Geographic Science

GS students help improve Carrier Library WiFi


SUMMARY: JMU Geographic Science students, Brennan Deal ('17) and Ryan Allen ('18) measured the WiFi strength in Carrier Library as part of a project for their cartography and geographic information systems course. Their research was used to improve the number of internet access points in the building.

By: Daniel Vieth, Creative Services

Though we may not realize it, geographic information systems (GIS) play a major role in our lives. GIS is the process of mapping and visualizing data and is used in nearly every industry, with outcomes ranging from where the next Starbucks should be located, to helping improve the internet speed in a building. The versatility and applicability of this field can be seen through the research done by students Brennan Deal (‘17) and Ryan Allen (‘18) in the Geographic Science Department at JMU. Their project measured the WiFi strength in Carrier Library, and was used to improve the number of internet access points in the building.

Allen and Deal conducted the research as part of a project for their cartography and geographic information systems course. Allen, who had previous experience working with WiFi mapping through JMU’s Geospatial Semester Program, (a partnership Carrier Library Wifibetween high schools in Virginia and JMU) was looking for a way to apply his knowledge on campus. Allen explained, “We were frustrated with the WiFi speed at Carrier and assumed others were experiencing similar issues, so we thought this would be a good opportunity to give back to the community.” To accomplish this, Allen and Deal collected signal strength data from hundreds of points in Carrier during high and low “stress” times using the SpeedTest phone app. Next, they created hotspot maps that showed the differences in bandwidth and “ping,” or connection rate, between the high and low stress periods. “Our assumptions were right,” said Deal. “During high stress days, the WiFi was poor, and on low stress days the WiFi had a faster connection, but unfortunately wasn’t significantly better.”

Unknown to the students, a Carrier Library task force already had plans to improve the WiFi. “We found that we didn’t have the right technology in the building anymore,” said Kathy Clarke, a librarian and Interim Director of Assessment and Planning at Carrier. “We are trying to rewire a building that was built in 1929 and make it effective for a 2016 student.” When the task force heard about the student’s project, they requested a copy of their findings. The students then presented their final project to David Vess, Digital User Experience Librarian at Carrier, who used the findings to update the router locations in Carrier.

With the information provided by the students, JMU’s Network Services worked with library technical personnel to wire and install an additional 78 network access points over winter break, making a total of 97 routers in Carrier. “That’s about five times more than was previously in the building,” said Bill Hartman, the Interim Director of Digital Services and Systems Administrator at Carrier. According to Clarke, there has since been a significant decline in complaints.

Projects like this demonstrate the versatility of GIS and geographic science. “The geographic perspective can be applied to almost any field,” said Allen. “This project gave us a brief insight into the capabilities and extent in which we can expand our horizon.” The students have plans for future GS projects on campus, such as analyzing the use of space in Carrier, and measuring the WiFi in other buildings on campus.

“This project was the perfect blend of what we do,” added Clarke. “This was an opportunity to not only help us do something that needed to be done, but also help GS students with their project.” Clarke encourages every department on campus to think about the ways that GIS can improve the experiences of students, faculty, and staff on campus. “The students saved us an enormous amount of time, helped us make an argument to the university to fund this, and improved the experiences for JMU students.”

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Published: Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Last Updated: Tuesday, February 21, 2017

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