Cleveland Is Hot
Cleveland Rocks! The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame—Rock Hall—
is Cleveland’s new icon and edifice, replacing the steel mills that once
reflected this city’s commerce and identity.
But at University Circle, some 110 blocks east of downtown Cleveland and Rock
Hall, there is signal in the air. With the September launch of the OneCleveland
project, this midwestern port city is now home to the world’s largest
hotspot for free, public WiFi.
OneCleveland is a collaborative effort of seven Cleveland organizations, including
Case Western Reserve University, Cleveland State University, Cuyahoga Community
College, and the Cleveland metropolitan school district. In the offing is a
public, one-gigabyte network that will “serve more than 100 education,
cultural, research, government and healthcare non-profit organizations in Northeast
Ohio that are exploring using OneCleveland’s services.”
At present, the operating and symbolic center of OneCleveland is University
Circle, home to Case Western Reserve University, Severance Hall and the Cleveland
orchestra, and many of the city’s museums. The 550-acre University Circle
area went wireless early in September. Dell Klingensmith, interim executive
director of OneCleveland, says that the project “intend[s] to extend wireless
infrastructure services everywhere that OneCleveland touches.” In time,
Cleveland and the extended metropolitan area could become one huge, seamless
For Case Western Reserve University and the large number of residential, “technology-intensive”
four-year colleges and universities that do not have required buy programs,
going wireless has helped to move undergraduates from desktops to notebooks.
Admittedly, notebooks now seem cheap: basic laptop computers are widely available
for less than $1,000. But early if anecdotal evidence suggest that the wireless
network influenced the decision that many Case Western Reserve University students
made this fall about the kind of computer—desktop or notebook—they
bought for college.
Cutting the digital cord is a wonderful thing. Once you’ve experienced
the convenience of wireless you may never be willing to return to the cable
Admittedly, I am—or have become—a partisan. In the interests of
full disclosure, I should report that I’m spending part of this academic
year in Cleveland, working on some projects at Case Western Reserve University.
However, were I simply passing through as opposed to spending time, I believe
I would still be impressed by what’s been done and the aspirations to
But let’s look beyond the initial excitement about Cleveland’s
movement towards universal, free WiFi. The early experience of consumers, corporations,
and colleges suggests that wireless, like all new technologies, presents a Pandora’s
box of expectations, challenges, and opportunities.
For entering freshmen or for Executive MBA students, wireless on campus (and
in the classroom) is qualitatively different than WiFi at home or on the job.
Among other things, wireless may raise student expectations about the role of
technology in the classroom, especially among the so-called MTV generation of
Some faculty at wireless campuses are beginning to complain about the “sea
of screens” that dominate their classes: are students taking notes, searching
for content related to class discussion, doing e-mail, or simply wandering in
Cyberspace during a dull lecture? Are the undergraduates bored? Are the law
students and MBAs searching the Web for content (court rulings, BusinessWeek
articles) to enhance class discussions or to ambush their peers and the prof?
Planning for wireless involves the obvious conversations about costs and content.
Controlling access and network security are understandably major concerns. Curricular
consequences remain largely unknown.
For me, however, the most interesting student issues involve collaboration
and compelling convenience.
Over the past two decades, we’ve all seen students gather around the computer.
One works the keyboard as the others talk or watch. But what happens when small
groups of students work together, each with an untethered notebook computer?
D'es the nature of collaboration change? Do students engage in a kind of parallel
processing, unbundling the task as each brings new perspectives, informed by
new information found from different parts of the Web? D'es technology-enhanced
collaboration bring together more parts for a larger (or better) gestalt?
While we know that wireless offers incredible convenience, we should also
ask if that convenience is compelling. How do we assess the benefit of investment
in wireless, a larger, more encompassing measure than the standard ROI that
focuses on financials. For example, d'es wireless provide more (or better) access?
If so, for which categories of users? And how should we measure access: Number
and kind of users? Or time online?
These are more than just “academic” questions. The continuing
campus conversations about IT strategy require real data—real evidence—that
these investments generate significant, measurable benefits.
The OneCleveland and Case Western Reserve University wireless initiatives
provide an important opportunity—for the campus community and for the
Cleveland community—to experience and to monitor the impact and benefits
of expanded access and expansive wireless. It will be very interesting to watch
Cleveland get hot.
[Editor’s note: Casey Green will co-anchor a special Ahead of
the Curve broadcast session, “An Open Discussion About Open Source”
from the Syllabus fall2003 conference in Cambridge, Mass. on December 8. For
updates, visit www.syllabus.com.]