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With more than 30 million iPods sold since 2001, chances are you've witnessed the invasion of these small digital players and their matching distinctive earphones on campus. Your students, their parents, your alums, their kids, and your faculty and staff have likely seen or used one. Supported by the so-called "net generation" as much in love with cutting-edge technology as with on-demand music, the arrival of this fashionable device at colleges and universities has opened the door to a digital audio revolution in higher ed: podcasting.

Word familiarity is one thing, but let's agree on its definition. According to Wikipedia, the web encyclopedia, podcasting is "a collection of technologies for automatically distributing audio and video programs over the Internet via a publish-and-subscribe model." Unlike earlier online collections of audio or video material, podcasting is automatic, usually through RSS feeds. Independent producers can use it to create self-published, syndicated "radio shows," and it offers a new distribution method for broadcast radio and television programs.

While iPods have definitely played a role in the naming and the development of this new practice, you don't need an iPod to listen to podcasts. Any mp3 player or even a good ol' PC can be used to delve into the wonderful world of podcasting by downloading a free podcast from Apple's iTunes online store or any other podcast directory.

Podcasting certainly presents some of the characteristics of more ephemeral crazes: It's about a year-and-a-half old but has already attracted a lot of buzz, mainly driven by marketing strategies from Apple, mainstream media, and other key industries. Whether it was planned or not, Duke University (N.C.) got a lot of media coverage of its "iPod first-year experience." In 2004, more than 1,600 freshmen were given brand new iPods to enhance their academic experience. Although the initiative wasn't repeated on the same scale the following year, it resulted in very positive promotional outcomes.

More recently, the announcement of a similar initiative by the School of Education at Drexel University (Pa.) for the new master of science in higher education program--made just days after the launch of iPod video--confirmed the device's magnetic marketing appeal for higher ed.

"The Future of Podcasting," a November 2005 study based on a sample of 4,400 radio listeners and conducted by Bridge Ratings, estimated that 5 million people would have downloaded podcasts in 2005. This year, the forecast is 9.3 million users, and it is expected to reach 62.8 million within five years.

How many of these millions of podcast listeners plan to go to college, make a donation, recruit your graduates, or write an article about your institution? That could be the million-dollar question in a couple of years, one that some corporate players in higher education have begun studying.

Thomson Peterson's introduced podcasting in February 2005 and has yielded promising results: more than 4,000 downloads per month. Executives had been exploring the idea of offering audio and video resources as a way to supplement the online experience, recalls Dan Karleen, Peterson's director of online product delivery. "When podcasting came along, giving people the option of subscribing to receive new programs automatically, the time seemed right to launch a series of podcasts complementing our three core areas: college admission advice, financial aid resources, and standardized test preparation."

Since last September, more and more institutions of higher ed have decided to offer some of their lectures as podcasts to their students. Some, like Purdue University in Indiana, have made their class podcasts available to anybody who would like to download them; others, like the University of Michigan's School of Dentistry, have reserved these class recordings for current students via a private iTunes store. For the past few months, the academic uses of podcasting have been at the center of an animated debate in academia between fans and critics, but the controversy shouldn't overcast what this technology can offer to admissions, marketing, or college relations.

"I'm not a big fan of jumping on the next thing that comes around in college marketing. ... However, there are some colleges who have started to play around with [podcasting] models," says Brian Niles, CEO of TargetX, a company specializing in interactive marketing communications, as well as the producer of podcasts for college admission officials.

With 30,000-plus podcasts downloaded in 10 months, Allegheny College (Pa.) is a great example of the power of podcasting. Launched in April 2005, the podcasts are 15-minute interviews with a new guest every week; recent guests have included the director of Athletics Information and the entrepreneur-in-residence. The podcasts are viewed as a complement to more traditional online and print marketing efforts. "They allow us to go into much greater detail than you can in a press release or a printed brochure, and do so in a conversational manner, something that makes a difference to people and allows them to make a more direct connection with Allegeny College," says Mike Richwalsky, the host and producer of these podcasts.

At Savannah College of Art and Design (Ga.), meanwhile, the video podcasts available on iTunes since October 2004 are just another way to deliver admission-related videos produced for the institution's on-demand streaming video website. "SCAD On Demand topics include visiting artists, the exploration and creation or art and the experience of living and studying at SCAD. ... When the opportunity arose to expand our reach and make SCAD's streaming media available through iTunes, it just seemed the logical thing to do," explains Paul Razza, director of the communication broadcast unit.

