Ten minutes into class, I stare at a blank screen. Life is not good. Wireless is freaking out on me, as it often does, and my irritation with the ineptitude of this University grows as each minute passes by. For another excruciating five minutes, I will have no e-mail, no instant messaging, no Facebook. A terrible life indeed.

Jessica Boullion

If you’ve been paying attention to the front page of the Daily the past couple days, you’ve noticed a lot of talk about the wireless situation at the University. It’s incomplete, inconsistent and sometimes just plain bad. There is a complete lack of centralized leadership in implementing innovative technology, and as a result, the University is now lagging behind.

But this isn’t just about wireless. Not being able to efficiently goof off in class isn’t what concerns me the most – it’s the fact that the University will slowly become less relevant if it stops looking forward. Two weeks ago, Forbes magazine and the Princeton Review released their list of the top 25 most connected campuses. Intel also recorded its top 50 “unwired” campuses. The University was not on either list.

There is no need to discuss the credibility or methodology of the ranking. I know, from trying to use the technology here, that there is no way that the University will make the list any time soon. Notwithstanding the wireless issue, there has been problem after problem with the services coming out of the University’s Information Technology Central Services. How many times last year did the school’s e-mail crash? At one point, it seemed to be a weekly affair. And when the University upgrades its systems – e-mail and Wolverine Access, for instance – it rarely goes smoothly, and leaves thousands of students feeling like technology guinea pigs.

As much as the situation sucks right now, what I really mourn is what’s missing on campus – the tricks, gizmos and conversation that more connected schools in the nation are a part of.

Stanford University recently announced that it plans to put 500 lectures on iTunes as podcasts for the general public to enjoy, no tuition necessary. As far as I know, the School of Dentistry is one of the few University departments to embrace this new medium – one that I particularly enjoy and abuse. If the teachers here started podcasting their lectures, I could finally start listening to what I missed while busy surfing the Internet.

But more seriously, at a place that encourages the eager accumulation of information and insight, making available academic work in a hopping new field would allow students with packed schedules to sample the many viewpoints circulating around campus. On an even more practical level, students could use podcasts to sample classes they might want to take – gauging whether one professor is boring beyond belief or if another is a veritable Jerry Seinfeld come lecture time.

Academically, the University seems behind in even talking about new technologies. In fall 2005, Duke University held a symposium – full of lectures and panel discussions – about podcasting. At the time, the medium was only a year old.

Duke and Stanford aren’t quite like the University. Both are smaller, private schools that can spend more money per student. Duke even supplies its students (as a part of their tuition) with iPods and anything else they’d need to be as connected as possible. But it doesn’t even seem like we’re trying.

Administrators, professors and even students need to get over their Luddite tendencies and join together to take steps forward. My little pet obsession with podcasting and wireless might put me in the minority on this campus, but while other schools are actively seeking out how to incorporate trendy technology – some of which will admittedly go the way of Betamax – I worry that we’ll be left in the dust.

Way back in the day (the early ’90s), the University was one of the first to supply e-mail to its entire student body. Knowledge of e-mail allowed a handful of alumni to grab jobs because their competitors weren’t familiar with such mysterious and new technology. If this school continues at its snail-like pace when thinking about technology, when the Next Big Thing explodes into the market, the University and all its constituencies will be left – with their erratic servers, Ethernet cords and pending unemployment – scratching their heads and wondering what the hell happened.

Go can be reached at aligo@umich.edu.

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