The University of Pennsylvania's Online Computing Magazine

PENN PRINTOUT April 1993 - Volume 9:6

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Wired: ResNet brings video, voice, and data to the dorms

By Daniel Updegrove

Laura, a junior in the College, is worried about the term paper due Monday. Can't put it off any longer; might as well get started, even if it is midnight--and pouring rain. Let's see what information is available on "President Clinton's options for health-care reform." She turns on her personal computer and connects via PennNet to Franklin, the Library's online catalog.

Fourteen books on health-care reform published since 1990, and most are checked out. Not a great start. Too bad it's so near the deadline; a search in other universities' catalogs might have found books worth requesting via inter-library loan. Perhaps journal articles would be a better bet. Aha! Fifteen articles in Medline from 1993, and the abstracts are online--mostly views from the medical establishment. Wonder what the business perspective is? ABI/Inform has 67 article abstracts on Clinton and health-care reform. Only two hours into this, and already a good working bibliography and contrasting arguments are emerging. But what is the Administration's viewpoint? Can we get official source documents instead of printed sound bites?

Someone in class mentioned WAIS, "wide area information service," or some such; said it was accessible via Gopher. Who makes up these names, anyway? It's getting late; let's try the keyword "Clinton." Eureka! Speeches, position papers, interviews, announcement of the Task Force on National Health Care Reform, in some kind of "relevance" order. And not just abstracts--full text. Easy to download some of this stuff and review it tomorrow after lunch.

Lunch! Need to cancel with Brian; what's his e-mail address? Noon is the only time Professor Porter can meet to discuss the make-up project. And the trip to Princeton on Saturday; are the train schedules online? What time is the concert? Does Princeton have something like PennInfo? And what's this voice-mail message about the overdue term bill? Better write to Mom and Dad; too bad they don't have e-mail. What a night! Wonder what's on cable? An interview with Hillary; could tape it for later. MTV--now that's more like it.

This scenario* is not intended to be futuristic. In fact, by the fall students in five residence halls are scheduled to have cable TV, PennNet Ethernet connections, and wiring for a private phone option. By September 1996 or 1997, all on-campus residences should be wired for multimedia, state-of-the-art information access. The finan-cial plan for this program, named ResNet, was approved by the Board of Trustees at its March meeting, subject to receipt of construction and wiring bids within budgeted parameters.

How will ResNet work? What services will be available? How will students respond? How will learning, teaching, research, and the administration of the University change in response to this major investment in information technology? The answers are beginning to emerge from the work of numerous working committees, all reporting to a steering committee cochaired by Vice Provost for University Life Kim Morrisson and Associate Vice Provost for Information Systems and Computing Daniel Updegrove.

The ResNet Program in brief

Residences targeted for fall 1993 are High Rise North, Ware College House (in the Quad), and Modern Languages House, for upperclassmen, and Kings Court and English House for freshmen. Each student in these buildings will find a new wall plate with three outlets, offering
  • Cable TV service, which will include local commercial and public channels, the international and public affairs offerings of the existing Academic Video Network, and some local programming (no decision has yet been reached on availability of premium channels, such as HBO)
  • Telephone service, to be arranged and billed through Penntrex, as usual, although private lines will be easier to obtain than in other buildings
  • Direct Ethernet connection to PennNet, for data communication at 10 million bits (1 million characters) per second, or about 4,000 times the rate most personally owned modems provide

Cable TV and Ethernet service will be included in the rent for wired buildings; phone service will be additional.

To take advantage of Ethernet, students will have to outfit their computers with 10BaseT Ethernet cards or adapters, at costs ranging from $150-$250. (Students also have slower data-communication options: using conventional modems, which tie up a phone line, or special data- over-voice modems, which permit simultaneous data and voice communication. No direct asynchronous networking service will be provided.) Students without computers or who intend to replace or upgrade current systems are advised to wait for the June mailing advertising the Fall Truckload Sale of Computers, which will include a range of ResNet-compatible offerings.

Administrative coordination for ResNet will draw upon the resources of Residential Living, Business Services, and Information Systems and Computing (ISC). One of the first functions will be to survey those students planning to live in networked rooms next year, to determine their plans, needs, and concerns. The ResNet phone number is 898-4336, and the e-mail address is

Assistance with hardware setup and software installation, training, and ongoing support will be provided through a combination of residence hall computer lab staff, the Computer Connection, the Computing Resource Center, and Data Communications and Computing Services. Students signed up for ResNet will receive more detailed information on these services during the summer.

The construction contingency

ResNet is a large project, being carried out in a very short time. When it is finished, the fifteen residence halls will have roughly the same number of PennNet connections as the rest of the campus, where network installation has been in progress since 1985. Moreover, the residences, having been built over the decades, represent varied architectural and engineering challenges--and the goal is to do all the work while students are away for the summer.

Substantial economies accrue when installing three types of wiring simultaneously, but complexity increases with the different technologies and contractors. Nevertheless, if all legal and contractual issues are worked out in the next few weeks, construction, wiring, and testing should be finished in all five buildings before the students return.

The future

As the twenty-first century approaches, the University must be prepared for, and prepare its students for, the challenges of an increasingly information-rich, multimedia, international, multicultural world. In parallel, the University seeks to enhance the quality, attractiveness, and ultimately, number of on-campus residences, so as to better integrate undergraduate academic and social life.

Many of Penn's classrooms, laboratories, and libraries are equipped with the latest in computer and video facilities, yet students spend much of their time in residence halls. There, lack of access to data and video services has not only restricted learning opportunities but also reduced faculty incentives to develop or use innovative, media- based instructional tools.

ResNet is a response to both intellectual and pragmatic challenges. Numerous peer institutions have undertaken, or are planning, similar projects: Dartmouth began data networking in dorms nearly a decade ago. Yet both infor-mation technology and student preferences are notoriously difficult to forecast. In large measure, ResNet's success depends on integrating these two dynamic forces. Stay tuned.

* Inspired by Robert J. Spinrad, "The Electronic University," EDUCOM Bulletin, Fall/Winter 1983.

DANIEL UPDEGROVE is an Associate Vice Provost for Information Systems and Computing.