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[Electronic Quadrangle: Wired Campuses]

   Nidhi Taparia

Definition of an ideal college campus, according to the Indian student: Everyone will own a computer. Internet access will be free and unlimited. Everyone will have an email account, homepage and admission to online libraries.

The dream is slowly beginning to come true. Take students in the class of 2000, for example, who were born at the same time as the original IBM PC. They grew up with cable TV, learned to program VCRs before they could ride a bike, have never known a world without microprocessors, and definitely cannot imagine their campus without computers and the Internet.

Abhishek Jain, a fresher at the Indian Institute of Management, Calcutta doesn't leave for his lecture before checking the Extranet (a smart-alecky nickname for their Intranet) for a post at the official notice board. He remembers waiting for a lecture for 45 minutes, only to come back and find a post telling all students the lecture had been postponed, just five minutes before it was scheduled to begin.

When he is not checking his extranet for quizzes and presentations, Abhishek is one of the lucky few in an Indian dormitory who can download movie clips, the latest Madonna MP3, and finish his latest assignment on management policies, all at the same time.

Here's what another IIM, at Ahmedabad, offers: Pentium III 300 MHZ computers with 24-hour LAN and Internet connectivity in each room. Download speeds of 10k/sec with Direct-in-dialling facilities. Three to four computer centres (with 30-35 computers each), all of which have printers and scanners. From this year on, each student will also be provided with a printer in each room and computers upgraded to 800 MHz, 20GB, 128MB.

Most IIM's and IIT's seem to offer the equivalent. So much so, that IIM Lucknow student Ashish Saxena thinks their infrastructure is even better than most corporate offices. Freshers stunned at the mind-boggling infrastructure are given introductory courses to help them get their basics right.

Indian students who have moved from India to the US have had different experiences though. Amit Fulay, a computer engineer, moved from his college and restricted Net access to Florida State University that offered two computers per student. He did his Masters in a completely paperless environment, where all lectures slides were uploaded, homework was submitted and even grades were displayed online. "It became a way of life to be connected and online all the time. The most painful change was to come back to India and then live with limited resources."

Irrespective of what management and engineering colleges offer, however, there is still a long way to go before most Indian campuses come close to the ideal. Priya Nair, at Cummins College of Engineering, Pune, says, "After four years of having two computers online for 700 students, we are now building a computer centre." Priyanka Bhattacharya from St Xavier's, Mumbai, adds that they have pay-per-use access to computer labs used by management students. Most other arts and commerce colleges still don't have any access to the Internet on campus.

On the other side of the spectrum, IIMs and IITs are on par with their counterparts abroad. Aditya Jhunjunwala, a finance student, submits all his assignments in soft copy and accesses all presentations and projects across the college LAN.

Given the fact that almost every top college reports the use of Web resources in teaching, another question that crops up is, how comfortable are teachers with the latest technology?

Well, they're learning. J. B. Doshi, a professor at IIT, Powai, is Net savvy. He rates his campus a 9/10 in terms of infrastructure, and logs on regularly to check mail from students and faculty, get references, and scan digital libraries for published papers.

And yes, being at a wired school doesn't mean it's all work and no play. Students at IIM Lucknow use bulletin boards (nicknamed Blondie), have a huge gaming network, online hangouts and a newsgroup -- all on college Web space.

While some guys at IIM Ahmedabad use their site to generate funds for charitable causes, technology goes hand-in-hand with meeting women, for students of D. Y. Patil Engineering College. Some of the wiser ones tired of the unequal male to female ratio on campus put together Netyourmate.com. The matchmaking works fine, they say, though currently, the site does not.

Sex is still a dirty word on most campuses though. Most colleges have firewalls to block students from surfing pornography. Some also have students as part of teams responsible for preventing abuse of computer privileges. Ashish Saxena, member of one such team, says he is blacklisted for doing his job, "but no action gets taken against people who are caught. It is more of a bandwidth saving measure than moral control."

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