Articles: Teaching & Learning

Need to direct new students to unfamiliar buildings on campus? Nothing does the trick like a map. Now imagine that map presented in color and blown up to fit on a 42-inch screen. Add to this image descriptive headlines and text and changing inset graphics that can provide close ups of the section of campus where the building is located, along with pictures of the destination, and it's clear just how effective digital signage can be.

Digital signs started appearing on campuses a few years ago, with some promoting sales in bookstores and other retail outlets and others providing information for those passing through the student union or dining hall. In this fashion, higher ed was catching up to hotels, financial institutions, big box retailers, and other sectors that provide information to the public. Once these industries began showing how convenient it is to digitally change information and create a multimedia presentation that can grab attention much easier than paper posters and bulletin boards crammed with out-dated paper flyers, higher education administrators saw the logic in using this new technology.

It has helped that plasma and LCD flat panel screens are now more common and have come down in price. Spurring the trend, too, are new services that ease the headache of content management and planning for overworked higher ed public affairs and promotion departments.

"Our students are into gizmos and high tech, Digital signage gives you a connection to students that you can't get with other advertising." -Charlie Salas, Texas State University

Basically, digital signage enhances any area on campus where large groups of people pass by or congregate, says Rosemary Abowd, an analyst with Pacific Media Associates, a company that provides research on multimedia and large screen displays. (See sidebar on technology trends and pricing.)

Few people know about the technology's benefits better than Charlie Salas, associate director of the LBJ Student Union at Texas State University. He's a client of The University Network, or TUN (pronounced t-u-n), a digital signage service for colleges and universities. At TSU, 42-inch, flat panel digital signs that hang in the LBJ Student Center and the campus recreation center help promote campus activities and vendors. TUN, as well, provides national advertising aimed at students, and allows TSU to share in 20 percent of the national advertising revenue. "We receive a check for about $200 every quarter," says Salas, who adds that the impetus for installing TUN's digital signage system in 2004 was not really to make money. The real goal was to be able to more easily inform students about services and activities. Certainly, though, the revenue checks are a nice by-product of the digital signage installation.

Salas wanted to cut through the media clutter on campus and get students' attention. "Our students are into gizmos and high tech," he says. "Digital signage gives you a connection to students that you can't get with other advertising."

Texas State participates in one of two types of programs that TUN offers. While TSU takes advantage of the revenue-sharing model, the company also provides a separate service that does not share revenue, but instead, installs more digital signs on campus. The difference is one screen versus up to three per department, says Denise Stephenson, senior vice president of University Services for TUN.

In addition, TUN, which is a division of InFocus, provides creative and production services for its more than 160 higher education clients. Those who receive a portion of the national advertising revenue are guaranteed three new, 20-second spots per week, while those who have installed more screens can run up to five spots. These promotions are campus-specific.

Each week Salas and TSU staffers send TUN basic text, logos, and images related to the news and events they want to promote, and the TUN creative team does the rest. Of course, TUN can change information quickly if there is an emergency on campus.

"We can run public service announcements," explains Stephenson. Last year, the company created informational spots for campus customers affected by Hurricane Katrina. It also has created missing persons announcements.

The benefits for TUN are obvious-by signing on college and university clients they can deliver the college audience to national advertisers, such as 1-800-Flowers, The Gillette Company, Paramount Pictures, and Columbia Sportswear. But the program also helps colleges and universities that might not be able to pay the estimated $25,000 to purchase and install several flat-panel displays, nor be able to pay the additional cost to install the creative and content management software.

While Salas doesn't offer any bottom-line ROI metrics on the digital signage's effectiveness, he does have a telling anecdote. A national ad for cellphone ringtones featured a hard-to-forget-one might say obnoxious-jingle, he recalls. "People were humming that stupid song throughout the building," he says. That day he made a mental note that digital signage is definitely reaching the TSU audience.

St. John's University (N.Y.) took a different approach one year ago, when staff there decided to install digital signage. Instead of having an outside service handle the content, the team there brought it in house. St. John's signed with NEC to purchase five, 46-inch LCD digital signs, which were up and running in January, along with the creative and management software that drives the digital signage system.

To date, St. John's has spent $82,885 on its digital signage program, which its technical staff views as a larger investment in technological innovation.

"We put these in high traffic areas where students pass through the lobbies," explains Joseph J. Tufano, CIO for Information Technology at the university. Those specific areas include the University Center, the dining hall, and the library. A team of people, led largely by Joanne Novarro, director of internal and external communications, changes the creative everyday.

"This is really a challenge," Novarro admits. But an ever-flowing mix of digital media is a necessity on campus. "Students today are really savvy and we have to constantly change the content, or we will lose them."

Since installing digital signage, the team at St. John's has produced some ambitious segments. Coverage of a campus Holocaust Remembrance Day on April 25 included live broadcasts that featured survivors and their families.

The team has also altered digital signage to speak to varied audiences. For example, welcoming signage for an accepted students day-where those contemplating enrolling at St. John's were on campus-was edited to list the differing undergraduate majors offered on the Queens and Long Island campuses. Other notices and campus maps also were broadcast to help make the day easier on the newbies.

Digital signage also is used to notify students of emergencies or schedule changes, such as campus closings because of bad weather, notes Tufano. This is a strong point of the NEC system. The company recently announced a partnership with XTEND Communications Corp. to be able to push digital signage content such as emergency text messages to cellphones, e-mail clients, even PDAs. NEC is calling the service its Emergency Campus Notification Solution.

The new technology allows users to reach students and staff who might not be near a digital signage screen, or even on campus.

The University of Connecticut has set its three new 42-inch Sony LCD digital signage screens in the Neag School of Education to receive cable TV feeds, says Gary Hendrickson, the school's director of technology. "There is a network on campus that carries 82 cable channels," he explains. The connection allowed students and staff to watch live coverage of the recent terrorist plot involving commercial airlines that was uncovered in London.

Of course, most coverage is not so urgent, yet important to running a smooth campus operation. Notices that welcome new education students, instructors, and visiting department lecturers are interspersed with announcements about student activities.

The web production team has the "right eyes" for creating
digital signage spots.

Sports news is also a popular feed, especially with many Red Sox fans on staff.

The creative is managed by a browser-based software that allows for content editing and broadcast scheduling. Janis Palmer, the school's communications director, either directly creates the material that is eventually broadcast, or reviews everything and gives a final OK.

The digital signage was added when the Neag School of Education underwent a $350,000 renovation two-and-a-half years ago, explains Hendrickson.

"This was part of the planning from the beginning," he says. "We spent a lot of time looking into the future and asking: 'Where is technology going to be?'"

