The ability to conduct business at 39,000 feet anywhere in the world is just taking off, thanks to broadband airborne communications at The Boeing Company. Their new business unit, “Connexion by Boeing,” is devoted to providing broadband access aboard commercial and executive aircraft.

On May 29, at Boeing Field, the latest partnership between Boeing and Washington State University launched an educational initiative that will enable students to learn to creatively employ such wireless technology and, it is hoped, take it to the next level.

In front of Connexion by Boeing’s wireless-enabled jet, Connexion One, WSU President V. Lane Rawlins accepted a $99,000 check from the business unit’s president, Scott Carson. With a handshake, they sealed the deal that will create, by Jan. 1, the “Boeing Wireless Classroom of the Future,” the first of its kind at WSU.

“Supporting this WSU effort to expand the uses of wireless broadband is a natural fit for us,” said Carson, a 1972 WSU business administration alumnus and the executive liaison between Boeing and WSU. “We are committed to education,” he said. “Boeing is targeting its contribution money in the areas where it can have the greatest impact on Washington citizens’ future.”

“We are very thankful for Boeing’s commitment to furthering technology in the state and to the students at WSU who will greatly benefit from this wireless classroom project,” said Rawlins. “WSU values partnerships that focus on applying knowledge and expertise to address complex issues to benefit both parties, and the Boeing Wireless Classroom is just such a project.”

The Boeing Wireless Classroom will be a futuristic learning site, equipped with state-of-the-art technologies and teaching approaches to optimize collaborative learning and team performance, said Len Jessup, WSU professor. Jessup has led the management information systems program in the College of Business and Economics for two years and is slated to become the ninth dean of that college on June 1.

The Boeing classroom will be unlike any other. Forty wireless computing devices — such as handheld, notebook and tablet computers — will be bundled with a wireless network infrastructure that runs throughout the room, thanks to an enabling access point on the roof of Todd Hall. Instead of desks and blackboards, there will be sectional sofas, beanbag chairs in Cougar colors, conference and drafting tables, carpeting, and an array of modern educational equipment that includes a digital whiteboard, a video conferencing system, and a computer projection system. A window from the hall will allow passers-by to check out the room and the new style of learning going on inside.

“The Boeing Wireless Classroom of the Future is intended to enhance creativity, productivity and learning within work teams through the innovative use of technologies,” said Jessup. “Those are values that both Boeing and the college embrace.

“The MIS students who study there will learn to operate wireless technology and be challenged to find new ways to apply it to business practices, and even envision new technologies. This is an exciting new frontier for business and the students who will soon take their places in that world.”

MIS offered its first class in wireless, mobile collaboration to its graduate students in spring. “It was popular and opened up new research possibilities in communicating and collaborating across time and distance to solve problems and make decisions,” said Jessup. Boeing was one of the industry partners for that class.

“Now, we are tremendously excited about the new wireless classroom,” Jessup said. “It will take wireless learning to the next level for our state’s technology students.”

Connexion by Boeing envisions that in-flight airline passengers soon will be able to choose from a multitude of personalized real-time services, including Internet and corporate intranet access, e-commerce, television and entertainment, transmission and receipt of data, shopping, and travel and destination information. Airline operators also will benefit from in-flight access to aircraft and crew data.

A prototype of the Connexion by Boeing service is currently available to the executive services market in the U. S., including operators of private and government aircraft. Connexion by Boeing will equip Lufthansa’s long-haul fleet, beginning with a prototype, in late 2002 or early 2003.

For more information about Connexion by Boeing, visit its Web site at www.connexionbyboeing.com. For additional news about the WSU MIS program, go to www.cbe.wsu.edu/mis.