URBANA – Come Aug. 23, University Laboratory High School students will be wired – and wireless.
As part of a network upgrade going on in older buildings at the University of Illinois, the high school will have a speedier Internet connection – from 10 megabits per second to 100, with capability for 1,000 – and wireless access in all classrooms and public areas.
"They can do things more quickly, more efficiently, more collaboratively," said the school's technology director, Greg Smith. "It's like expanding a highway from two lanes to six. It makes things go faster and smoother, and it enables us in the long term to think about (video, teleconferencing)."
Smith sees endless applications – and a few concerns – from the upgrade.
In the classroom, teachers can better do show-and-tells.
Want to learn about a country's current events in foreign language class? Just go to one of that nation's newspaper's Web sites for stories, podcasts or streaming video.
Want to look at a primary document from Library of Congress in history class? Just head to its site for about 14 million records.
"The Internet is a major research tool for us," said Smith, who added that the school hasn't made plans to change curriculum to reflect new tech capabilities yet.
Students with laptops will also be able to use them at school.
"I expect it to enable a lot of expansion into how students bring computing into the school," Smith said. "I'm sure the students are thrilled by the possibility of online gaming – oh, and doing their homework."
However, he said, with independent access comes greater responsibility.
In computer literacy classes he and other Uni staffers teach, going wireless has prompted Smith to plan a greater emphasis on teaching students about how – and how not – to use the Web.
"We try to teach them a lot about what constitutes good information on the Internet," he said. "We try to teach them to be careful in their communications."
It's not only technology that's getting an upgrade this summer. The library has been dismantled and repainted, with new flooring and shelving coming in.
"We are getting hand-me-down shelving from the chemistry library," said Uni librarian Frances Harris. "We had shelving that was literally falling apart."
Workers will also "replace asbestos floor tiles and then the paint, which hasn't been done in over 30 years," she said. "I think (students) will really be pleased when they come in."
In progress, the changes are a neatnik's nightmare.
Wiring and ladders line the hallways, furniture jams classrooms in ways teachers never intended and books pile thigh-high in classrooms, Dewey Decimal notations posted on doors to note which books are stacked in which class.
"It's been construction central this summer," Smith said. "It's crazy."
While the changes create a hectic summer in the building, staff members hope the work will be finished before the school year begins.
"Basically, we have our fingers tightly crossed that this is going to be done before school starts," Smith said.
But either way, school will start.
"It may not be neat and tidy, but we'll open the doors and make things work – as long as we have the asbestos out," Harris said.
Despite the havoc in her library, she feels the upheaval will be worth it.
"It means we can think differently about the future," she said. "We're not confined to where we position our computers."