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Cruising on the Campus Wide Wi-Fi: Some Preliminary Observations

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Oh for the green signal

30 September 2016 | Come 3rd October, the hostel residents of the campus will now have more reasons to stay indoors. Notice came from the Communication and Information Sciences (CIS) Office that final arrangement for the second phase of campus Wi-Fi have been completed, following which the Wi-Fi will become operational on the day of 3 October 2016. CIS personnel have been spotted doing final tests in hostel corridors before the inauguration.

JNU on the Fast Lane:

The campus Wi-Fi project, first envisioned in 2008 was proposed to be laid out in three phases. The first phase covering the academic buildings was successfully completed in the year 2010. The second phase was expected to provide coverage to the hostel areas, the health centre and the student’s activity centre. The third phase will include the residential areas, which would then turn the entire campus into a Wi-Fi zone.

The groundwork for the second phase began on 01-12-2015 with the leasing of a tender to lay the infrastructure for campus Wi-Fi to TNS Networking Solutions Pvt. Ltd, a private software company. The project was divided into two parts – laying of the passive components (setting up OFC grid in the campus) and installation of the active components (Internal operations at the Data Centre in CIS). The laying of Optical Fibre Cables (OFC) was expected to finish in 15-07-2016, while the active components were suppose to be readied by 15-08-2016, with the testing and commissioning finished by the same date and the final rollout to be on 31-08-2016. It has however delayed by a month due to delays in laying the OFC grid and installing the infrastructure.

The Optical Fibre Cable (OFC) grid links and connects more than 40 locations within the campus with the Data Centre of CIS. Sanjeev Kumar, Director, CIS has said in a notice released in January this year, “This OFC backbone network will be used for rolling out all Value-Added ICT Projects/Services like implementation of Campus Surveillance System, Campus Wide Wi-Fi facility, to use VoIP (Voice Over IP), to access e-Governance Applications, JNU Intranet and other ICT infrastructure, research applications, which are hosted from CIS Data Centre and other locations of Academic Complex from anywhere in the campus through JNU Intranet.”

Speaking on the occasion, the VC wrote on ‘Campus Wide WiFi@Jawaharlal Nehru University,’ an online portal dedicated to the campus Wi-Fi project, “The JNU entire campus will be Wi-Fi enabled, a facility which extends to hostels, dining halls and outdoor common areas. JNU faculty, staff, students and guests can remain seamlessly connected across the entire campus post completion of the Campus Wide Wi-Fi Project. Further, completion of entire network backbone of the university over OFC would make easier to roll out any value added ICT services or enable to access any ICT and eGovernance application of the University from anywhere in the campus. The university’s CIS team has put significant efforts for initiating the campus wide Wi-Fi project in the campus. I congratulate to CIS team and wish all the best to them for the future endeavours (sic).”

JNU Wi-Fi 2.0:

How will campus wide Wi-Fi affect JNU’s lifestyle? What do students expect? What next? What other plans has the administration in store now that the campus wide Wi-Fi is nearing completion?

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A reminder by CIS

We asked a few students about what they think of these developments. Their response struck as quite lukewarm. With mass agitation for proper accommodation, repair and maintenance of hostel infrastructure, transparency in administrative functioning, calls for review of the evaluation system and expected modifications and reforms in university curriculum in the forthcoming academic council; there appear to be few takers for the campus wide Wi-Fi.

Though many seem to agree that hostel Wi-Fi would ease off the burden from the already stressed resources; for example the Library reading rooms will be less crowded. “We will spot less number of people at the steps at the Freedom Square at night, where we used to go to surf the internet,” said Prashant from CRS, adding “it will also affect the business of the internet services shop behind Tapti.” Most students would visit the library reading rooms, or the academic buildings to access JNU Wi-Fi for myriad purposes and one can always spot people with laptops or cell phones at the Freedom Square. Hostel Wi-Fi means, only those who have rigorous work or those without a hostel room will be visiting the reading rooms.

One of the students, who did not wish to be named quite blatantly, declared “I expect nothing to change after hostel Wi-Fi, you really cannot expect much from the administration.” Kiran from SSS said “For me internet is now a part and parcel of life, for knowledge, social networking, and entertainment. I think campus lifestyle will remain the same. People use internet widely both inside and outside campus.” There are however some reservations among students who expect increased monitoring and surveillance by the administration. “Blocking sites from security point of view is fine…. But blocking from a moralistic point of view is too immature for JNU campus,” remarked Kiran. “Censoring websites is a common practice in JNU, and people hardly ever protest,” quipped Arslaan from CAAS.

Gargi from CL opined, “There won’t be much changes only broadband walas in JNU will go bankrupt but internet [access] will be certainly more democratic,” she further added, “the problem is that the connectivity is limited to that space, like if we are in the Library area and we sign in we have to reconnect again in the SL area…the transition isn’t smooth.”

Connectivity and speed were earlier chief concerns for those using the Wi-Fi at the school area. Disruptions, glitches, instances of server being down and erratic speed were frequent occurrences, in spite of the 1 Gbps bandwidth available. Chances are with the hostel Wi-Fi, internet traffic will be clogged further, unless specific provisions have been made for the same. CIS has not revealed the specifications as of now.  

