When I was in college, about the only amenity my two roommates and I had in our cramped dorm room was a huge mirror.
While that was truly an important piece of furniture to us, it's nothing compared with what today's college students have.
Now, many are enjoying high-speed access to campus-wide computer networks, as well as to the worldwide Internet, right from their dorm rooms.
Students barely have to roll out of bed to look up books at the school's library, send a homework assignment to a professor or drop an e-mail request to Mom and Dad to send more money.
"If we're going to compete with other colleges and universities, we have to provide these resources for the students from their dorm rooms," said Ron Black, director of information technology for Roger Williams University in Bristol.
Roger Williams is just completing a $1.5-million campus rewiring project that puts 2,000 data connections - "one per pillow" - as well as cable television hookups in each dorm room, Black said.
The campus network also has been extended to a group of student townhouses two miles away. That link uses microwave dishes to transmit data. The entire network should be up and running by Nov. 1, Black said.
At Brown University, some students have had Internet access from their dorm rooms since January 1993, according to George Loftus, Brown's manager of network services.
As of this fall, just over half of Brown's students who live in dorm rooms have access to high-speed data connections. The data ports allow them to connect not only to the Internet, but to the university "application servers," Loftus said. The servers enable students to use popular programs on their computers, such as Microsoft Word or Excel, even if they don't own copies of the software.
The university last year spent $1.2 million for "campus networking infrastructure," Loftus said, which includes stringing fiber-optic cables between dormitories, academic and administrative buildings.
Seven hundred network ports were installed in dorm rooms over the summer, he said, though it will be at least two years before all Brown dormitories are linked to the campus network.
The need for network access on campus is growing, Loftus said. "More and more faculty expect students to have access to e-mail."
Assignments on line
Brown freshman Ana Jovanovic is taking two courses that make extensive use of Brown's computer network.
"All of our (chemistry) assignments, our whole lab manual is on the World Wide Web so we don't have to buy one," she said.
There are even individual pictures and e-mail addresses of other students and teachers in the class on the chemistry course Web page to make it easy to exchange e-mail.
Jovanovic is also taking an engineering class that uses an Internet newsgroup set up specifically for the course.
Though Jovanovic's dorm room does have a network connection, she's not using it because she doesn't have the special adapter needed to connect her Macintosh laptop computer. Instead she uses the computer "clusters," groups of machines set up around campus for student use. There's a cluster right next to her dormitory, she said.
"It makes my life a lot easier," she said.
But not all Brown students are happy with the changes that the university's growing computer network have brought.
Some are upset about a new policy that bars students who live in dorm rooms that have network connections from dialing into the university network with a modem over a phone line. Previously, students were allowed to use either method to connect.
In articles in the Brown Daily Herald, the university newspaper, some students expressed concern about the added expense the new policy creates.
To use the direct network connections in the dorm rooms, students must purchase a "network card," which the university sells for about $100, installation included. Loftus said. Some cards, though, can run as high as $200.
Loftus said the new policy was necessary because "we have about 5,000 people competing for 90 modems." He said it costs the university about $1,200 to install and maintain each modem, while it only costs a third of that for a direct network port.
And the network connection is far superior to a modem link-up, he said. It's up to 700 times faster.
Besides Brown and Roger Williams, several other local schools, including Bryant College and the University of Rhode Island, plan to offer similar dorm- room network hookups.
URI's manager of user services, Sharon Hussey, couldn't say when it will happen, but she said it's "definitely something that's being worked on."
Tuesday - A free seminar to help business people learn how to get on line will be offered at the Greater Westerly-Pawcatuck Area Chamber of Commerce, 74 Post Rd., Westerly, from 8:30 a.m. to 10 a.m. It's co-sponsored by the chamber and JPS Online Systems of Westerly, which this month is to begin offering Internet access in South County and southeastern Connecticut.
Attendees will receive free terminal software, a free trial of the company's bulletin board, RIconneCT, and one month of Internet access. Space is limited. Call the chamber office at 596-7761 or JPS Online Systems at 596-7341 to reserve a seat.
Tuesday - Several classes begin for Macintosh users, held by the Rhode Island Macintosh User Group. The classes are "Getting to Know Your Mac," "Introduction To ClarisWorks" and "Introduction to QuarkXPress." They are held at the East Providence High School on Pawtucket Avenue from 7 to 9 p.m. and consist of three 2-hour sessions. Cost is $30 for RIMUG members and $90 for nonmembers. (Membership is $30, or $20 for full-time students.) For more information, call George Poli, 435-7840.
Oct. 26 - Ocean State Internet Society will meet in the Program Room of the Weaver Public Library, on Grove Street in East Providence, at 7 p.m. General question-and-answer session is at 6:30. Topic to be announced. For the latest information, see the OSIS home page at http://www.ids.net/osis/ or send e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org, or call 435-8083, box 2. Cost: free.
Oct. 31 - Entries due for the Rhode Island Macintosh User Group's computer art contest for kids, open to children up to age 18. Over $2,000 in software and other prizes will be awarded. Contact Juan Mariscal for complete rules by e-mail at email@example.com or 253-7702.
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