REINVENTING HISTORY

Sometimes the best way to respond to technology challenges is to innovate

Computing at Creighton University (NE) is growing up fast. For years, the school offered students dozens of desktops for use in libraries and public labs across campus. Then, in 2003, when the school sought to expand its computing program, officials had a brilliant idea for change: wireless. Instead of purchasing a new slew of desktops, officials expanded the wireless network and snatched up a handful of mobile computers from Gateway (www.gateway.com) for faculty and staff. The school also set up a pre-purchasing program for students to buy select Gateway laptops and tablet PCs. The result was a learning environment available any time, from any place on campus.

Creighton is not the only university to embrace revolutionary changes in computing; at other schools such as Colorado Technical University, San Juan College (NM), California State University, the University of Kansas and Wichita State University (KS), administrators have invested in innovative technologies, too. Like Baskin-Robbins ice cream, these innovations come in a variety of flavors and sizes, from sleeker, simpler machines to desktop computers with a new and longer-lasting design. In every case, the technology itself has sparked legitimate evolution. In every case, that evolution has made computing on campus easier for everyone.

Going Mobile

The drive for mobility at Creighton began back in 2003. Frustrated with a long-time reliance on desktops, campus technologists set out to find a single technology supplier who could provide the latest in mobility. After evaluating products from a number of different vendors, officials settled on Gateway for its breadth of offerings. Right out of the gate, the school purchased a handful of 450E Series notebooks and M275 notebook-to-tablet PCs for faculty and staff. Officials also purchased a cache of the same wireless-enabled computers for each of the school's three libraries, where they are available for students to check out and use as they wish.

The effort didn't stop there. Once these first few wireless machines were in place, Creighton got certified as a Gateway Authorized Service Provider (ASP), and set up a laptop pre-purchasing program for incoming students. The program is designed to standardize technology on campus by offering students discounted prices on equipment as they enter. In 2004, the first full year, 200 students bought M275s and 200 more purchased M450s. Michael Allington, assistant director of student technology support, said that more than 75 percent of incoming freshman now own a Gateway notebook of some sort, a number that will only increase as the program gains momentum.

"These computers have changed the way we do everything here on campus," he says, noting that the biggest challenge of the new effort has been proving to parents that the mobile equipment is worth the investment. "When you see dozens of students using their laptops in a public space or a cafeteria, you realize that the days of using a PC simply as a word processing device to type up a paper are definitely behind us."

Mobilizing Enrollment

Creighton isn't the only school to embrace mobility; at Colorado Technical University, officials turned to the M275 notebook-to-tablet PC to solve a more pressing concern. Faced with a significant tuition increase last year, school officials were forced to augment the value of education in order not to lose enrollment. To do this, the school purchased 1,500 M275s-one for every student and faculty member. Educators then converted classes into hybrid courses that enabled students to complete up to 25 percent of their coursework online. The added flexibility, coupled with the new technology, apparently has done the trick: officials say enrollment is up 30 percent this year.

At San Juan College (NM), mobility is at the heart of a technology refresh program also designed to address enrollment. Officials launched the program by giving every faculty member a laptop in 2002; since then, with special education pricing from Gateway, the school has updated 25 percent of the computers every year (the most recent batch consisted of 450Es and M275s). To supplement this program, San Juan administrators have extended the environment to students with laptop carts that convert any classroom into a computer lab. According to Shah Ardalan, vice president for technology services, the solution works because it fosters flexibility and keeps students interested.

"Our [enrollment] has grown 10 percent a year every year for the last ten," says Ardalan, who notes that over that same period of time, the college has not increased its physical footprint at all. "A mobile environment like the one we've created has been a great way to manage this expansion, and we haven't missed a beat."

Investment in Quiet

Different decisions led to investments in a different technology at the California State University. Officials on the school's Long Beach, Calif., campus recently were looking to replace 200 desktops in the school's main computer lab. Because this lab is crowded from 8 a.m. to 11 p.m. every day, technologists wanted desktops that stand the test of time. After years of dealing with the noisy cooling fans of ordinary desktops, they also sought machines that were quiet. After investigating machines from a variety of vendors, CSU administrators settled on the brand new E6300 desktops from Gateway, the first desktop computers to offer Gateway's revolutionary new BTX design.

The idea behind BTX is simple. The design improves upon the old Advanced Technology Extended (ATX) standard by directing a stream of air over the hottest parts of a PC. Two fans are used in BTX chassis, one at each end. These fans direct air over the processor, which is now located at the front of the motherboard (it used to be in the back). The fans also help remove heat given off by powerful graphics processors. Marc Demars, senior director of desktop product planning at Gateway, says that side effects of the new design are cooler, quieter systems that prolong the life of motherboards. Liem Nguyen, operating system analyst at CSU, said these were top selling points for his school.

"We were so sick of noisy desktops and we wanted new ones that were quieter and would provide us better return on our investment," he says. "Because of BTX, the [E6300s] were a perfect fit, and we know we'll have them much longer than we would have had computers from any other vendor."

The Low Profile

Other design innovations have helped spark change at other universities. At Wichita State University (KS), for instance, IT Director Roger Jones recently purchased 50 computers in Gateway's Profile 4 and Profile 5 series for two tiny computer labs at the Barton School of Business. Space was at a premium in the cramped labs, and Jones says the compact Profile design was a perfect solution because it combines monitor and CPU into one space-saving form factor. The Profile series has been such a hit that Jones says the school plans to buy another 25 units for staff and faculty offices this summer when money becomes available.

Technologists are singing the same song across the Sunflower State at the University of Kansas. There, campus officials selected computers in the Profile 4 and Profile 5 series for public areas in the school's libraries to save space. Marianne Reed, senior systems specialist for enterprise academic systems, says the machines give the labs a "clean, uncluttered look that is really attractive." She adds that with headphone jacks in the front, two USB and FireWire ports on the side, and four more USB ports in the back, the computers are more flexible than similarly designed thin client computers that would have served the same space-saving purpose.

"These computers are reasonably priced, they look great, and they save space because there's no separate unit housing the CPU," says Reed. "We simply couldn't have asked for anything more."

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