The extreme clarity of sound, the complete lack of lag time in delivery of information, and the crispness of pictures make distance education more like an in-person classroom experience than ever before. It allows NIU to bring the experience of classes on its main campus in DeKalb to students at its outreach centers in Naperville, Hoffman Estates and Rockford, and to dozens of community colleges throughout the region.
The NIU School of Music has used the network to give students access to performances by world class musicians and teachers around the country, and to share faculty with other schools. Students and teachers hear and see each other as if they were in the same room, an important consideration for musical instruction where previous generations of distance education hardware were not adequate.
NIUNet brought dramatically increased access to the Illinois Century Network (a state network providing Internet service to schools, libraries and universities) to school districts at a cost 75 percent lower than what they were paying. The improved bandwidth opened new educational worlds for students. Schools with the high speed network allow students to peer through telescopes in Hawaii or delve into (and even manipulate) the world at the nano level in real time.
For researchers at NIU, one of the most exciting aspects of NIUNet is that it allowed the university to join Internet2. Designed as the next generation of the Internet, I2 is a global consortium of high speed broadband networks developed by academia, industry and government to expand collaborations worldwide. It is strictly reserved for researcher and education activities.
Data that previously could have taken hours or days to transmit can now be sent in seconds or minutes. As a member of I2, researchers will collaborate on projects with scientists at CERN in Switzerland. The network provides similar connectivity to more than 200 universities, research labs and other academic facilities worldwide.
Towns in Illinois got a powerful tool for economic development. The networks make communities more attractive to companies that do business around the world.
For remote communities, having access to high-speed fiber-optic networks also opened up the possibility of attracting a new type of business: data centers. Large corporations back up their data (sometimes in real time) at facilities far removed from their headquarters in such communities.
NIUNet is part of a state-wide fiber-optic network dedicated to hospitals, allowing enormous digital files created by MRIs, CAT Scans and other diagnostic tests to go from one location to another as quickly and easily as the rest of us share e-mails.
The network allows residents in the far corners of the state to consult with world-class physicians across Illinois and around the world.