Wits students pocketing processing power

Wits has invested substantively in technologies that make its core functions of the generation, custodianship and transmission of knowledge easier. But how far has it come?

The first computer owned by a South African university occupied a large part of the first floor of Senate House and had the same processing capacity as a cellphone.

Today, more than 80% of Witsies have access to mobile computing devices according to Professor Yunus Ballim, deputy vice chancellor of knowledge and information management. Last year, the Wits senate resolved that all students from 2nd year upwards will own a mobile computing device.

The Student Computers and Networks initiative will facilitate this plan. Ballim said it was “unacceptable” that poor students were left out and the university plans to engage the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) to invest in devices that may offset the cost of textbooks and lecture notes.

Ballim said Wits provides “fairly free” internet access for staff and students, but the Parktown campuses do not have this yet. A R16-million project is under way to instal a fiber cable that will improve the quality of access on the Parktown campuses.

“I think the reality is that the modern university from a research point of view cannot do without high quality internet access. We’re not where we should be but we certainly are getting there,” Ballim said.

The current situation

Kgomotso Selowa, 2nd  year engineering, said he enjoyed the virtually uncapped internet that some other universities did not provide, but that the computers were slow.

Otshepeng Letlape, 2nd  year BA visual and performance, said she does not use the labs since she got a laptop because she found them crowded and the printers and fans were often not working.

Despite these conditions, there are some students who find the labs helpful. Shalini Lala, 2nd year applied maths, said “some people don’t have access to the internet at home” and the labs are “convenient for many”.

Ballim said the Science Stadium was a learning curve on how technologies can make learning in large classes more effective.

“One of the challenges is getting people used to chalk to use an electronic touch pad with a projector,” he said.

By Akinoluwa Oyedele and Nandi Ndlazi

HIGHER ACCESS: A student hard at work outside the CNS computer labs using the wireless network provided by Wits to students for free. The university provided cushions to make the concrete seats more comfortable. Photo: Nandi Ndlazi

Published in Wits Vuvuzela 13th edition, 11th May 2012.


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