Like St. John's, UConn is also looking to take the logical next step, which will be to push the digital signage information to iPods, cellphones, and other individual devices. A scan of campus will show that at any given moment most students are using cellphones, PDAs, or MP3 players.

"We are looking to keep up with students; they are innovators," Hendrickson says.

A rise in identity theft is presenting employers with a major headache. They are being held liable for identity theft that occurs in the workplace.

University Business surveyed 160 chief information officers and IT directors from colleges and universities nationwide to find out how and where their IT dollars were being spent. (For UB's companion feature story see "Smart IT Spending Strategies," December 2005.)

Oxford, Yale and Stanford closed their joint not-for-profit online venture, AllLearn, Alliance for Lifelong Learning, citing insufficient enrolments and funding as the primary reasons.

Viruses and worms have attacked every college and university network. Predictably, almost all colleges and universities use some virus protection software, spam filtering and or firewalls to try to protect IT networks. Still, the attacks keep coming, as do the security breaches.

The familiar rhythms of academia lend a comforting presence on college campuses. Each autumn as summer temperatures begin to fall, days shorten, and leaves flutter down, fresh-faced students arrive en masse, their futures pregnant with possibility.

Last year, however, as students and educators in the Gulf Coast region prepared for the onset of fall classes, an unexpected visitor interrupted the traditional proceedings: Hurricane Katrina.

In the storm's wake, nearly 1,600 lives were lost, property damage numbered in the tens of billions of dollars, and educational institutions found themselves in disarray.

Elizabeth Moore Rhodes, the director of distance learning and the educational technology support specialist for Xavier University of Louisiana, vividly remembers the destruction that the hurricane left behind. "Practically every building on campus had water in it," she says. "My office is in the library, and the library had 4 to 5 feet of water on the first floor."

The office spaces and holdings in the library were completely destroyed. A large computer lab on the library's ground floor was also ruined. Teachers and students alike sought safety and classes were canceled. "All of our academic programs were interrupted, even the distance courses. Everything was down until January 2006," says Rhodes.

Once faculty and staff members finally reconvened, it was clear that a new disaster plan had to be formulated-a plan with which, even if the campus' brick and mortar facilities were again damaged, distance learning could continue with the support of a reliable and flexible network infrastructure.

"We've developed short-term plans as well as long-term plans on how we can get communication back initially and then get our course management system software running again with the expectation that students could continue with their distance learning programs," says Rhodes.

The university is putting arrangements in place to provide faculty members with internet access at predetermined evacuation sites. Faculty members are also being trained extensively in the Blackboard course management system so they will be able to deliver content and administer tests in the event of another disaster. As for more long-term plans, the preparation is focusing on data transfer and the coordination of remote locations where-if the campus must be closed-all data cartridges and systems will be taken and where host servers will have already been lined up.

Katrina changed the scope of Xavier's distance education program, which first launched in 2003. Prior to the hurricane, education courses were not offered online at the graduate course level. But when New Orleans was evacuated, its school system collapsed and a large number of schoolteachers were out of jobs and displaced around the country. To help them, Xavier added online education courses to its roster.

Rhodes believes that if online courses were not added at Xavier following the storm, then teachers from the New Orleans area would have pursued their graduate studies elsewhere. "We met the needs of our audience," she says. "The students needed online courses; they couldn't come back to campus and they didn't have jobs here anymore."

At Loyola University New Orleans, students were moving into residence halls as Katrina approached. Forced to evacuate, they ended up dispersing to nearly 400 different institutions. The majority of Loyola's classes were canceled, although after a short shutdown of nine days, distance education programs in areas such as ministry, nursing, and health-care management carried on.

Bret Jacobs, executive director of Information Technology, attributes this continuity to having an actionable disaster recovery plan that had been rehearsed annually. "We were a little ahead of the curve because we had exercised our plan on a few occasions and had just completed our test for 2005 in March," he explains.

Still, says Jacobs, there were a number of challenges to combat. For a few days administrators were unable to act because of a complete failure in land- and cell-based telecommunications. The campus didn't have power for nearly a month. The Blackboard system wasn't operating for more than a week after the storm.

With such events in hindsight and to prepare for future disasters, the university has taken steps to apply lessons learned. Administrators have opted to move course management to a hosted site, so that they can shrink the nine days that Blackboard was down last time to, hopefully, zero days next time around.

Jacobs has also developed a "technology triage" that outlines what technologies would be restored in an interim time frame and what will not. As a member of the Association of Jesuit Colleges and Universities, the university is also exploring how it can work with sister institutions in the event of another shutdown.

Jacobs believes that hybrid courses, in which traditional classroom sessions are supplemented with online components, might ease idleness in the case of a future shutdown. "Our students are already in the habit of checking their assignments online and getting course materials, so the bridge is already there," he says.

While hybrid courses wouldn't continue without interruption in the event of a major disaster (since facilities would likely be damaged), they would provide a way for students to continue accessing coursework. Once any damaged facilities reopened, face-to-face instruction would then continue and be tailored to the distance learning that took place in the interim.

Unlike institutions in New Orleans, the University of Houston was not directly affected by Katrina. However, it experienced a storm impact all its own.

Around 1,000 displaced students from New Orleans enrolled at the university, with approximately 700 of those electing to take online courses that were added as part of a special "second start" semester that kicked off on September 20, 2005.

Marshall Schott, executive director for educational technology and university outreach, says that the distance learning programs provided a flexible and accessible means of accommodating the displaced students. Fortunately for all parties involved, the institution's administrators and faculty were already well versed in the intricacies of distance education.

The university's first distance learning program launched in the early 1980s, when courses were delivered to off-campus sites via traditional and videoconferencing instruction. Over the past two decades, the program has evolved significantly: Now courses are available by broadcast television, DVD, and online. Currently, University of Houston Distance Education enrolls nearly 20,000 individuals annually.

On the heels of last year's hurricanes, Schott and his team are developing contingency plans for environmental disasters that could occur in the Houston metropolitan area. In phase one, they are developing listservs for all courses so that faculty can maintain e-mail contact with their students in the event of an emergency. In phase two, which will take place in 2007, they are moving toward an environment in which faculty can activate a course shell, or template, to post syllabi, course materials, announcements, and other information through Blackboard Learning System-Vista Enterprise License. In addition, administrators are exploring remote-site hosting for the school's Vista servers, and faculty will be trained in effectively using the enterprise system.

Disaster or no disaster, the goal is to utilize distance education to improve learning outcomes. Like his counterpart at Loyola, Schott sees hybrid courses as a near-term growth segment. "Hybrid courses give faculty the opportunity to deliver material to students so they can come to class more prepared to engage in higher-level discussions and activities. Students like the convenience of one-day-per-week class meetings in a reduced seat-time format," he observes.