Nonetheless, now that the infrastructure is in place, the administration will chalk out plans how best to make use of the available services. “I think a more relevant question is how people who have access will make use of it? Online courses from foreign universities can be made available. Further scholars can interact from their rooms and take classes for others say in remote areas or disadvantaged sections,” commented Kiran. In the coming days, the administration is likely to diversify its online projects for learning, sharing and interacting with student’s community in the campus as well as facilitating student’s engagements with other institutions and communities outside.

Giving a Boost to JNU’s Online Projects and GOI Schemes:

From what can be discerned by the remarks of VC and CIS Director, one can expect a host of new projects and developments taking place. There are some which are already operational over JNU intranet like live streaming, links to various administrative departments and services, student’s notice board, to cite a few. The Central Library, IHA, Health Centre, JNU Alumni web portals have been up and running for quite some time now. JNU eOffice is still under construction.  

Further, during his inauguration speech at the EOO annual lecture, VC was heard talking about making courses available and accessible to youths in the country, those who have the will to learn but are unable to do so due to circumstantial reasons through open online courses and virtual classrooms.

Earlier JNU has collaborated for pipeline projects supported by GOI such as smart classes which include interacting, learning and sharing over the internet with teachers from different higher educational institutions. JNU observed Digital India week in 2014 where there were presentations made on some of the projects that can be initiated in the campus such as Big Data Analytics Research and Innovations, Cloud Computing, e-Thesis Tracing, Online Courses with Moodle MOOC Platform, eOffice Applications and use of Hindi typeface in ICT. 

The Massive Open Online Courses (MOOC) developed by IIT Bombay called Study Web of Active-Learning for Young Aspiring Minds (SWAYAM) offered courses on a pilot basis. When approached in 2014, some 10 faculty members from JNU showed interest in offering online courses at PG level, these were made available by IITB MOOCS. The first three courses to go online in October 2014 were Prof. Varun Sahni’s ‘Great Powers in the International System,’ Prof. G. J. V. Prasad’s ‘Indian English: Language, Literature and Society’ and Prof. Chitra Harshvardhan’s ‘Theories of Translation: An Introduction.’ Apart from the ones mentioned above, there were also PG level courses offered by Prof. Rekha V. Rajan, Dr. Girish Nath Jha, Dr. Gautam K. Jha, Prof. Sonu Saini and
Prof. P. R. Kumaraswamy among others

Then there is the GOI approved Global Initiative of Academic Networks (GIAN) which allows noteworthy scientists and entrepreneurs to engage with the institutes of Higher Education in India to promote R & D, provide insights and support for research work as well extend India’s academic resources.

There is also the JNU E-Learning and Content Management System which according to the JNU website allows: “to share common working documents  across the JNU community; to accumulate content in a single platform; to provide open access to institutional research output by self-archiving it and to have access to all the important video lectures delivered by visiting scholars/JNU scholars.”

Regarding another project A-VIEW, it states “A-VIEW is an advanced multi-modal, multi-platform, collaborative e-learning solution which allows an instructor to teach or interact with a large number of learners transcending geographies on a real-time basis through live audio video streaming and synchronized content sharing.”

Intended Future Projects:

The Academic Council Meeting scheduled for 7th October 2016. A number of important policy decisions will be taken in the presence of the HRD Minister; most expect major changes and reviews taking place in the university curriculum, course structure, infrastructure, administration and management post the meeting. It is evident that the council will have plans and proposals laid out for the use and deployment of the campus wide Wi-Fi for specific educational purposes, implementation of social schemes, supervisory roles as well as for monitoring and management purposes.

For example, the laying of the OFC grid makes it easier to install surveillance systems and monitoring infrastructure. Given the extensive coverage and penetration within the hostel premises and later in the residential areas; the administration can monitor student’s activities on a real time basis.

On the other hand eOffice with online application forms, e-inquiries, notices and updates, availability of information on the status of fellowships, grants, scholarships and funds will cut out on the waste of energy and resources; and also make processes simple and delivery quick and more efficient.

On 28 September 2016, JNU organized a conference called ‘Economic Empowerment Through Innovation and Entrepreneurship” in collaboration with Dalit Indian Chamber of Commerce & Industry (DICCI) and Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) to discuss the possibilities of setting up a ‘School of Management and Entrepreneurship’ at JNU in order to bridge the disconnect between industry and academia.

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‘Regional Orientation Workshop’ by National Institute for Entrepreneurship and Small Business Development at the conference on Economic Empowerment Through Innovation and Entrepreneurship.

Mr Mukesh Gupta, from Ministry of Skill Development and Entrepreneurship made a presentation on a recent initiative by GOI called ‘The National Institute for Entrepreneurship and Small Business Development’ to “help/support and affiliate institutions/organisations in carrying out training and other entrepreneurship development related activities.” He informed the gathering that the organization can provide grants, international platform, guidance and support for establishing an entrepreneurship school in the campus for which the university will have to register with the organization.

The university will have to ensure that it has the required infrastructure, staff and support systems for conducting of courses on management and entrepreneurship, one of them being steady reliable internet connectivity as most of the classes and interactions will be hosted online.   

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The inauguration of the campus Wi-Fi will be done by VC at the Convention Hall on 3rd October 2016, at 10:30 A.M. It is expected that the inauguration will be followed by a brief presentation on ‘JNU’s Digital Strength’ and its deployment for achieving JNU’s academic and research visions. More will be revealed after the proceedings of the Academic Council meeting on 7th October, 2016. Only time will tell, how things unravel in the campus.

The Informer correspondent

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