For Mansfield University (Pa.), spokesperson Dennis Miller believes podcasting is simply a new way of communication delivery--"what radio used to be," he says. "It's intimate, speaking to one listener at a time. If it's done right, it creates images in the listener's mind that last a long, long time."

Promoted via radio spots at their launch and available through iTunes or Yahoo, the MU podcasts offer a glimpse at the experience of four freshmen through unscripted, yet edited, weekly interviews as well as advice from the Admissions and Financial Aid directors. "These shows can be a big help to guidance counselors. They answer questions that students and parents ask all the time," adds Miller.

According to Lori Schmidt from TwigPod Production, a podcasting agency whose clients include California Institute of Technology and Whittier College (Calif.), podcasting strength also resides in its ability to deliver content to an audience in an inexpensive and extremely timely fashion. "These days, it's not uncommon for a college or university to recruit prospects for three or more years. Once they've seen the publications, website, and DVD, what does an [institution] have to throw at students to keep them interested? That's the benefit of podcasting."

While podcasting can help create and build great relationships with prospective students and their parents, the buck doesn't stop at the Admissions office. Because podcasts can tell stories about an institution in a more compelling way, they often appeal to multiple audiences, from high schoolers to older alumni.

They can help build and develop a community of individuals interested in an institution not only off, but also on, campus. Last year, the web team at Buffalo State College (N.Y.) launched a podcasting initiative to add an interactive, multimedia, community-building element to its website. "The main goal was to engage our online community to participate, whether it is by producing their own podcasts, subscribing to a podcast feed, or using the technology in the classroom. We also thought it would be a unique way to disseminate messages about what makes Buffalo State great--interesting lecturers, a student-run radio station, undergraduate research programs, and so on," says Brett Essler, web publications editor.

While podcasting is still in its infancy, higher ed podcasters see it as a promising communication channel. As Paul Kruczynski, senior web implementation specialist at BSC puts it, "By building a podcast repository now, we create a framework and method for further integrating these tools into tomorrow's academic environment."

So podcasting might well be worth your time.

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 and a consultant on web projects for other institutions.

The fall semester opened this year with unprecedented concern over the scope of plagiarism in higher education. A virtual epidemic of cheating, or perhaps just a new awareness, has spread across the academic world. A web search for "plagiarism" reveals numerous articles published this past summer alone in the higher education press.

Isla Vista, a college community for the University of California, Santa Barbara now has free Wi-Fi access in the downtown area. Like many college towns, its residents have come to expect ubiquitous internet access. The new network is Firetide's Instant Mesh Network. A mesh network topology connects all nodes without requiring communication to pass through a central concentrator. A wireless mesh uses multiple network gateways, essentially radio-frequency access points, that create multiple, concurrent traffic flows among themselves. The aggregated capacity of these gateways provides seamless Wi-Fi coverage and high throughput, which holds promise for a growing number of digital communication modes on campus, including video and voice over IP (VoIP).

BelAir Networks is participating in the University of Georgia's Mobile Media Consortium, a project to test wireless infrastructures in an urban environment. The wireless mesh replaced a wireless network that had been in use for three years. Last fall, UGA's mobile media design students experimented with services such as a restaurant guide and a wireless walking tour.

Since 2003, Drexel University (Pa.) has used a wireless network known as DrexelOneMobile and built on Microsoft's .NET Framework, Mobile Internet Toolkit, and Visual Studio.NET. The network uses the university's LDAP directory to authenticate mobile users. Because .NET technology accommodates any software that conforms to the Simple Object Access Protocol (SOAP), an XML-based method for encoding web service requests and responses, Drexel's administrative applications and portal are reachable through DrexelOneMobile. The campus community can use a variety of mobile devices--wireless laptops, Blackberries, web phones, and PDAs--to access the network. Featured services include news, campus announcements, and an online phone directory.

A wireless infrastructure may
save Dartmouth as much as
$1 million in annual costs.

Dartmouth College (N.H.) has consolidated phone, cable, and data services in one wireless system. The project, which began in 2001, has added 1,400 wireless access points to the 24,000 wired ports on campus. The college will expand its cable TV system to provide faculty and students individual "channels" for showing movie clips, video projects, or presentations. Dartmouth estimates that a wireless infrastructure will save as much as $1 million in annual maintenance, cabling, and salary costs. How the change in technologies will affect teaching and learning is not yet clear, but Dartmouth is again making all of higher education take notice of its innovations in campus technology.