Most students taking online courses expect flexible and accessible support. They also often expect an immediate response. To this end, a university's support staff is critical to the effectiveness of a distance education program in the event of a disaster.

Support staff duties include, among other things, student registration, scheduling, and working on IT issues. Schott advises that procedures and staff members be evaluated regularly.

Comprehensive evaluations to ensure the quality and consistency of a distance learning program are also important, he says. "Learning outcomes and student satisfaction need to be benchmarked against standards for traditional classroom delivery. In order to ensure that you are measuring the right things, survey instruments unique to distance learning environments usually need to be created," advises Schott.

For the University of Houston, such surveying involves a two-pronged approach. The first element focuses on institutional effectiveness and assesses the extent to which faculty create an effective teaching and learning environment. The second element assesses infrastructure and learning support.Shifting Priorities

While University of Houston online educators welcomed an influx of new distance learning students to the Lone Star State (virtually, at least), Mark Hendricks viewed firsthand the devastating impact that Katrina left behind. Just 10 days after the hurricane blew through, Hendricks, a system administrator for communications and information technology at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, was in Gulfport, Miss., installing portable networks.

His mission? To rebuild internet service for a group of Virginia Tech medical students who were providing health-care services in the region. Once this task was completed, Hendricks and his team, armed with a satellite dish and radio, journeyed to Alcorn State University (Miss.) to help resuscitate the institution's online infrastructure.

Reflecting on his Katrina experience, Hendricks sees a glaring need for educational institutions to have recovery plans in place. "Universities need to make business continuity a priority," he says.

Indeed, administrators are coming to grips with the myriad complexities that accompany re-establishing distance education and related information and communications services following a disaster. Network infrastructures must be rapidly rebuilt. Information must be culled from off-site data storage sites. An operational hot site needs to be set up that will handle the needs of students, faculty, and staff.

Jacobs of Loyola attributes his institution's relatively quick recovery time to the fact that a hot site was actionable and exercised. Otherwise, he says, "We would have had almost insurmountable challenges." Schott notes that there are a number of challenges to keep in mind when putting contingency plans in place. In addition to exploring remote hosting, Schott and his team are also looking to build hot sites at the University of Houston's regional campuses that could provide backup support if the main campus were to be impacted.

Of course, it's not just hurricanes that are capable of disrupting educational pursuits. Colleges and universities can be hobbled by earthquakes, tornadoes, or even tsunamis. No region is insulated from potential terrorist attacks or the possibility of an influenza epidemic.

As the last handful of years have taught us, disasters can strike at any place, at any time. In an effort to ensure educational continuity, many universities have opted to collaborate with other schools.

Partnering with colleagues offers several benefits. "All institutions have strengths and weaknesses and can learn something from others facing the same issues," explains Hendricks. "Also, collaboration is probably the most economical way to ensure educational continuity."

Joining forces from a technological standpoint makes sense as well. There are a number of possible solutions to the impediments thrust upon distance education, but not all institutions are privy to the most recent advances. Strength in numbers makes the possibility less likely that a single catastrophic event can wipe out all remedies.

Hendricks provides an example using his employer. "If UNL buys heavily into satellite technology, and a solar flare takes out communications satellites for a period, it would be nice to have a partner like Texas A&M who is working with microwave networks to help us with our situation."

Joining an established consortium can also be beneficial. Organizations like the Sloan Consortium and American Distance Education Consortium can help administrators correspond with counterparts at other institutions. Such communication enables members to build a network while keeping abreast of possible resources that could help keep programs running, points out Hendricks.

Consortia also provide invaluable support in times of need. After Katrina struck, more than 150 colleges and universities joined efforts with the Sloan Consortium and the Southern Regional Education Board to offer an online institution. Dubbed "Sloan Semester," the initiative provided tuition-free online courses to students affected by the storm. The online catalog listed more than 1,300 courses, and, in all, more than 8,000 enrollments were processed.

"We went to the aid of people who needed it by contacting a number of institutions that could provide help," says Burks Oakley II, co-chair of the Sloan Semester Steering Committee.

If there was a silver lining to the impact that Katrina had on higher education institutions, it was the fierce support that the affected universities received from their brethren in a time of crisis. The hurricane also, no doubt, provided a resounding wake-up call in terms of disaster planning.

According to the 2006 Current IT Issues Survey conducted by EDUCAUSE, disaster recovery/business continuity was the fourth most common challenge in terms of strategic importance to chief information officers and others surveyed-up from number 10 the previous year.

Reflects Hendricks: "Katrina proved that institutions can move swiftly to find solutions. It would just be a lot smoother if there were already plans in place to recover from a disaster."

Chelan David is a freelance writer based in Seattle, Wash. He has recently written articles for EContent Magazine and Smart Business Los Angeles.

Wake Forest University students have a firm grip on the future of technology. Indeed, up to 500 students at the Winston-Salem, N.C.-based institution are expected to use dual-mode phones that support cellular calls and IP communications this fall.

"You can surf the web and view video over WiFi or make a cell call from a single device," explains Jay Dominick, chief information officer and assistant VP of information systems, adding that, in previous years, the school has done personal digital assistant projects. "PDAs were useful, but if students were going to carry one thing we knew it would be a cell phone. That's what students ultimately want: one device for all their mobile needs."

That's for sure. As students moved from e-mail to instant messaging (IM) to short message service (SMS, a.k.a. text messaging) on digital phones, Wake Forest quickly realized that mobile phones would need to tie into the university's broader IT strategy, says Dominick.

"Students with dual-mode phones will be able to talk to each other a lot more over WiFi networks without using up their
cellular minutes."
-Chellappa Kumar, New York College of Osteopathic Medicine

That set the stage for dual-mode phones. Though still in their infancy, the devices may reshape cellular, WiFi, and mobile applications across university campuses. As dual-mode phones mature, they will be able to seamlessly connect to WiFi or cellular networks, based on the user's location and the relative signal strength of each network.

University CIOs from across the country have high hopes for dual-mode phones. "They'll be key devices for community building and collaborative learning," says Chellappa Kumar, CIO of the New York College of Osteopathic Medicine. "And they'll deliver financial savings. Students with dual-mode phones will be able to talk to each other a lot more over WiFi networks without using up their cellular minutes."

Just ask David Hattey, president and CEO of FirstHand Technologies, about the monetary benefits of these devices. Hattey estimates that he saved his company $1,500 in cellular roaming charges during a recent business trip in Europe. His dual-mode phone, which has cellular and WiFi capabilities, logged more than 17 hours connected to WiFi hot spots across Europe.

Admittedly, Hattey has a vested interest in dual-mode's success. The Ontario-based company develops multimedia client software for smart phones, WiFi handsets, and emerging dual-mode devices.

