Wireless networks in the enterprise and in schools

Case studies from Telecom head office, Pt England School and Rangitoto College

BYOD at Rangitoto College

At Rangitoto College on Auckland’s North Shore, over 2000 students and 250 staff access the school’s wireless network every day. The network has been in place since last year, and this year, for the first time, students are encouraged to bring their own devices to school, says associate principal Don Hastie.

Students are allowed to bring tablets, netbooks and laptops, but not phones for personal use during the school day. However, some teachers may let students use smartphones as a tool within the classroom.

Today, there are around 600 devices on the wireless network at any one time, Hastie says.

This is a move to 21st century learning where students can access information “just in time, rather than just in case”, he says.

An issue that all schools face is the increased demand on computer rooms and simply not being able to supply computers to every single student.

“The wireless network and the BYOD opens computer access up,” Hastie says.

The school also has a learning management system, called RangiNet, which is support “in the cloud” for both parents and students. Via RangiNet, students can access resources, links to further information or simulations, at any time. “It’s heavily used both in the classroom and out of school,” says Hastie.

Another thing that the network and devices facilitate is electronic workbooks, which many subjects are moving towards now, he says. Traditionally, these books would be printed and handed out to students for a fee, but from next year, those with devices will be able to download the workbooks to their device.

The school has also entered into a new printer and copy contract with Fuji Xerox. All students now have their own swipe card to release print jobs that are delivered over the wireless network to printers in the school. Students have a credit on the card, provided by the school, but once that is gone, they have to pay for their printing themselves, which has led to less waste and more thought before printing, Hastie says.

Rangitoto College is now allowing staff time to “experiment a bit more” before taking further steps to make student laptops mandatory, he says.

The big benefit of the wireless network and using computers in the classroom is increased student engagement, says Hastie.

Challenges include for staff to accept the devices into the classroom, and to create differentiating classes for those who have devices and those who don’t.

The school hasn’t noticed any increases in cyber-bullying since allowing students’ own devices. “That’s not to say it’s not happening but we’ve got strong policies around bullying throughout the school and procedures in place to deal with it when it occurs,” says Hastie. “Whilst it’s always an issue in any school, it’s not a major.”

Rangitoto College has a fairly open policy in terms of filtering and initially allowed students access to Facebook, but that has now been stopped for two reasons – Facebook traffic was taking up too much bandwidth, and also to give students a break from the addictive nature of Facebook, says Hastie.

Traffic volumes are roughly 75GB a day, with Youtube being one of the top bandwidth users, says the school’s IT manager, Wayne Everett. There are 130 access points around the school, with a capacity of 60-90 clients each, he says.

Netbooks for all at Pt England

Far from the money-driven business world in central Auckland, wireless networks are changing things for students in low-decile schools too. Pt England School is part of the Manaiakalani programme – an education initiative aiming to improve student achievement outcomes in literacy and student engagement at nine schools in Glen Innes, Pt England and Panmure.

All schools in the cluster have in-school wireless networks, says Pt England principal Russell Burt, and all children from Year 5 to Year 8 have a netbook of their own. The parents are paying the netbooks off at $3.50 per week, or $15 per month. “It’s working really well,” Burt says.

The online projects at the school started out with a globally distributed podcast back in 2005 (which the school won a Computerworld Excellence Award for in 2006). Now the students also work on blogs and video, film and photo projects, learning that their voices can be heard — regardless of their age or who they are.

In each class from Year 5 to 8, students have their own blog as a record of their learning. Pt England School students currently publish content on more than 350 blogs, according to the school’s website.

“We’ve had significant increase in student achievement outcomes, but clearly not all from one cause,” says Burt. “They are from using an effective pedagogy, which is enhanced by the use of new media. When the two things operate together you get far better student engagement.”

The Manaiakalani programme evaluation report for 2011 showed rates of gain higher than nationally expected in four out of five year levels for reading. In some cases, the gains were up to three times the expected rates. For writing, the evidence from four schools in Year 4 to Year 8 indicated up to six times the expected rates. According to the report, there was also evidence of increased self-management, independence, problem-solving and critical thinking.