IHEs are pondering the impact of the ever-growing variety of hand-held devices. IP multimedia subsystems (IMS) are the basis for expected break-throughs in "combinatorial" or "rich call" services--adding to circuit-switched voice calls new video features such as push-to-view, see-what-I-see, and push-to-share. Handset makers like Nokia, Samsung, and Motorola can already be called multimedia phones. Nokia has announced a model capable of storing as many as 3,000 sounds. Motorola and Apple Computers plan to test-market a music cell phone, hoping to build on the runaway success of the iPod. These third-generation (3G) devices, with features like improved internet browsing and messaging and voice-video integration are just now coming to market. Their impact on campus will be interesting to watch.

Duke University (N.C.) has experimented with the iPod as a potential aid to instruction, although the initiative met with mixed reactions, perhaps because not a lot of thought appears to have gone into how the devices would be used. But during the past academic year "podcasting"--the dissemination of digital recordings of all kinds in MP3 and other audio formats--has sparked new interest in these music players. Duke and others are intrigued by the possibilities of listening to lectures and language lessons distributed via wired and wireless networks.

Fixed and mobile networks are rapidly maturing to form an extended communications fabric. Multimedia services carried via easy-to-use handsets are sweeping through the consumer marketplace, perhaps heralding another revolution in communications and a scramble to adapt campus infrastructures.

The webmaster, once seen as a hero and magician, is now in danger of being viewed as a bottleneck. No lone person, or even a central office, can be responsive enough to keep today's complex higher education websites stocked with up-to-the minute information. On the other hand, if dozens of individuals and offices create their own web materials without coordination, a website can splinter into unnavigable chaos. This dilemma is motivating many savvy webmasters to start moving their institutions in the direction of web content management software (WCMS).

Campus computing has become an annual contest among an ever-growing number of technologies competing for the IT purse. As the new academic year bursts from the starting gate, some of the leading horses this year are not the usual contenders. Wireless networking, after a lot of talk and pilot projects, is now a must-have service. Legally obtained music appears ready to figure importantly in the muddy battle over file sharing. Spam has nosed ahead of viruses this fall as the enemy of campus network performance. Handheld devices are gaining credibility as important players in the "new" campus infrastructure. None of these horses is new to the IT scene; they have all matured to challenge the traditional contestants: computers, software, and support services.

Where IHEs have not deployed wireless access points, campus community members are now quick to fill the gap on their own dime. Anyone with $100 to spend can get a wireless router and open an access zone for a whole department or a good part of a dorm. Apple's AirPort Express, listing at $129, offers a combination of wireless internet access, music streaming, and printer sharing. Meanwhile, the campus IT organizations are preferring to supply the wireless access points of their own choosing. Many that use Cisco Systems, for example, are replacing access devices from other manufacturers with Cisco's Aironet series, which varies in cost from $500 to $1,300 but has the advantage of being well integrated with Cisco routers and switches, and so making management of wireless access zones easier to accomplish at the central network control points.

Anyone with $100 to spend can
get a wireless router and open
an access zone for a whole
department or part of a dorm.

Wireless networking is a prime example of the technologies that are transforming campus computing from the "outside." Manufacturers are marketing directly to the public, keeping the technology inexpensive and easy to install. The downside for campus IT support units is that wireless signal strength fluctuates and behaves in ways that only a radio engineer can sort out. Many help-desk calls this fall are appeals to fill gaps in wireless coverage and to fix (or at least explain) variances in signal quality.

The recording industry's race to overtake music file sharing and copyright infringement has been joined by the emergence of commercial download sources. Apple's iTunes music store and runaway hit iPod player have set the pace for legal music, with songs selling for 99 cents and audio books and music videos now included in the iTunes inventory. The iPod players cost $300 to $400, depending on the model.

Apple's success has spurred Napster to offer a music "rental" service at $14.95 per month, supplementing its 99 cents per song offering, which was the breakthrough business model for legal distribution of music via download. Napster 3.0 uses a technology termed "Janus" that keeps track of the subscription period and then disables the music files when the rental expires.

In the late summer, RealNetworks started its challenge to the front-runners, offering songs at 49 cents. Its Rhapsody service offers subscription access to music at $9.95 per month. STARZ! supplies video downloads for $12.95 per month for customers with Internet connections running at 600 kbps or higher.

Whether the proliferation of these outlets will finally rein in illegal downloading and file sharing remains to be seen. Colleges and universities face continuing pressure from the media industries to block file sharing and to persuade their campus communities to respect copyright for music, video, games, and software. The legal, low-cost sources hope to win over many of those network users who still take their chances with illegal sharing.

