As tour season begins to shift into high gear, prospective UC Merced students will be sold the notion that UCM is the school of the 21st century. Tour guides will point to the digital library database, the extensive Wi-Fi network across campus, and other technological aspects of the university as reasons that high school students should choose UC Merced over the rest.
But what most tour guides won't tell their groups is that even though UCM was built in the 21st century, it's facing a timeless problem: overcrowding. It turns out that the university can accept more students than it can build classrooms, which has affected every part of UC Merced, including technology.
It is now the norm that every entering student brings with them multiple technological devices. Besides the standard laptop, students now have smart phones, tablets, video game consoles, and a plethora of other Internet ready items. The problem isn't necessarily how many devices we have, but what we're using those devices for.
The reason we can't log onto the UC Merced Wi-Fi network on a busy day is not because everyone is diligently checking their CROPS pages or doing scholarly research. It's because we're watching Netflix movies and downloading (possibly illegal) music. Even though UCM has put the money towards increasing the bandwidth of the school servers, these sorts of activities will still slow down even the strongest of wireless networks.
The problem then becomes how to solve a situation like this. The school can't simply tell students to cut down on their technological usage. That would be counterintuitive. Instead, the university should provide students with an incentive to wire up some of their wireless devices by using Ethernet chords. While the UC system has been strapped for cash as of late, adding more Ethernet ports or having a heavily promoted sale of Ethernet chords at the student store could go a long way to solving a problem without spending a great deal of money.
Like it or not, UCM's overcrowding issue is probably here to stay, at least for the foreseeable future. The university seems dead set on reaching its goal of 30,000 students within the next twenty or so years. Solving the Wi-Fi problem is only one aspect of some of the greater technological problems that UCM faces.
But solving these problems is going to take more than just complaining on Facebook from students and shrugs from administration. Proactive collaboration is supposed to be a part of the college spirit, and it's something that both sides need for this school to reach its potential. Technology has been a wonderful tool that can be used to enhance the university experience. But it also has distinct limitations.
For all the wireless devices that we carry around with us, at the end of the day we still need to plug it in to have it recharge. And if the past couple of semesters have taught UC Merced students anything, it's that malfunctions are to be expected when trying to get work done with technology.
In a way, technology is limited by our imaginations: if we can't find ways to solve our technological problems with any sort of human ingenuity, then technology becomes extremely limited. UC Merced is supposed to be a collection of some of the smartest and most imaginative people that California has to offer. If we can't meet our 21st century problems head on, then we're in for challenges bigger than slow loading times.