Despite their promise, dual-mode phones also come with cost, network, application, and device challenges. For starters, many dual-mode phones cost $500 or more. The average price, though, could drop to $400 each by 2008, according to the research firm Access Intelligence.

Most dual-mode phones are untested in college and university environments, and dozens of devices have yet to emerge from Silicon Valley development labs. In some cases, interoperability issues have slowed or halted device development.

For instance, Cisco Systems and Motorola last year partnered to design a dual-mode phone that connects to cellular services as well as Cisco's enterprise IP phone switches. But based on publicly announced design plans, prospective customers complained that the devices likely wouldn't interoperate with other vendors' networks. Cisco and Motorola ultimately scrapped their joint development work in April 2006. Cisco is now working with Nokia on standardized dual-mode phones that will likely ship before year's end.

Other challenges loom. Institutions of higher ed will need to ensure that dual-mode systems provide ample bandwidth, security, coverage, and seamless handoffs between cellular and WiFi networks, notes Peter Brockman, senior VP of business development at FirstHand.

Wake Forest has already witnessed these challenges. The university has tested Cingular's 8125 smart phone, which allows students to make cell phone calls or, when in a WiFi hot zone, surf the web and view streaming video. Overall, Wake Forest officials are very pleased with the devices and upbeat about dual-mode's promise.

However, Dominick concedes that additional device and campus network enhancements are required to unlock the full power of dual-mode phones.

For instance, students who use the devices to place calls over the school's WiFi network will notice inconsistent or subpar service. "It's not fully baked yet," says Dominick. "Students can get Skype client [software] for the smart phones. This will let them place calls on the WiFi network but the quality isn't there yet. The service doesn't roam real well as you move between [WiFi] access points."

Brockman has observed similar challenges with dual-mode phones. "On the application front, you'll need to ensure seamless links between call servers, mobile devices, cellular services, and the public telephone infrastructure," he says. "Dual-mode phones also come with device-specific challenges related to battery life, radio performance, screen size, storage, processor performance, and memory."

In other words, dual-mode phones will require extensive testing-much in the way that WiFi networks and laptops required careful consideration back when wireless networks first came onto the scene.

Still, proponents insist that WiFi's popularity and students' growing interest in all-in-one mobile devices will drive dual-mode phones to mass popularity within two years.

"I don't know if it's 12 or 18 months until the devices [offer seamless roaming for WiFi and cell networks]," says Dominick. "But it's certainly not far beyond that."

Other college leaders agree. Kumar at NYCOM, for one, has high hopes for leveraging the institution's WiFi infrastructure, which currently delivers streaming video and other academic content to student laptops. As students begin to embrace dual-mode phones over the next year or two, the devices will "immediately leverage our WiFi infrastructure to receive academic content and university announcements," predicts Kumar.

The dual-mode phone revolution is already underway in Asia. Consider the situation in Taipei City, Taiwan. Under the city's "Taipei Easy Call" initiative, more than 200,000 people are expected to use wireless internet phones and Skype by the end of this year, according to a statement issued by the Taipei Computer Association. In Europe, BT Group (formerly British Telecom) and Orange-a major WiFi service provider-expect to release dual-mode phones later this year.

"I don't expect us to buy dual-mode phones for our students. I think students will already have them when they enroll."
-Jill Cherveny-Keough, New York Institute of Technology

And in the United States, 76 percent of large companies expect at least some of their mobile workers to use dual-mode phones within the next three years, according to Access Intelligence.

Companies such as Rave Wireless are introducing next-generation mobile phone services for institutions of higher ed and their students. At Montclair State University (N.J.) for instance, students and officials can use Rave's wireless service to track the exact location of campus transportation vehicles. The university also conducts in-class and remote interactive polling over the service. And students can use their mobile phones to gather localized information, such as nearby restaurant specials or real-time updates from the campus library.

Instead of deploying dual-mode phones on their own, many IHEs instead plan to support devices that students purchase on their own. "The consumer market moves really rapidly," notes Jill Cherveny-Keough, director of academic computing at New York Institute of Technology, which has three campuses, one in Manhattan and two on Long Island. "I don't expect us to buy dual-mode phones for our students. I think students will already have them when they enroll."

NYIT students with dual-mode phones and the appropriate network security clearance can instantly utilize the college's WiFi network. "It's more than a device for chatting," says Cherveny-Keough. "Students can check in on their online courses, view e-mail-and even make free phone calls home to mom and dad. You can expect students would gain more efficient use of their cellular plan. Dual-mode phones will cut [calling] costs for sure."

Even at institutions that aren't quite ready for dual-mode phones, IT administrators can take gradual steps today to ensure that their network infrastructure supports future dual-mode rollouts.

Wake Forest, for instance, last year became the nation's first test ground for combination PocketPC phone devices on a college campus. The project-known as Mobile University, Mobile You-is now open to all students, faculty, and staff of the Reynolda campus for the fall of 2006.

Program members receive discounts on voice and data plans; discounted purchase price for the Cingular 8125; and access to custom software developed for members of the pilot program. A voice-enabled laundry service, for instance, tells students when their laundry is complete. Based on that test bed, Wake Forest this fall is rolling out up to 500 of these devices to students.

Wireless and mobile device experts praise the mobile computing program for its vision. "Wake Forest has deployed one of the most progressive, forward-thinking [wireless device] implementations," says Robert Liu, executive editor of TMCnet, a portal that tracks mobile and wireless trends. "That is a solid foundation to build upon."

Naturally, university IT managers will need to master multiple technologies in order to optimize applications for dual-mode devices. Experts recommend learning about Session Initiation Protocol (SIP), which is rapidly emerging as a standard for rich IP communications. SIP can be used for all real-time services such as instant messaging and web-based conferencing. If legacy applications such as voice services don't currently support SIP, university officials should contact their application vendors to see if they plan future support for SIP.

Higher ed officials can see dual-mode phones in action at Voice over IP and cellular conferences-or reach out to networking partners such as Cisco and offer to beta test their dual-mode devices while they're still under development. This will offer a feel for a device's strengths, weaknesses, and potential applications.

Concludes Cherveny-Keough: "Dual-mode phones are inevitable. Why carry your PDA, laptop, and cell phone, when all you would need is one device?"

Joseph C. Panettieri is VP of editorial content at Microcast Communications (www.microcast.biz). He has covered Silicon Valley and vertical markets since 1992.

Laptops are a modern marvel. They are portable, able to process amazing amounts of data, but, oh, so easy to steal. At least 600,000 laptops are stolen every year, according to a technology firm that helps protect data and locate missing machines. According to the Federal Bureau of Investigations, 97 percent of those stolen laptops are never recovered.

