Education: How Important is a Reliable Wireless Network With Your Instructional Devices?
Early on in my career, I had the good fortune to be part of two very well-funded programs that supported both higher education and K-12 technology adoption.
Throughout most of my college years at Rutgers University, I worked for IBM Academic Information Systems (ACIS) -- helping to drive awareness and adoption of IBM’s PS/2 technology and special discount program for students, faculty, and staff.
Following graduation, I was able to parlay my connections on-campus and with Microsoft to become part of the coveted Microsoft Authorized Education Reseller (AER) program -- where I helped to grow Microsoft’s installed base of Windows, Word, Excel, and PowerPoint throughout K-12 and higher education throughout New Jersey.
When I think back to how technology was used in the classroom and compare it to what my kids see in their school classrooms today, it’s easy to see how kids could make fun of the primitive instructional devices that I grew up with just one generation ago with the green monochrome monitors, the floppy disk drives, and the noisy dot matrix printers.
Fast Forward to Technology Adoption in Today’s K-12 and Higher Education Environment
During the current school year, about 56.6 million students are attending elementary and secondary schools in the United States -- while another 19.9 million students are enrolled in American colleges and universities.
For those that work as faculty or staff in a K-12 school district or higher education environment, you know firsthand just how much educational technology has changed in recent years.
Instructional devices are routinely used and depended on, in classrooms pretty much every day of the school year. However, in a digital-first world, the devices themselves aren’t always useful without reliable connectivity. So regardless of whether it’s an elementary or secondary school, college or university, every campus needs a fast, reliable, and secure wireless network.
The Managed Wi-Fi Afterthought
The challenge, however, is that school boards provide a budget for instructional technology that’s visible. More basic IT building blocks like initiatives around improving WiFi performance, managed WiFi, or wireless network security rarely make it to the board of education meeting agenda or voter referendums.
Can you imagine someone launching a campaign to run for a vacant board of education seat on the platform of “better WiFi in our schools?”
Without the right network infrastructure, classroom instructional devices can become more of a source of frustration rather than inspiration and collaboration.
So what kinds of instructional devices are capturing the attention of school boards and taxpayers?
Defined as large interactive displays, interactive whiteboards (IWB’s) can either be standalone touchscreen computers that can independently perform tasks and operations, or more commonly are used to control computers from projectors.
First developed by the legendary Palo Alto Research Center (PARC) around 1990, in many classrooms, interactive whiteboards have replaced traditional dry erase marker whiteboards, flipcharts, and now-obsolete multimedia systems that include traditional TV/DVD setups.
In addition to Promethean, whose interactive displays are especially well-known among K-12 technology leaders, Ricoh, Samsung, and Viewsonic all have products positioned in the interactive whiteboard classroom technology category.
While these companies talk up applications such as video conferencing connectivity for virtual field trips and international sister classrooms, one thing is for sure: these applications require a lot of network bandwidth.
So the question that’s always top of mind among K-12 and higher education IT staff: is the wireless network fast enough, reliable enough, and secure enough to meet the real-time demands of students, faculty, and staff?
And if the in-house IT staff doesn’t have sufficient wireless networking expertise, would outsourcing this managed WiFi responsibility make more sense logistically and financially?
Science Classroom Technology
How do you effectively teach science to kids that have never known life without a tablet?
Interestingly enough, not all science educators are on the same page about how much technology should be used in the classroom.
A recent article on EdTechTeam, a global network of former teachers turned educational technologists, explored this very issue.
In Scenario A, students examine a specimen on flat panel screen, fed by a USB camera connected to a microscope. The image is captured into and labeled within a Google Slides presentation. Within the same science classroom, students use a remote sensor to capture the movement of a matchbox car -- recording altitude, velocity, and acceleration directly into a Chromebook -- for graphing and formatting in real time.
However, in Scenario B, the purist science teacher resists technology and insists that their students master old-school analog tools like reading data from thermometers and pH paper.
