Villanova University is higher education’s high-tech hotspot, claiming the No. 1 ranking in a new list of "Top 20 Wired Colleges."

The school, in suburban Philadelphia, tops the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Indiana University in the rankings, a joint project of PC Magazine and The Princeton Review, a college advising and test-prep company.

About 240 schools responded to the groups’ survey, which asked about such topics as availability of online learning, faculty computer training, music downloading policies, and hardware and software provided to students.

At Villanova, first-year students are given laptops–and replacements after their sophomore year. Nursing students get personal digital assistants, and engineers get tablet PCs. Over the internet, students can register for classes, download lectures, take exams, and get grades. Tech-support calls are guaranteed a response within 24 hours.

No. 2 MIT boasts its own operating system and open courseware available via the web to educators and students around the world. On Dec. 13, the school also debuted a new private software system that allows users to locate friends on campus.

MIT’s iFIND project turns laptops into something akin to a GPS unit that can spot users down to the room they are sitting in, then allows users to share their location with friends, all without uploading personal information onto a centralized network. The program calculates the person’s location using Wi-Fi access points, then shares that information with selected individuals on a peer-to-peer basis.

 

"Nobody is looking at this approach," Carlo Ratti , director of MIT’s SENSEable City Laboratory, told the Boston Globe. "The present trend in the industry is toward collecting data. This gives control back to the individual. . . . It’s you who are calculating your location, and it’s you deciding when to make it public and to whom."

No. 3 Indiana, the top-ranking public school on the list, boasts the country’s fastest university-owned supercomputer and largest disk-based storage facility. Indiana also has more than 50 agreements in place with software companies such as Microsoft and Symantec.

Michael McRobbie, interim provost and vice president for academic affairs, said there are few places on the IU campus where the internet isn’t available.

"The great universities of the future are going to be those that have great IT," he said.

PC Magazine praises IU for achieving a significant increase in research grants in the last decade. McRobbie said the school’s supercomputer, Big Red, and network availability have contributed to IU’s success in the field.

IU spends about $100 million a year on information technology from funding that comes from grants, student fees, state funding, and the internal university budget.

Rounding out the top 10 most wired colleges and universities on the list are Swarthmore College in Pennsylvania, Creighton University in Nebraska, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Michigan Technological University, the University of Southern California, Quinnipiac University in Connecticut, and the University of Oklahoma.