Green up, NIU!

NIU ITS builds Wifi, cloud computing capabilities with focus on sustainability

The future of learning at Northern Illinois University is becoming increasingly paperless as NIU’s Information Technology Services embarks on a journey to “green up NIU.”

The effort has its roots in NIU’s Vision 2020 Initiative, which places an emphasis on enhancing technology-related instruction and investment in that technology.  The NIU Board of Trustees authorized an investment of just under $2 million for campus Wi-Fi expansion and cloud computing at its May, 2012 meeting, meaning NIU will soon have 100 percent wireless coverage, allowing for access of many different devices at once, including laptops, tablets, smartphones and other wireless devices.  Ultimately, the wireless access and cloud computing capabilities will lead to a more sustainable and environmentally-friendly campus.

ITS computer labs cost $100,000 per year to maintain, and the technology is constantly in need of upgrades as newer, faster, more powerful technology becomes available. Moving to a cloud computing model provides students anytime-anywhere access. In the coming years, these labs will change to become collaboration centers where students can bring their own devices or use a provided computer to meet with others, print documents and perhaps get a cup of coffee.

Currently, 20 million sheets are printed at ITS computer labs each year through its Huskie Prints Program.  ITS is working with Faculty Development and the faculty to reduce the volume of printed assignments needed to be turned in by the students to further reduce printing requirements.

“ITS has watched our paper and toner bill go from $20,000.00 per year to over $1 million per year,” says NIU associate vice president for information technology Walter Czerniak.  “It was time for technology dollars to be spent on technology.”

Faculty Development is exploring ways to take advantage of this new technology, and faculty members are encouraged to allow mobile devices in classrooms in order to take notes and refer to documents online instead of printing.  As the campus moves to the cloud, the campus community will rely less on paper, eventually reducing the amount of sheets printed from the average of 300 sheets per student per year.

Free printing will be reduced in increments of 100 from 300 sheets per year for the 2012-13 academic year to zero by fall 2015.  Students will simply send a print job to the cloud, then go to the printer of their choice and swipe their NIU OneCard.  The display will show all of the items ready to access from the cloud, and after the job is printed, the device will display the amount of free prints remaining.

Additionally, beginning fall 2012, student email will be handled through Google Mail, allowing for 25 GB of email storage space and access to Google Apps that include calendars, document viewers and other collaboration tools.

The university community is invited to learn more about the Green Up NIU initiative at its website, www.niu.edu/greenup/.

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