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What It Means to Be First

Buena Vista d'es it again; BVU president Fred Moore talks about advancing Web-based teaching and integrated communications.

Long known as the nation’s first totally wireless campus, Buena Vista University (IA) is again pushing out front, this time leveraging technology to broaden Web-based instructional programs and forge ahead with integrated campus communications. Campus Technology asked the school’s innovative president, Fred Moore, (photo at right) about plans to keep his institution in the lead.

Buena Vista University is often mentioned among the early adopters of wireless technology. Was BVU the first wireless campus? We were the first totally wireless campus in the country. Other institutions were experimenting with wireless, but none before us provided a comprehensive wireless network with access for all faculty and students via laptops furnished to them.

Did you implement your wireless network at the same time as your laptop program? Yes, both were implemented in the fall of 2000. But two years in advance of putting the computers in the students’ hands, we furnished the faculty with laptops and began a very strong faculty development program in the area of technology. We invested first in the faculty so they, in turn, could make sure that the students were able to leverage this opportunity to the maximum.

Given the comprehensive nature of that implementation, and especially since the fully wireless campus was unprecedented, was this initiative driven by the president’s office? I was an advocate and provided encouragement, but this was a massive mobilization of faculty and staff who worked diligently together for a smooth implementation—along with students, I might add: Many students were involved in installing the wireless infrastructure.

What was your main reason at that time for embarking on the project? We were convinced, after a review of the scholarly literature on learning, that technology improves learning. We were not interested in having the technology tail-wag the learning dog, if you will; rather, we wanted to invest in digital tools to enhance the learning environment for our students. The only way to make sure that students can take maximum advantage of technology is to have universal access. So at that point, we were determined to put a laptop in the hands of every student, with easy network access throughout the campus.

What are the major benefits you’ve seen over the years, since your launch in 2000? Above all, being able to use technology to address different learning styles; we’ve been able to do a lot of customization of the learning process. Second, everyone is on the network, so we are a real campus community, in virtual interactions as well as face-to-face. Collaboration has increased exponentially. Third, having access all the time means that students don’t have to wait—and in our society that’s important. Students shouldn’t have to wait to use tools that enhance their individual learning.

Thus far, what’s been the long-term impact of this technology “first,” in terms of ratings and the profile of BVU? In terms of recognition, we’ve certainly received our share of media attention. And our ratings have grown steadily. It’s also notable that with faculty searches over the past few years, we’ve been particularly successful in securing our first or second candidate. I often ask people in the interview what attracted them to BVU; they normally refer to the technology. I think our high-tech profile signals to candidates that this is an innovative institution. We’ve also [been able to] diversify our student recruitment pool, attracting more out-of-state students in recent years.

Has the high-tech recognition also helped the perception of your graduates in the job market? Our students are known to graduate very proficient in technology, which increases their marketability; they hit the workplace ahead of peers because of the experience they’ve had here.

You certainly chose the right technologies to focus on back in 2000, and your decisions seem to have served you well. Will your institution be motivated to maintain a technology edge? What’s next, in “firsts”? If you were to visit here, what you’d see is an institution that’s on the move all the time. We are constantly reinventing ourselves. Many [of our “nexts”] will build on programs already in place. We were the first private college in Iowa to sign on to our state’s fiber-optic network, the Iowa Communications Network, allowing full interactive audio, video, graphics, and data. We are now the largest private educational user of that facility.

Several years ago, we began to offer Web-based classes, delivered over the network. Next—and this will depend upon accreditation—we are planning to launch, over the next five years, several fully Web-based programs at the undergraduate and graduate levels. Again, depending upon accreditation, we plan to make two of the programs available this calendar year.

And Information Services is planning to extend VoIP to several BVU Centers around the state, with a pilot installation scheduled for this spring. They are also exploring wireless voice convergence—VoWLAN+cell phone—to enable individuals using a single instrument to receive calls through the network in areas without cell service, and still receive regular cell calls when cell service is available.

Further, media studies faculty are exploring the move to HDTV in BVU’s TV production facilities. If implemented, HDTV at BVU could enable students to create, edit, store, and broadcast digital media.

Do you feel that these initiatives will help maintain your institution’s edge in the future, as the wireless campus initiative did in 2000? Yes—as BVU continues to pursue its mission of preparing students for leadership and service in an information-driven, global society.

BVU Technology at a Glance

  • Gigabit Ethernet to all network closets (Avaya Cajun P882/P333)
  • 14 Gateway 975 servers, dual-CPU, GigE attached
  • 175 WiFi access points providing 100 percent campus-wide seamless roaming (Avaya AP-8, installed Summer 2004)
  • 1,375 laptops, replaced every two years (Fall 2004 new systems: Gateway M405)
  • Four battery swap stations
  • Standards-based voicemail for all—integrates with GroupWise messaging (Avaya Modular Messaging, installed Fall 2003)
  • All-digital radio station and AVID suites, enabling media studies students to create content on their laptops and end up with it on the air—radio or television replaced Summer 2004)
  • VoIP system serving the new Estelle Siebens Science Center and new facilities (Avaya S8700, installed Summer 2003)
  • Wireless laptop labs at BVU Centers, piloted three years ago
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