Wi-Fi meme captures eduroam ennui, CIS attention

Shortly after now-defunct Vassar Memes Instagram account posted a joke about unreliable Wi-Fi during midterms season, a conversation ensued between Computing and Information Services (CIS) and the student responsible.

Vice President for Computing and Information Services and Chief Information Officer Carlos Garcia explained that though the CIS department had received a few complaints regarding inconsistent Wi-Fi prior to the meme, it served as the impetus for outreach to students and eventual action.

Students cited concerns about the impact the outages will have on their academic lives. Isabelle Pasquette ’22 relayed her frustration: “I have a love-hate relationship with this school’s Wi-Fi. Sometimes, when I am in the middle of writing an essay, the Wi-Fi will suddenly disconnect and my project isn’t saved in Google Docs. When I reload the page after the WiFi reconnects, I lose my progress.” While frustrating, for some students this lapse in internet connection is merely one of Vassar’s cultural quirks.

Garcia explained that some of Vassar’s older buildings feature thick walls and metal frameworks that can hinder signal coverage, which is why Wi-Fi will suddenly cut out on some parts of campus.

CIS initially responded by investigating the multiple wireless systems on campus, as well as using test cases to shed light on the potential roots of the issue. “Given the complexity of wireless networking, we didn’t identify just one measure to combat the issues people were experiencing,” said Garcia. One of the first tests CIS ran was a power level adjustment at the wireless access points—or, as Garcia put it,“those white things with the blue lights.” CIS also purchased nodes, devices that pretend to be many different types of computers and are used to collect data on the efficiency and quality of the wireless connection.

Furthermore, CIS tuned up the systems that allow people to use wireless connection, upgraded wireless controllers, worked with manufacturers such as Apple and Cisco to pinpoint changes that would allow all devices to be compatible with the wireless connection, and replaced the older access points with new ones.

These changes come in addition to CIS’ multi-year plan, created over the course of 2019, which strives to ensure that “technology will always be an enhancement to the college and never a barrier” (CIS MultiYear Plan, “Mission, Visions & Goals”). Additionally, CIS introduced “Tech Tuesday,” a program during which staff can engage with students and directly hear their concerns. “In this case, it also helped us collect Wi-Fi data from students that may not have contacted the service desk. We also offer on-site troubleshooting, share information about our services and share tips about how to get faster help through our service portal,” said Garcia.

In addition, a follow-up to a survey conducted on Oct. 31 will be sent out to students to ask if campus Wi-Fi has improved. Though the occasional spotty Wi-Fi may remain one of Vassar’s constant cultural quirks, the service desk has already seen a drop in Wi-Fi complaints.

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