Eduroam in place despite student confusion

This semester, the college replaced SwatNet with Eduroam to improve Internet speed and connectivity. However, during the initial implementation of Eduroam, some students experienced trouble in connecting to the college’s wireless network.

Chief Information Technology Officer Joel Cooper explained that the main advantage of Eduroam over SwatNet is the ability for an individual to seamlessly connect to the internet from one institution to another in the Tri-Co or any other institution that uses Eduroam.

“You don’t have to do anything — your computer/tablet/phone will automatically connect to Eduroam, authenticate you back at Swarthmore, and you’ll be connected to the Eduroam network wherever you are,” Cooper explained over email. This convenience works both ways too, so guests from other institutions that use Eduroam don’t have to use a guest account to connect to Swarthmore’s wi-fi.

Though Eduroam is just a service applied over the college’s wireless network and doesn’t actually change the physical network system already in place, Cooper also detailed how ITS developed multiple redundancies in assuring that the college always has wireless internet connection. Those redundancies include a shared network between the schools in the Tri-Co and two separate connections in downtown Philadelphia to two other Internet service providers. If the connection were to break with one service provider, the college would simply switch to the other service provider, ensuring that a wireless connection would always be present on campus.

“Lots of places have only one connection to the Internet and one Internet service provider.  We’re fortunate that Swarthmore is relatively close to downtown Philadelphia and that the college has wisely invested in making our network highly reliable and highly available,” said Cooper.

Amidst a growing number of capital projects that the college is undertaking, from new suite-style dorms to the expansion of keycard access, Internet bandwidth has also increased gradually as well. The larger amount of bandwidth the college’s network provides, the faster information can be both downloaded and uploaded.

“We’ve increased Internet bandwidth twice in the past 3 years.  A year and a half ago we added 1 gigabit/second of Internet bandwidth to the existing 800 megabits we already had.  This fall we increased our total bandwidth to 2 gigabits/second,” Cooper said.

To further improve access in halls, ITS has added more access points and moved them into dorm rooms rather that just the halls, all to improve wireless service. Cooper later added that the college includes network improvements into the budgets of capital projects, so Internet improvements aren’t considered an annually contingent expense.

The transition hasn’t seemed to cause any trouble to departments that rely on a fast and consistent Internet connection.

“It doesn’t really have much of a down side,” said computer science professor Kevin Webb in reference to Eduroam. “I’ve seen a minor improvement with wireless authentication (SwatNet used to periodically kick me off and then temporarily refuse to let me back on).  Nothing network-related has impeded my research.” Webb specializes in wireless networking research.

User Technology Support Specialist at McCabe Library Jason Hamilton noted that Library Services hasn’t been affected at all by the switch to Eduroam.

“Eduroam has almost no effect on the library systems themselves (such as Millennium for example) or public computing since these systems do not operate over our wireless network,” he said. Millennium is the software Library Services uses to catalog and track which books are checked out. In his daily use of Eduroam, Hamilton added that he hasn’t encountered any issues so far.

However, many students experienced difficulty connecting to Eduroam.

“In order to have that wifi versatility between schools, people have to connect using their full email address, instead of just their Swarthmore user name,” said Christina Webster, Technical Support Specialist for ITS. “At the beginning, we discovered that some people were able to connect to Eduroam using only their Swarthmore user name, which would interfere with the ability to connect to Eduroam at other institutions,” she said.

Because Eduroam is a service that spans across many institutions, a specific email address is needed for each user to link them to a participating institution. Once students removed the saved connection and Eduroam profile and then reconnected, students were able to easily connect to the college’s network.

Webster also mentioned that one reason for the initial student confusion is that ITS is an underused resource based on the percentage of students that actually come in for help compared to the entire student population. “When students apply to work at the Help Desk, one of the questions they are asked in the application is about recommendations for ITS.  The most common answer we get, at least 75% of the time, is about reaching out to students to tell them about ITS and what resources we have,” she said.

In the future, Webster hopes to include an ITS scavenger hunt during freshman orientation amongst other measures to spread awareness of ITS’s resources for students.

Ganesh Setty

Ganesh studies economics & art history, and hopes to be a financial journalist one day. He enjoys reading non-fiction, running, tennis, and collecting gray shirts. Seriously. He has a lot.

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