WiFi issues cause campus-wide problems, students and teachers say poor connection affects learning

By Taher Zeitoun

DeKALB — Complaints regarding the university’s WiFi performance and consistency have been brought to light through voices of students and teachers.

NIU provides wired and wireless connections for all buildings except for the Holmes Student Center. The network is also capable of covering large areas and is suitable for high-performance computing applications, according to NIU`s Division of Information Technology website.

NIU campus internet went under severe attack Sept. 12, rendering WiFi services inactive for durations of the evening.

The attack, which was defined by IT representatives as a Distributed Denial of Services attack, caused spotty WiFi throughout campus. IT representatives said the attack comes from an outside source sending an overwhelming amount of messages and traffic to NIU servers. They said such attacks are uncommon, and they are working to resolve the issue as quickly as possible.

IT representatives declined to give further information at the time because of a high volume of calls regarding the attack and the severity of the situation.

Matt Parks, Division of Information Technology chief information officer, said in 2012 the university began to invest in WiFi from a more comprehensible perspective. He said the university increased their WiFi coverage around campus from roughly 150 hotspots to 1,500 by 2013.

Parks said after doing additional research on evaluated trends and where operating zones lied on campus, WiFi digital footprints needed to be significantly increased to at least 4,000 hotspots.

“In 2016, we started a trial project targeting certain buildings like DuSable and the Founders Memorial Library using a fully engineered design to determine optimal WiFi coverage specifications,” Parks said.

Parks said the project was successful in determining the rough number of WiFi footprints needed throughout campus, and provided positive community feedback. At the end of 2017, a seven-year plan was implemented to achieve the desired WiFi coverage around campus. He also said 12 buildings are being targeted for optimization of coverage this fiscal year.

Parks said the implemented plan to establish better WiFi coverage takes time to establish, but the lengthiness of the process could be decreased.

Parks said the seven-year timeline is determined by two variables; the available budget capacity and staffing resources to help deal with WiFi related issues. He also said increasing the financial budget and creating space for staffing resources could decrease the length of the expected seven-year timeline.

“We are aware WiFi is not perfect, and we have challenges in coverage, but we have a long-term plan set in place in dealing with these issues and look forward to allow students and professors to be able to take advantage of a WiFi coverage that is not only optimal in performance, but also efficient in delivery,” Parks said.

Senior journalism major Stephen Boyett said WiFi rarely works for him around multiple spots on campus. He said a majority of his school work consists of accessing the internet through the university’s WiFi, and the unreliable connection has him irritated.

“It’s very frustrating to try and get my online homework done when the WiFi doesn’t even allow me to log in,” Boyett said.

Boyett also said he often reverts to accessing the guest WiFi because of the poor quality of the university’s internet connection.

Senior communication major Karrie Jerde said connection issues have affected her studies in a negative way.

“Some of my classes do not have textbooks, so most of the material is only accessible through Blackboard,” Jerde said. ”When I can’t connect, I am unable to get homework done or access necessary readings for class.”

Senior communication major Madison Tatum said she experienced many of the same issues with registering her student identification number.

Tatum also said the frustration has forced her to use off-campus resources to help deal with the connection issues.

“In order for me to actually get my homework done and access some materials through Blackboard, I have started studying off -campus in places where I know the WiFi is reliable,” Tatum said.

Fonda Clark, senior child development major, said WiFi issues also affect her leisure time living on-campus. Clark said she is not able to connect her smart TV or laptop to the university-provided WiFi at Northern View on-campus housing.

Clark also said the issues make it difficult to keep up with online homework.

“The poor connection is aggravating when I can’t watch TV on-campus, but it’s also affecting my online homework in a negative manner, and I’m struggling to keep up,” Clark said.

Malak Zayed, junior mechanical engineering major, said her WiFi issues are limited, but there have been situations in which the poor connection has prevented her from accessing class materials on Blackboard.

Parks said feedback is key in helping fix and determine where issues lie, and some students and teachers might not be aware of the ticketing system. He said reporting the issue by filling out tickets is vital in determining whether the problem is large scale or more localized due to faulty equipment.

“We received around 19 ticket complaints mainly surrounding New Residence Halls  we are currently focused on fixing,” Parks said. “It is vital for students and teachers to submit tickets either through our website or phone line to let us know where issues lie.”

Assistant journalism professor Shupei Yuan said there have been multiple occasions in which the poor connection has limited her ability to teach.

“I have a majority of my class content on the OneDrive, and when the internet is down, it forces me to bring my laptop to class in order to access it,” Yuan said. “Although it does not stop me from teaching, it makes it very inconvenient.”

Jahred Adelman, associate professor of physics, said there was a particular incident when the WiFi crashed before his class.

Adelman said he prepares material on Blackboard for his students to ensure they have performed the readings, and the crash did not allow him to access the content.

“There was an incident where my graduate student and I were scheduled to host a collaboration with some colleagues overseas, and the poor WiFi connection did not allow for the conference to take place, which leads to frustration,” Adelman said.