Technology playing an ever-increasing role in classrooms

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Computers didn’t exist when Thomas W. Lee was in school. The 85-year-old BYU alumnus did things the hard way — with a typewriter and books.

“I researched by studying in the library,” said Lee, who graduated with a master’s degree in physics in 1954. “[But] I’ve seen the blossoming of computers over the years, and I can’t imagine living without a computer now.”

Living without a computer seems unimaginable to BYU students today. Since 2000, the amount of data that goes through BYU’s Internet network has quadrupled. Currently, the network supports an approximate 30,000 student laptops and other Internet-capable devices in addition to BYU labs and systems. While Lee got by without it, the Internet has played a developing role in university education to the point most students now use it daily, both to do schoolwork and to escape it. As a result, BYU is constantly adapting to meet the demand for Internet access.

Internet access on and off campus is especially important for students like junior Michael Murdock, who does not have his own laptop or a smart phone.

“[For my classes, computer access is] vital,” the accounting major said.

He can be found daily in one of BYU’s 10 open-access computer labs working on schoolwork for a minimum of three hours per day. The most he has ever spent on a computer in one day is eight hours or more. The labs are important if he’s going to get everything done. When his classes require him to bring a laptop to class, Murdock goes to the media center, which provides laptops to students for three hours. Although it’s a pain to always have to work on someone else’s computer, Murdock doesn’t do enough writing to consider buying his own.

“The main reason I don’t have a laptop is because the computers here are so available and a laptop’s expensive,” he said. “I don’t want to spend the money for that. … It’s not worth it for me.”

Although he lacks a laptop, Murdock is definitely not behind the times when it comes to technology and education.

“Using technology is just such a natural, integral part of [doing homework],” he said. “It just flows with everything else that I do. It’s become part of school.”

The school is reflecting technology’s slow mobile migration. The Office of Information Technology recently released the BYU Mobile Application Suite (a collection of BYU online services as mobile applications), the first of several new technology projects in the works. Michael Brown, Director of IT Communications, said the mobile apps will help BYU be more device-oriented.

“We get it,” Brown said. “We understand that the computer today is a method for accessing this information but the majority of information that people are accessing today is probably being accessed off of a mobile device.”

The new apps cater directly to students such as Tyler Snow, a junior linguistics major with minors in computer science and computing linguistics. With his smart phone and laptop, Snow spends an average of 10-15 hours per day online or on a computer, counting class time.

“My whole life is on the computer,” Snow said. “I once had to spend 50 hours on a computer project — my record is probably 20 hours in one day.”

Snow downloaded the BYU application suite not long after it was launched. While he has yet to do much more than play with it, he said he plans to use it in the future and agrees with the idea behind it.

“It’s convenient,” Snow said. “I’m able to look at it anywhere, versus having to bust out my computer. Plus, you can do everything on your phone, [and] since the apps are in a suite, they’re all in one place — two clicks and I’m there. Also, a phone gets Internet anywhere you can get a cell signal, so sometimes it gets Internet when a computer doesn’t.”

Internet is the next item on the list to be upgraded in the next few years by OIT. The BYU campus network has been enhanced multiple times since it was implemented in 1990, and the next big step will increase the current bandwidth by 10 times, according to Jim Edvalson, OIT’s Network Architect and Project Manager. OIT calls the new project Next Gen Net.

“[The purpose of Next Gen Net] was to take a very close look at what’s happened to networks, you know, in the last 10 years, what the new needs are,” Edvalson said, “and to then conform our network to the best service that we can give our customers over the next 10 years.”

Because most information that traverses the network is saved in a data center rather than the computer hard drive, the faster the Internet connection, the faster files can be accessed, explained Todd Berrett, OIT Infrastructure Strategy Director. Scheduled to launch in 2013, Next Gen Net will run at 20 gigabits per second and will provide better support for the approximate 47,000 or more network connections in the future.

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