That means a lot of data ends up in the wrong hands.

Several software companies specialize in recovery and security, making products that either lock thieves out of certain files or destroy stolen data. Some recovery services even trace stolen laptops and help recover them.

The stolen laptop will call back to an office every 15 minutes to reveal its location.

Given the proliferation of laptop programs in higher education, it makes sense that IT managers are looking to these services to protect assets.

The recent headline-grabbing case of the laptop flinched from the Department of Veterans Affairs was notable, in part, because the machine contained 26.5 million personnel records. In a rare turn of events, the laptop was recovered.

In the world of higher education, there have been dozens of IT security incidents, including one at California Polytechnic State University, located in the town of San Luis Obispo. A laptop, stolen in July from a physics professor's home, contained the names and Social Security numbers of 3,020 students. University officials had to send out warning letters to all students who had been enrolled in particular physics and astronomy lectures between 1994 and 2004.

While all such breaches are serious, it is especially problematic when Social Security numbers are involved because thieves can use them to obtain credit cards and make unauthorized purchases.

Last year, University of California, Berkeley, issued a notification about the theft of a laptop that contained data on 98,000 graduate students and applicants. The laptop, which had been left alone for only a few minutes, was taken from a restricted area, according to reports. The university paid a reported $2.4 million in notification costs to those whose data may have been exposed.

The topic of data theft was "interesting, but not really compelling, until privacy rules from California required disclosure," notes International Data Corp. analyst Chris Christianson.

In 2003, the state of California adopted legislation that requires all companies and organization doing business there to protect data and to notify those whose information has been compromised by a security breach. Since 2003, 32 states have adopted similar legislation, and U.S. Sen. Diane Feinstein (D-Calif.) continues to work on passing a federal law.

One campus of William Penn University (Iowa) began using LoJack for Laptops last year. The program is one of several IT security products produced by Absolute Software. The company also offers Computrace, which helps secure data and track lost or stolen portable machines. This particular WPU campus, located in West Des Moines, is geared to non-traditional students, such as adults coming back to school and working executives. Laptops are an integral part of every academic program, notes Curt Gomes, IT supervisor.

To date, this campus has outfitted 500 laptops with IT security programs. "We figure we will take any steps to help prevent a theft," Gomes says. The policy is key, considering that students are financially responsible for the laptops issued to them. Gomes estimates that the cost to replace a university laptop and related software is $2,000.

No sooner did WPU become an Absolute customer in October 2005 than the software was put to the test. A woman had her laptop stolen midmonth. Through the company's installed tracking protocol, the police were able to locate the laptop and return it within a week.

The Computrace program works as a "digital security cable," explains John Livingston, Absolute's CEO. If the stolen laptop is connected to the internet, it will call back an Absolute office every 15 minutes to reveal its location. The internet communication-undetected by the thief-also allows Absolute to send back commands that can erase files, if instructed by the laptop's owner.

This particular software, and similar programs, depends on password protection. Any user has to be correctly identified through a multiple series of passwords and other identification codes in order to enter any protected files. It is the combination of fumbled passwords and the report that a machine is stolen that sets the tracing software into action.

The software also prevents thieves from doing more mischief, like erasing the hard drive and all the software on it. Basically, Absolute's LoJack program works with computers at the BIOS stage (the basic input/output system), which kicks in before the OS, or operating system, goes to work. This means the OS is protected at all times.

"We don't disable the computer,
because we don't
want to notify the thief."
-Bradley Lide, CyberAngel Security Software

"Someone may think they are deleting everything on the hard drive or all the software, but they can't," says Gomes. Absolute's security goes as far has helping to issue search warrants or subpoenas for stolen machines.

Another company, CyberAngel Security Software, offers data protection to the University of Toledo (Ohio) and Brown University. Toledo became a client after two laptops were lost last year, compromising thousands of faculty and alumni files.

The company offers five software programs, including the CyberAngel Security program and Laptop Locks.

"Our main focus is data protection," explains Bradley Lide, president and CEO. Laptop users have to not only enter a password to gain access, but must also correctly fill in the codes for secondary and even tertiary prompts. Those who fail to log in correctly at all the various stages are denied access to files that have been pre-designated by the users as to be off limits.

"We don't disable the computer, because we don't want to notify the thief," explains Lide.

The IT team at the University of Miami (Fla.) is taking a different approach by creating a homegrown proprietary encryption system that will seal sensitive data on employees' laptops and PDAs.

The university is rolling out the program later this year to protect the information stored on the laptops of admissions counselors, attorneys, and other administrators, says Tim Ramsay, associate vice president of computer operations and telecommunications. Users will have to fill out several "scripts" of passwords and site key information to gain access to information about applicants, their SAT scores, and other data.

Two UM engineers have worked throughout the year developing the tools, which will also be used to protect the data used by the personnel at the university's medical school. Ramsay estimates that 1,000 employees carry sensitive data on laptops and portable devices.

Absolute's pricing is based on a subscription model. William Penn pays $55 annually per laptop for the recovery services, says Gomes. Education pricing is $125 for three years of coverage.

CyberAngel charges education customers $47.95 annually to protect a single laptop and $95.90 for a three-year contract. This represents a 20 percent discount off regular pricing, says Lide.

Gomes notes another benefit of the security program: Students are far less likely to "forget" to return their laptops when they graduate or leave the school, given that they will be reported as missing almost immediately.

Student blogs that are sponsored by Admissions offices have quickly spread all over the country. If you haven't started a blog like this yet, you are probably looking at what other institutions are doing with great interest, envy, or fear-and definitely with some pressing questions.

Should you launch your own student blogs to support your recruiting efforts? How can you ensure these blogs about college life will end up generating more applications as well as bigger and better classes of freshmen? Beyond the media hype, can these interactive diaries translate to better yields?

Consider why they can help attract the best prospective students and persuade them to attend your school. Everything comes down to the Holy Grail of authenticity-or at least a perception of authenticity.

Whether you call them Millenials or NetGeners, today's prospective students just don't buy marketing messages delivered on glossy brochures. They've spent their teen years watching all sorts of reality TV shows and fallen in love with their "transparency." They rely on their peers' opinions and recommendations on music, movies, and education. And, according to the report "Teen Content Creators and Consumers" (Pew Internet & American Life Project, 2005), 38 percent of all teens who are online say they read blogs.

Student blogs have
become sought-after commodities in the
college selection process.

Already fueled by the prosperous college guide market, this generation's yearning to find out the truth about college life has made student blogs sought-after commodities in the college selection process.

Some corporate players have noticed, taking advantage of this new trend.

