Williams College was recently ranked the “Number One Most Wired College” in the nation by Yahoo! Internet Life magazine. Carnegie Mellon took top honors among universities, while Amherst College snuck into the top 100 among colleges with its 99th place ranking.
Williams’ first-place ranking, a 40-place jump from last year, reflects the efforts of the Office for Information Technologies (OIT) and Williams Students Online (WSO) to keep Williams on the technological cutting edge.
Yahoo! builds its rankings by having schools fill out a 52-part survey. The actual judging, based on the survey, gives the highest rankings to those schools that provide a good balance of services. These services are divided into four major categories: access and infrastructure, administration, student support and general resources. It is unclear, though, what weight Yahoo! assigns each factor in determining its rankings, making it difficult to pinpoint what accounts for Williams’ 40-place ascension.
However, Dinny Taylor, chief technology officer of OIT, attempted an explanation, citing a number of different factors. Regarding access and infrastructure, Taylor said “the number of public computers available to students has increased and we have a very aggressive replacement schedule for lab computers.”
“This meant that 85 percent of them have been purchased or leased in the last two years,” Taylor said. To give an idea of what this means, only half of computers at the next three schools in the rankings – Colgate, Bates and Occidental College – are two years old or less.
Taylor explained further. “Every dorm room and every classroom is wired and we’ve even used wireless to ‘wire’ a temporary dorm this year. We also put over 800 new drops in the library last year for laptops.”
She pointed to the other “very high level” services that the library provides online, such as reserving books and initiating interlibrary loans online as further contributing factors to the College’s ranking.
In the second two categories, administrative and student support, Williams scored points with its option to apply online, use Selfreg to add/drop classes and the extended support hours offered by WSO and Student Technology Consultants.
In the general resources category, the College was recognized for providing free printing for students, as well as being the only school in the top five to offer over 100 megabits of network space to each student. Just as important as these school-provided services are those made available by WSO.
WSO is the only resource on campus where any student can receive free web space and a second email address, both of which are retained after graduation.
It also provides the facebook, the e-mail terminals all over campus, online housing plans, web-based email access, web pages and listservers for student organizations and the media lab, which features computers for scanning, video editing, CD burning and even has a free digital camera and projector available to students. “Without WSO, we would not have been able to check off so many of the boxes on the survey,” remarked Taylor.
Williams does not plan to stop growing and expanding any time soon, according to Taylor. “To me, being named number one presents a challenge. It raises expectations. We have a great infrastructure. We now need to focus on working with faculty to bring better technology into their teaching and research at all levels. This means appropriate OIT staffing and resources for software, training and special equipment. I hope that we can use being named number one as a starting point in these endeavors.”
WSO is just as dedicated to continuing its contributions to Williams online community and is already working to put the faculty facebook online.
The rankings can be found in complete online at http://www.zdnet.com/yil/content/college/.