Got Wireless? Don’t Count On It

BY ZACH PRAGER

An afternoon lecture drags on; the gunner in the back of the room just asked his third question about how human cloning might hypothetically affect the Fertile Octogenarian in the Rule Against Perpetuities. Suddenly, like manna from the heavens, an instant message appears on your laptop; then an email; pretty soon you’re whizzing away. Wireless internet has become a treasured asset in the classroom. Whether used to translate obscure Latin phrases or read up-to-the-minute news, wireless usage in classrooms is a godsend to many. It is also, for now, completely unregulated.

But all signs point to major changes looming on the horizon. Although many faculty have begun to incorporate this technology into their lectures, other professors’ top priority has become the ability to turn it off. A growing number go a step further and have simply banned laptops from the classroom altogether.

Rumors that the internet will be restricted during class time have sent chills down the collective spine of the student body. The vast majority appear to strongly favor open airwaves and bristle at the notion of restricted access. As expected, students tout the numerous pedagogical benefits of the internet — the ability to look up a confusing concept, browse the tax code online, or instant message a friend with an otherwise too easy question. Professors counter that the majority of time online appears to be spent checking and writing email, browsing the web, or playing online poker (yes, it happens).

Regardless of the breakdown of online activities, wireless internet at HLS will likely change, and soon. The leading option is to install a system where wireless is restricted in coordination with a student’s class schedule. This technology is already in effect at HBS, but as a blanket limitation. Any system at HLS would ensure that individual courses could be internet accessible or blacked out. The immediate issue arising from this system is the question of opt-in versus opt-out. That is, whether wireless internet is available by default or must be specifically authorized.

Technological hurdles must also be overcome. HLS currently shares its wireless network with the College. To regulate access, ITS would have to administer wireless internet themselves; not a minor change.

Other issues sure to spring up include what to do if classes are cancelled or if a professor would like to open or restrict internet access on specific days. Navigating the add/drop period — a time when access to one’s computer is particularly pressing — may prove to be difficult. In the absence of such flexibility, the question becomes whether a crude system is better than no system at all.

Zach Prager, 2L, is thinking about getting a mobile broadband card and bypassing this issue altogether.

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