There's TheU, for instance. Founded by Doug Imbruce, a recent graduate from Columbia, the company produces and sells DVDs created to reveal the "real" college experience at different institutions.

Recently, current students have had the opportunity to set up blogs and share the lows and highs of their college life. "Bloggers for TheU.com are incredibly aware of the many different shortcomings of their schools and help students enjoy a happier, less stressful college transition by preparing these kids for challenges, big and small," says Imbruce. "The bloggers are also on hand to document and illustrate the many different ways in which some schools cater to specific needs better than others."

With TheU's blogs getting several thousand visits per month, chances are a lot of information about your institution is already available on this website, which is promoted to high school counselors. On these blogs, visitors can find good feedback about college life as well as not-so-good takes-as in this post dated April 24, 2006, by Judy L. from MIT:

"It is lonely up here, and that is why so many of us drink or get depressed. Some, maybe even most, of the heavy drinkers at MIT never even touched a drink in high school-but they can pound a 30-rack [of beer] away in one night without even blinking here."

So, what's a school to do when this type of testimonial is available and promoted on the internet? Join the fray, add other viewpoints, and make them easily accessible to high school seniors and their parents (which MIT does, with its student blogs sponsored by the Admissions office).

"Interaction between these audiences is inevitable and already occurring elsewhere, so why not facilitate the conversations and take advantage of it on our own websites? Prospective students and their families are visiting RateMyProfessor.com, LiveJournal.com, or TheU.com to learn 'the truth' about our institutions," says Bob Robertson-Boyd, web manager at Capital University in Columbus, Ohio. Since its first student journal in February 2003, the institution has offered several blogs. Administrators there even pushed the envelope further last fall by featuring the latest posts right on the university's home page-without any preliminary sort of content editing.

While student blogs can help prospective students find balanced accounts of college life at a particular institution, they also complement or further the benefits of student-guided campus visits.

Any well-rounded campus tour led by an engaging and interesting freshman can work wonders on undecided admitted students. Similarly, good student blogs inform, engage, and give a glimpse of student life. At Lewis & Clark College in Portland, Ore., 82 percent of the student body is from out of state, with 48 states and 42 countries represented. So campus visits aren't always possible and L&C student blogs have been an excellent substitute since 2003.

"Our student blogs provide insight into L&C and give the college an added dimension that can be difficult to convey over the internet," says Michael Sexton, dean of Admissions.

Blogs can also help admitted students zero in on their final choice school. "Prospective students, and certainly their parents, watch with a critical eye when we show them beautiful words and pictures depicting a perfect campus life. What these decision-makers need instead is a way to understand what life is like on a particular campus to help them decide if that is the right place for them," confirms Nancy Prater, web content coordinator at Ball State University (Ind.), where 12 students started to blog last fall.

Capital U featured its latest student blog posts right on its home page-without any preliminary editing.

Finally, good student blogs can help high school graduates with their last-minute questions or doubts at decision time or even earlier in the selection process-without disclosing their identity. That's exactly why Beloit College (Wis.) launched its blogging program last year. Since a third of its applications had been sent without any documented first contact, officials began offering another option to this type of prospective student.

"Blogs are a good way to invite the attention of students without asking them to make a commitment. Our marketing goal was to provide a way to observe Beloit in a comfortable, non-threatening way," explains Nancy Monnich Benedict, vice president for enrollment services.

All this does make sense. But, what kind of return on investment can be expected from these student blogs?

That's where things get tricky. Launching and maintaining student blogs doesn't require a huge investment. From staff time to a few thousands dollars covering bloggers' compensation and/or technical gear, the necessary budget remains low compared to other tactics. So most early adoptors didn't spend too much time setting up processes to measure their ROI.

While e-mails, application forms, or conversations with admission advisors have expressed positive feedback, measurement data generally isn't available yet, even in schools with three-year-old initiatives.

"As soon as the right tools are available, I fully intend to look at our blogs to track views, time spent on each post, comments posted, on-campus interviews with families, and effort to publish, to try to extrapolate some form of ROI," says Robertson-Boyd. "I want to be able to say that Capital's blogs were responsible for 12 undergraduate students and three newspaper articles in 2007. Assuming the best, of course."

Ball State invested more in its blogging program, essentially in the form of promotional postcards mailed to high school seniors. Just a few months after their September 2005 launch, their 12 student blogs resulted in lots of press clips and received more than 11,000 visits per day. "We have not tried to quantify our ROI but can say confidently that the value we have received has far outweighed our cost," says Prater.

To determine the impact of the blogs, staff have conducted intercept interviews of prospects and parents during campus tours last spring. They're also surveying incoming freshmen and their parents during summer orientation. (Hint for prospective blog program launchers: If you plan to start your own student blogs soon, don't forget to borrow these ideas.)

It would be a mistake to think student blogs will work all the time. The success of these programs depends on institutional culture, the talent of the bloggers, and the efficiency of promotional efforts.

At George Fox University (Ore.), MBA student blogs, tried for nine months and then discontinued, never developed a real audience. Graduate Admissions Director Brendon Connelly (who personally blogs with great success at SlackerManager .com) says, "We wanted the blogs to be so compelling that they would be a recruiting tool that we could highlight. Blogs can be and do all that, but, we now know, there's much more to a successful implementation than simply selecting smart and witty students with impressive titles to blog for your school or program."

<hr>

Karine Joly is the web editor behind www.collegewebeditor.com, a blog about higher ed web marketing, public relations, and technologies. She is also a web editor for an East Coast liberal arts college as well as a consultant on web projects for other institutions.

Picture these scenarios:

At 1 a.m., a student heading back to her dorm after a late-night study group skips the shuttle, opting for a cross-campus walk, sans company, instead.

Orlando, Florida, may be best known for its Magic Kingdom and Island of Adventure, but for three days in June it played host to another "theme park" in the form of the 2006 EduComm conference. The theme, of course, was connecting education with audiovisual and information technology.

As colleges and universities have put into placE large-scale content management systems (CMS) in recent years to take care of indexing and serving up their vast amounts of files, they have been making use of commercial products new and old to create these systems. Many of them have gone that route despite the availability of open-source alternatives, opting for safety over open-source promises of freedom.

But wasn't open-source technology supposed to be the savior of software budgets and vendor-stressed information technology (IT) departments? Its promise has been to give users the ability to get into the source code and make changes as they see necessary, without having to rely on a large, impersonal software company (or a small software company that may not be in business tomorrow) to make timely updates to the software.

True, open-source technology has been much talked about in recent years, but its uptake has still been slow.

In "The State of Open Source Software," a March 2006 report from the Alliance for Higher Education Competitiveness (A-HEC, a technology research organization serving the university and college market), A-HEC founder Rob Abel wrote that two-thirds of chief information officers at institutions of higher education have considered or are actively considering using open-source technology. Furthermore, about 25 percent of all institutions are engaged in implementing higher ed-specific open-source applications.

