Here's what we think are the 10 most significant higher-education technology stories of 2011.

New rules crack down on student recruitment by for-profit colleges … LMS powerhouse Blackboard Inc. expresses support for common technology standards … Federal officials dole out $500 million in grants to support the creation of open eLearning resources: These are among the many key ed-tech developments affecting colleges and universities in the past year.

In this special retrospective, the editors of eCampus News highlight what we think are the 10 most significant higher-education technology stories of 2011. To learn how these stories will continue to affect campus decision makers in 2012 and beyond, read on.

What do you think of our list? What other ed-tech stories do you think are worthy of mentioning? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.

10. Colleges grapple with students’ bandwidth demands.

Technology officials at Beloit College in Wisconsin recently saw just how long a network update would appease students’ appetite for more internet bandwidth: Nearly doubling the campus’s web capabilities proved adequate for precisely three days.

Beloit, a 1,300-student campus, struggles with the same challenge faced by colleges and universities many times its size: Today’s students expect to have constant access to uninterrupted high-speed internet service. And that puts a huge strain on campus IT officials charged with meeting this demand.

Because colleges and universities have a finite amount of bandwidth available, limits on the amount of bandwidth students can use have become more commonplace, especially during peak hours.

With on-campus bandwidth at a premium, some institutions, such as Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y., are charging students if they exceed a monthly bandwidth cap. This new policy sparked an online petition calling for the end of the bandwidth cap, and IT leaders on campuses nationwide said they have seen varied student reaction to strict internet limitations.

“I think students and faculty understand that bandwidth needs to be reserved for educational reasons and teaching purposes,” said Megan Fitch, chief information officer at Beloit College. “But [bandwidth caps] aren’t well received by some students.”

Beloit, for example, went from a network with 80 megabits per second (Mbps) of data to 150 Mbps last April, owing in part to student use of media-rich content like streaming video. That upgrade, however, came with limitations on who could use the increased bandwidth and when they could use it.

On weekdays between 6 a.m. and 6 p.m., 95 Mbps are allocated for academic purposes, while 55 Mbps are reserved for student residential areas. After 6 p.m., bandwidth in student dorms jumps to 90 Mbps, and on weekends and late night weekday hours, all 150 Mbps are available for anyone on campus to use.

Fitch said Beloit officials planned on adding bandwidth every other year, but with some students coming to campus with as many as four web-accessible devices—smart phones, laptops, tablets, and video game systems like the Xbox—that timeline for network upgrades is in question.

Some observers said charging college students for excessive web use could start a much-needed conversation about the market realities of internet availability on campus.

“If you pay more, you get more—that seems to be fair to me,” said Eric Tooley, product manager for Blue Coat Systems, a California-based company that provides bandwidth management services. “It comes down to what the market will bear. How much is it worth to you?”

See also:

29 universities seek high-speed networks

How to avoid the Wi-Fi blues in academia

Colleges struggle with students’ data demand

Campuses look to ‘dark fiber’ for connectivity


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