mobile devices as learning tools, observers say.

“The reason that we chose Purdue University is because they are already using wireless technology in very innovative ways,” said Verizon representative Michelle Gilbert. “We thought they would be a great partner to really embrace this kind of technology and help move it forward,” Gilbert said.

“Generally in these kinds of technologies where the vendor is looking at subscribers per cubit, we’re about a third tier or fourth tier market,” said Scott Ksander, Purdue’s executive director of networks and security. “Other than the Indianapolis Airport we’re the only other spot in Indiana [that will be covered.] That’s a pretty big acknowledgment by Verizon that we might have something to offer and we’re really excited about that,” said Ksander.

The Verizon 4G network technology will increase network speed by leaps and bounds, enabling more interactivity and internet usage in daily university curriculum.

“You could equate the speed of 4G to taking a 14-hour flight to Tokyo and reducing it to 80 minutes. That’s the difference in speed,” said Gilbert.

Download and upload times for large files are reduced by tenfold. Gilbert said latency is greatly reduced, which means people watching videos, on video conferences, or playing games will not have to wait while the video element buffers.

But Ksander wants to make sure that the focus isn’t only on the new equipment, but on how it can improve students’ learning experiences.

“Unfortunately I think sometimes this becomes a discussion about technology,” said Ksander. “If the message is that it’s just faster internet, while that’s interesting to technology people, that’s not the point. [It should be] how do I make my experience at Purdue more rewarding because I have a bigger experience as a result of this technology,” Ksander said.

“Overall across West Lafayette there’s a lot of excitement. People are asking a lot of questions. I think people affiliated with Purdue are extremely proud that the most innovative wireless technology has come to their campus,” Gilbert said.

“I think the first reaction was that people were very surprised and happy that a rural area like us would be selected for this,” said Ksander. “We’re not an urban area. We’re not exactly the middle of nowhere, but nowhere is nearby here somewhere.”

Verizon plans to roll out 4G across its entire national network by the end of 2013.

“I think LTE is the enabling technology here and we’re just starting to scratch the surface of what kind of experience it could bring,” said Ksander.

Students will have to pay a monthly fee in order to access the network, although Ksander said the university hasn’t yet worked out the details of a payment plan.

“Books aren’t free. Teaching materials aren’t. You buy the book in the belief that it helps the experience in the class,” Ksander explained. “We need to be able to put this technology in that same class [to] demonstrate in a very real way that this is an experiential part of the class.”

Purdue is working to make the most out of the 4G network, combining it with 802.11 Wi-Fi.

“We’re deploying 6,000 access points on our campus. We were the larges deployment of 802.11 that Cisco sold,” said Ksander.

“I don’t want to just improve your experience,” Ksander said. “I want to improve experiences that make you successful at the university so if you learn more, you’re more absorbed, you’re more intrigued by your instructors, and that’s where I think this technology really can focus on making that mobile learning experience that we never quite got to with [just] laptops,” Ksander said.


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