But that doesn't mean open source is a tidal wave. In fact, its popularity may be broad, but it's not deep. A significant switchover to open source from commercial software would have to take place for its "also-ran" status to change. "Despite much enthusiasm for open source, there are no signs that a large shift is occurring at this time," Abel writes.

Open source has been widely popular in Europe for years, with Spanish schools, French government agencies, and German municipalities adopting it enthusiastically. Governments there have pushed open source both out of national pride (choosing it over U.S.-based commercial software vendors) and as a way to keep costs down.

I would be
delighted to use open-source technologies anywhere we can. But when you get to
a high-level
application such as content
management,
I haven't yet
seen open source that
fits the criteria we have."-Larry Bouthillier, Harvard Business School

In many cases, they adopted e-government initiatives far earlier than U.S. agencies and municipalities, and they have kept up the momentum. A 2005 survey by the Maastricht Economic Research Institute on Innovation and Technology about open-source use in Europe found, for example, that 98 percent of local Spanish authorities used open-source applications.

Open source is also widely popular in U.S. higher education, but IHE technology professionals are choosy about where they use it. They tend to employ it in smaller bits of programming (or in the tools programmers use to create and modify their programs) rather than in large, complex, mission-critical programs, say tech leaders.

Whatever the current status of open source's adoption, it's unlikely to disappear from the modern campus. "In the university environment, you're never going to outlaw open source," says Jeff Ernst, vice president of marketing at FatWire Software, a maker of a commercial CMS product. "You're always going to have the kids who are going to be enamored with getting into the source and doing whatever they want." Ernst says his customers tell him they have open-source elements throughout their systems, especially on "renegade" sites run by students or small departments, but not on mission-critical websites such as those used for recruitment.

Open-source CMS products do exist, such as PostNuke and Mambo Server, as do communities of users who are supporters of open-source CMS, such as the aptly named OpenSourceCMS website. But users are not necessarily convinced the products can do the job.

"I would be delighted to use open-source technologies anywhere we can," says Larry Bouthillier, director of educational technologies and multimedia development at Harvard Business School. "When you go up to a high[-level], total application such as content management, the thing I haven't yet seen is open source that fits the criteria we have."

When HBS staff needed to catalog their rapidly expanding library of video content, which had outgrown the abilities of earlier solutions, they used ClearStory Active Media, a commercial product. The application indexes the videos and supporting files (such as Microsoft Word documents or PDF files) so they can be served up easily to faculty and students searching for the right files.

HBS's case is a good example of a CMS that has evolved over the years. In late 1995, the institution started streaming video on campus. "We've always had lots of video in the curriculum-interviews with protagonists, documentaries, etc.," says Bouthillier. "But it required scheduled viewing, and students and faculty would all have to go someplace to view it." Over the years, IT staff wrote common gateway interface scripts to help users find videos on the system. They also added capabilities to:

Scan the videos and provide snippets of text and snapshots of video scenes to prospective viewers;

"Support can be a challenge if you run into software problems, depending on who developed the code.
If you purchase a particular software package from a vendor, you get support." -Deb Wells, Bowling Green State University (Ohio)

Automatically detect the bandwidth capacity of viewers to deliver to them the video at the top quality their system is able to handle; and

Include podcasting and RSS feeds for users with the ability to access them.

The system is now about 50 percent commercial product, and 50 percent home-grown, according to Bouthillier. HBS also recently implemented a Wiki solution, to which users across campus can add information.

Open-source options that used the script language PHP (see glossary, p. 66) simply didn't work well with the rest of the business school's system. So officials chose Confluence Wiki software from Atlassian Software Systems. "We looked at all the open-source stuff and at the commercial stuff, and we ended up going with the commercial product because it was the one that would allow us to integrate into the rest of our system," says Bouthillier.

Even open-source advocates such as Virgil Wong, head of web services for Weill Medical College at Cornell University, have shied away from using it on content management systems.

When the college was looking for a CMS solution in 2005, administrators considered both open-source and commercial products before choosing Element115 running on the FatWire Content Server. "As an academic institution, we see open-source technologies as much more of an academic challenge," says Wong. "Our sense was that with open-source technologies, building project plans is extremely difficult, predominantly because of the uncertainty of open-source products. The tools we looked at had very little support. Ultimately, no one is accountable for maintaining the security of your content management system. You're at the mercy of any rescuers who might arrive."

That's not a risk he wanted to run with his system, which has about 184,000 unique visitors each month. In the year-long process of internal meetings and consultations to refine the requirements of the system and evaluate the possible solutions, Wong also wasn't able to find open-source help that would let him assemble a project plan.

Support "can be a challenge if you run into software problems, depending on who developed the code," says Deb Wells, manager of web development at Bowling Green State University (Ohio). "If you purchase a particular software package from a vendor, you get support."

BGSU leaders began looking at CMS in 2002, when the systems were starting to become affordable enough for universities to consider, notes Wells. The goal was to move from having every website looking different and following different style rules to a more unified look and feel that would also simplify content creation by non-technical users.

They selected Rhythmyx content management solution from Percussion Software. Rhythmyx not only provides a way for non-technical users to create web content without having to learn HTML or Adobe's DreamWeaver web-creation software, but it also provides support.

"We don't have enough staff to support [all of the departments], so this product is great," says Toby Singer, executive director of IT at BGSU. Bouthillier is contrarian on open source and support. "For the most part, buying a commercial product because you want support is often disappointing," he says, adding that there are exceptions among the vendors.

The far-reaching nature of CMS is a big part of the reason for caution among campus tech leaders about adopting open source. If an isolated component of a department's website goes bad, or if the student newspaper posts the wrong editorial cartoon one day, the damage or embarrassment isn't too great. But modern CMS setups are typically campuswide, aggregating content from every department and serving it up to faculty, students, administrators, alumni, prospective students, and others.

Venkatesh Korla, former director of software engineering at the Rush University Medical Center in Chicago, had to address two seemingly contradictory needs a couple years ago when looking for a CMS solution for that institution. He was looking for something that was broad like any enterprise-level CMS solution to aggregate information from disparate content creators and provide it to disparate users inside and outside of the hospital; he also needed a solution that was specific to health care organizations, however.

Those requirements led to his team creating the foundation for Element115, a spinoff of RUMC for which Korla now serves as president. Element115, the technology used by Wong at Cornell, incorporated typical requirements of health care organizations that make up, by his estimate, 80 percent of the CMS solution, which is then customized as needed for the remaining 20 percent. Health care institutions have their own taxonomy and semantics that need to be considered when serving up information in different ways, depending on whether the user accessing the information is a doctor at the hospital or a prospective patient researching his or her illness.