Unwanted e-mail shows no sign of weakening as a burden to campus mail systems and the in-boxes of its users. Not surprisingly, the number of anti-spam software programs, hardware appliances, and filtering services is growing steadily, too. Stopping, or at least identifying, spam at the mail server has u

become critical for campus computing because once it has been distributed to users, the cleanup chore is widespread.

Barracuda Networks' Spam Firewall is an appliance (hardware, software, and update services requiring little management by the IT staff) that detects and quarantines spam with a low percentage of "false positive" mistakes. It is priced on a scale ranging from 90 cents per user up to 1,000 users, to 27 cents for populations over 10,000.

For campuses running Unix- or Linux-based mail services with sendmail, PureMessage from Sophos is a leading choice for anti-spam filtering. Unlike its appliance-based competitors, it is highly customizable at the mail server, which has advantages in flexibility but requires staff time and expertise.

Brightmail's anti-spam filtering software for individual computers is used in several commercial products, and in June of 2004 was acquired by Symantec and is now featured in its Norton AntiSpam 2004 product. The Norton package sells in the $15 to 50 range in the highly competitive online software sales market.

Greenview Data's SpamStopsHere is a hosted, off-site service that uses several layers of filtering to accomplish spam blocking. Its advantage is that it requires no hardware or software on campus. Its principal drawback is that the company manages the filtering criteria centrally, and does not provide customers and users a means to adjust filter settings.

One of the major IT policy issues raised by anti-spam technologies is the matter of false positives--those messages identified as spam but actually are legitimate. A researcher on the reproductive activities of fruit flies could find e-mail blocked because the spam filter cannot differentiate it from the flood of sex-related information figuring in message scans. The technological ideal is, of course, 100 percent blocking of unwanted messages and no stoppage of those that are wanted. Once freedom of expression concerns are added to the discussion, spam blocking can easily become a contentious topic in computing advisory committees.

Cell phones, personal digital assistants (PDA), small-format computers and cameras, game players, and hybrids of several of these are forcing their way to the head of the pack of new hardware devices on campus. Most colleges and universities have tried to limit their responsibility to support users of these new micromachines, and have been particularly concerned about the looming demand to accommodate them on the campus network. The difficulty of support was not great when it was a matter of synchronizing a networked calendar in an environment like Microsoft's Exchange/Outlook or Novell's Groupwise with a Palm Pilot or equivalent. But as PDAs become more complex, the task of integrating them into campus networked services grows more daunting.

The Blackberry handheld has been adopted by senior administrators on some campuses as a way to stay in touch while traveling or during a campus emergency. Now some faculty are asking to be provided with them. While the individual units can be obtained for as little as $300, subscription to a related communications network can cost $70 per month. Palm, HP, and Dell are the leading purveyors of PDAs, ranging in cost from $100 to $500 or more. The high-end devices are essentially pocket-sized microcomputers complete with wireless network capability. The lower end of this suite of products are still primarily personal electronic calendars and address books. Dell's family of Axim devices and Palm's Tungsten series are top sellers, along with HP's iPAQ.

PDAs have not succeeded in replacing desktop or notebook computers on campus. Instead they are typically bought by faculty and administrators for personal convenience and ruled outside the set of devices supported by central IT. So far, there has not been a "killer" application for widespread use on campus. Medical schools have generally embraced them as an excellent way to carry information and stay in communication as personnel move through hospital rounds.

In the past, campus IT leaders chose technologies, products, and services for adoption by their clientele. Now the IT jockeys are hanging on to their saddles as the new generation of consumer-oriented technologies race onto campus. The first few requests for support can be turned aside, but the onrush of sheer numbers of devices (let alone MP3 songs) will eventually mandate support for new products and adjustments to campus network infrastructure and usage policies. Some new students have shown up this fall toting notebook computers with built-in wireless networking and did not want to hear that if their dorm rooms were not covered for wireless they could always buy an RJ-45 cable and attach to the 100 MHz wired Ethernet.

Races rarely run as predicted. Like horses, those technologies with irresistible power and stamina cross the finish line. IT shops, this year more than ever, are watching as the pack of contending new technologies sorts itself out.

Tom Warger is a consulting principal for Edutech International (www.edutech-int.com).

With ever-present budget pressure upon them, colleges and universities are being forced to accomplish more with less. That applies to servers, too. In the past, when the demand for administrative functions, research, classroom needs, and student activities got too great, the quick answer might have been to add another server--but no longer. Now, cluster computing and storage area networks (SANs) can save a school big money on hardware and software costs, and simplify IT maintenance and operation.

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