“Spot observations showed groups of students were outside filming for projects […] these groups showed the self management and responsibility of students to complete tasks well, unsupervised by a teacher.”

Introducing the one-to-one devices marked changes in the engagement of students, says the report. “For example, by the end of the year in 15 classrooms the majority of students were on task from between 80-100 percent of the time.”

Student surveys, on the other hand, said students found their learning easier with the help of their netbook; they had two or three strategies for solving difficulties with the netbooks; and mostly identified netbooks as aiding their writing.

“Teachers all commented that the quantity of work had increased since the introduction of the devices,” says the report.

On the other side of the coin is user education. “Our biggest issue is the same as anywhere in the world where you are doing this – it’s not security from external hackers, it’s educating our children to be nice to each other,” Burt says.

The school has an overview of what is going on, he says. “Our biggest piece of activity is teaching children to be cyber-smart, which encompasses all the desired behaviours you would want in the analogue world and have them occur in the digital world.”

But on the whole, the programme “really works”, Burt says. Children and families who otherwise wouldn’t be are now “digital citizens”.

“People who would be disenfranchised because of their financial inability to access this kind of connectivity are able to do so,” he says. “And when you give them the opportunity they behave responsibly and show significant improvement in learning.”

The children typically work in a rotational pattern where they move around the classroom to do different tasks for the common project. Some of the activities are online using the netbook as the core learning device, says Burt.

“Other activities are things like painting, and the things that you’d hope kids would always do.”

The Manaiakalani Education Trust and the schools provide insurance and technical support of the netbooks. The network provider is Fusion Networks.

The cluster is also building an additional community learning network for students and families, outside of school – it is currently 25 percent built, says Burt.

BYOD at Rangitoto College

At Rangitoto College on Auckland’s North Shore, over 2000 students and 250 staff access the school’s wireless network every day. The network has been in place since last year, and this year, for the first time, students are encouraged to bring their own devices to school, says associate principal Don Hastie.

Students are allowed to bring tablets, netbooks and laptops, but not phones for personal use during the school day. However, some teachers may let students use smartphones as a tool within the classroom.

Today, there are around 600 devices on the wireless network at any one time, Hastie says.

This is a move to 21st century learning where students can access information “just in time, rather than just in case”, he says.

An issue that all schools face is the increased demand on computer rooms and simply not being able to supply computers to every single student.

“The wireless network and the BYOD opens computer access up,” Hastie says.

The school also has a learning management system, called RangiNet, which is support “in the cloud” for both parents and students. Via RangiNet, students can access resources, links to further information or simulations, at any time. “It’s heavily used both in the classroom and out of school,” says Hastie.

Another thing that the network and devices facilitate is electronic workbooks, which many subjects are moving towards now, he says. Traditionally, these books would be printed and handed out to students for a fee, but from next year, those with devices will be able to download the workbooks to their device.

The school has also entered into a new printer and copy contract with Fuji Xerox. All students now have their own swipe card to release print jobs that are delivered over the wireless network to printers in the school. Students have a credit on the card, provided by the school, but once that is gone, they have to pay for their printing themselves, which has led to less waste and more thought before printing, Hastie says.

Rangitoto College is now allowing staff time to “experiment a bit more” before taking further steps to make student laptops mandatory, he says.

The big benefit of the wireless network and using computers in the classroom is increased student engagement, says Hastie.

Challenges include for staff to accept the devices into the classroom, and to create differentiating classes for those who have devices and those who don’t.

The school hasn’t noticed any increases in cyber-bullying since allowing students’ own devices. “That’s not to say it’s not happening but we’ve got strong policies around bullying throughout the school and procedures in place to deal with it when it occurs,” says Hastie. “Whilst it’s always an issue in any school, it’s not a major.”

Rangitoto College has a fairly open policy in terms of filtering and initially allowed students access to Facebook, but that has now been stopped for two reasons – Facebook traffic was taking up too much bandwidth, and also to give students a break from the addictive nature of Facebook, says Hastie.

Traffic volumes are roughly 75GB a day, with Youtube being one of the top bandwidth users, says the school’s IT manager, Wayne Everett. There are 130 access points around the school, with a capacity of 60-90 clients each, he says.

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