"The biggest challenge they have in an academic institution is to come to an agreement of what content they want and how they want it to work together," says Korla. "It is surprising that these academic institutions, which have so much content like a publishing house, don't have the [content management technology] like a publishing house."

Anyone who is following technology trends is hearing more about the marvels of RFID. Prognosticators envision a not-too-distant future in which there will be no lines in supermarkets and no need to pay cash at the gas pump. RFID will act like a "smart" system, tracking items as they are pulled off the shelf and deducting payments automatically from bank accounts.

These pundits are obviously putting a lot of faith in RFID, a technology that is simple in theory, but-like all new technology-expensive to implement. Still, retailers and security services are finding more mainstream uses for RFID. Can it be too long before RFID comes to campus?

Truth is, some universities are already using RFID technology, although use is limited.

"RFID technology allows us to run a better library."
-Bruce Miller, University of California, Merced.

It may be a while before RFID technology is in place at campus bookstores, dining halls, and rec centers, but if current buzz is any gauge, RFID is going to become a common technology on campus and everywhere.

The letters RFID stand for "radio frequency identification." An RFID tag, which can be embedded in a security card or placed on a packaging label, gives off a radio signal that is picked up by antennae in the reading devices.

If programmed into the system, a person's identification information and other data are easily verified-sometimes at great distances-without the need for the user to swipe a card or stand in close proximity to the technology.

Some RFID tags are made to be "read only" for one-way communication-these types of tags are the ones most commonly used by libraries, or in highway speed-pass systems.

Other tags are in "read and write" format, allowing for more control. Data can not only be read by the system, but can be changed on the fly. The data stored in an RFID tag can be updated-a retail price can be marked down, for example.

RFID technology has been around for a while, but uses have been mostly applied to agriculture and industrial sectors. For example, ranchers are already tracking large herds of cattle with RFID signals; transportation managers use it to monitor railroad cars.

If RFID technology is being used at all on campus, it's most likely in the library to track research materials and sign out books. The library system at the University of California, Merced started using RFID technology this year. "RFID technology allows us to run a better library," says R. Bruce Miller, the university librarian.

The UC, Merced library uses RFID technology in two ways: to check out books and to monitor the use of research publications and other materials that do not leave the building. The system reads data programmed to the RFID tags that have been placed on cards inside the library's books and publications. Each book is identified by a string of numbers that can be matched to publication name within the system.

A database records that ID when a book is checked out, or even if it is moved off a shelf for a period of time. Staff can monitor who has taken out a book, but the RFID tag inside the publication does not contain any personal information about who is reading what, nor does it include the book's title. The system was set up this way to quell fears of privacy violations, says Miller.

"Even if some other RFID system breaks the encryption, all someone would see is a string of numbers. There is no personal content on the card," explains Miller.

The RFID system, though, will be relied upon to do more than track materials. After all, libraries already have bar code systems and related readers that can help do that.

The real use for RFID will come when the library culls through the research material that does not leave the facility. Librarians at research facilities routinely have to decide which materials should be kept and which ones should be removed, says Miller.

Until RFID systems, this required poring through written requests for research material and also relying on memory. "We would have to take a highly paid librarian and walk through asking about what has been used. That cost is horrendous," he says. "You literally have to touch every book in the system."

RFID will automatically track usage. "Down the road, when I have to take 15 percent of the books out of the library, I will be able to see what hasn't been used." RFID will allow the staff to rely less on manual labor and more on analytics.

Considering the efficiency, why aren't RFID systems used on more campuses and in more general retail locations? High cost is the reason. An RFID reader can run $1,000. Comparatively, the cost for the standard reader used for mag-stripe technology might be several hundred dollars.

Miller compares the RFID costs to other library tracking systems. Inserting and tracking a book with a bar code system might cost 10 cents per publication, whereas inserting an RFID tag costs 85 cents. "When you are dealing with 100 books, that's no big deal. When you are talking about millions of books, that's an interesting number," he posits.

UC, Merced is in the enviable position of being a start-up facility. It is the newest campus in the UC system, having opened just last year. The library, which opened this year, has only 40,000 books. Investment in RFID is possible because there are fewer books to deal with and no older volumes to retrofit with the new technology. The institution's inventory is quite manageable when compared to other libraries in the UC system. UC, Berkeley, for example, has at least 10 million books in its library, Miller notes.

That's not to say that other higher ed library systems haven't implemented RFID. The library at the National University of Singapore is known for its RFID system, says Miller. Still, it will be awhile before the technology is more the norm than the exception at campus library systems.

And while RFID holds the promise of potential labor cost savings and more accurate data, Miller has obviously not realized them yet.

But there are reasons other than cost that explain why RFID is not more commonly in use on campus.

A concern:
Hackers can exploit imperfections in RFID just as they have with software and networks.

There is not yet a universal RFID technology standard, notes Jim Zaorski, CEO of Sequoia Retail Systems and a recent speaker on RFID at the 2006 CAMEX conference sponsored by the National Association of College Stores.

Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology developed an RFID technology, but the rest of the industry has been hesitant to recognize that format as the RFID protocol.

"People said, 'This is great, but we shouldn't have one lab in Cambridge making the standards.' By this point everyone thought we would have a set of RFID standards, but we don't," says Zaorski. Until there's a universal standard, there will be hesitancy to select a commercial system that may not work on a wider or global scale.

The other concern is security. Hackers can exploit imperfections in RFID technology just as they have with software and networks. The media has already covered the instance of a graduate student at UC, Berkeley who checked out books from the Oakland Public Library and overwrote the data on the RFID tags with a commercial system to prove that libraries should employ tighter RFID security.

Another report, released this spring from researchers at the Vrije University in Amsterdam, warned that RFID codes can be infected with computer viruses that can be spread from point to point. The report, titled "Does Your Cat (or Passport) Have a Computer Virus?", is meant to dispel the widely believed assumption that RFID tags cannot become infected with such viruses because of their limited memory.

"The tags apparently are more vulnerable than first thought," the researchers write, while recounting their own successful efforts to place viruses into RFID tags. They also warn that small, infected tags can do a huge amount of damage. An entire database can become corrupted if a virus is not detected in time. They offer tight security measures and routine system checking as the main antidotes.

Despite some of these new findings, momentum is growing for RFID use.

This spring card vendor HID announced a partnership with MIT to create a website that will not only be a primer about RFID technology, but also address concerns about privacy and vulnerabilities.

It may be a while before every student is carrying a card with an RFID tag, but given the interest and the potential, it may not be too long before the technology is part of higher education.

Pages