While it’s easy to speculate the Scenario B teachers are more likely veteran educators that resist change and resent how technology-addicted their students are, one fact remains: Scenario A almost certainly represents the future and requires a fast, reliable, and secure wireless network infrastructure.
As the price point of 3D printers has fallen quite dramatically, it should come as no surprise that many teachers and students have become enamored with the possibilities.
When it comes to 3D printers, one of the biggest concerns among teachers is how to use 3D printers in their classrooms to support a research-based, STEM curriculum (science, technology, engineering, and math).
In response to this need, there’s a new category of online curriculum to support the intersection of 3D printers and K-12 STEM curriculum.
For example, the MyStemKits STEM Curriculum has over 240 lessons, aligns with common core standards, was developed by Florida State University, and helps drive savings by using the 3D printers to build lessons.
Because MyStemKits require connectivity, the developers have thought through connectivity scenarios including classroom WiFi, ethernet cabling, or even an available personal hotspot.
WiFi as a Service to Support Instructional Devices
As a parent of school-aged children, there’s no doubt about it: when visiting the school’s annual curriculum nights or science nights, it’s cool to see demos of interactive whiteboards, science classroom technology, and 3D printing.
While it’s entirely possible that many of these instruction devices will look quite dated by the time my kids enter the workforce, in a digital-first world it would be negligent for schools to ignore these advances and continue teaching the way they have for generations.
However for students, faculty, and staff to realize all of the benefits of their district’s IT investments, most or all of the devices require rock-solid wireless networks.
If your school district has a big enough IT team that it can keep your WiFi fully managed with dedicated WiFi support experts, you’re in the minority. For most schools, there aren’t enough hours in a day, and their IT teams are always getting pulled in many different directions -- regardless of whether you’re in a public or private K-12 environment, or college campus.
And that’s the reason SecurEdge WiFi as a Service (WaaS) is usually a far better option and includes an all-in-one WiFi hardware, software, and managed network solution on a monthly subscription, with no upfront costs.
● Hardware as a Service (HaaS) -- Gives schools and colleges best-in-breed wireless networking hardware based on expert WiFi design and engineering.
● Software as a Service (SaaS) -- With the right tools and resources to manage your school’s network, all in the cloud, IT administrators get the latest network monitoring tools and weekly health updates to keep their WiFi network fast, reliable, and secure.
● Managed Network Services -- Because students, faculty, and staff expect the WiFi to be as reliable and always-on as utility power, HVAC, and running water, school IT staff gets access to ongoing, expert WiFi support with 24/7 network monitoring and level 2 support.
The Bottom Line on the IT Needs of Instructional Devices
In today’s digital-first world, it’s tough for K-12 teachers and college instructors to captivate the attention of students and prepare them for what awaits them when they enter the workforce.
For most schools, instructional devices have become a big part of modernizing curriculum -- especially in STEM-related classes. However, unless you’re in an IT support role within a school or college, you probably haven’t given much thought to the wireless networking needs of these devices.
In this post, you’ve been introduced to three broad categories of instructional devices, why school boards often overlook their WiFi needs, and how WiFi as a Service (WaaS) can make sure that your wireless network becomes as fast, reliable, and secure as your utility power, HVAC, and running water.
To learn more about how SecurEdge WiFi as a Service can benefit your school or college, request a design.
Joshua Feinberg is President of the Data Center Sales & Marketing Institute where he finds revenue growth opportunities that companies are currently missing. This includes helping clients differentiate, get found earlier in the buyer's journey, achieve trusted advisor status, and command premium pricing power to drive sustained, profitable, revenue growth. He's been writing professionally for the IT services market since 1998 and is a former Microsoft Corporation content provider for its Small Business Server (SBS) product teams and small business channel partner teams. As a big fan of inbound marketing and inbound sales, Joshua holds 10 HubSpot Academy certifications. A New Jersey native and Rutgers grad, Joshua now lives in South Florida with his wife and two children.