How to Save a Million Dollars

A university IT perspective on creating an all-wireless residence life environment. 

GUEST COLUMN | by Richard Chan

CREDIT Aruba NetworksAt West Chester University, the largest of the 14 universities in Pennsylvania’s State System of Higher Education, we faced a significant IT challenge. Our 5,000+ students living on campus were bringing their own wireless routers and plugging them into the wired ports in our residence halls and student apartments. As the volume of these routers grew, the problems caused by interference – and the resulting calls to our Help Desk – escalated. Clearly, we had to figure out a better way to deliver the reliable, high-performing wireless access our students were demanding, while meeting the network security and cost efficiency parameters that our IT Department required.

The new 802.11ac student housing wireless LAN (WLAN) is also supporting online courses, distance learning, social media and HD video streaming.

After reviewing our options, we elected to deploy a new 802.11ac infrastructure throughout our student housing, covering both indoors and out. The higher speeds, throughput and security of 802.11ac make it a solid match for supporting the escalating number of devices and bandwidth-intensive applications our students are using on campus. Working with technology solutions provider Comm Solutions, we deployed an Aruba Networks Gigabit Wi-Fi infrastructure and can now accommodate the more than 50,000 unique devices we see on the network almost daily. Additionally, by eliminating cabling costs and going all-wireless in our student housing, we’ve been able to realize over $1 million in total cost savings. As an added bonus, decreases in electrical consumption and wired switch cooling costs have offered significant reductions in the carbon footprint of our student residence facilities, matching our larger sustainability initiatives and goals by enabling us to reduce our carbon emissions by over 100 metric tons.

In addition to providing for our students’ basic wireless needs, the new 802.11ac student housing wireless LAN (WLAN) is also supporting online courses, distance learning, social media and HD video streaming. So far, we have been getting positive reviews of the network from our students. They appreciate the ability to reliably connect from anywhere in the residence areas.

The new infrastructure is comprised of over 1,000 indoor and outdoor access points (APs) with the company’s ClientMatch™ technology, which intelligently pairs wireless devices with the best available AP to ensure the highest network performance and the best user experience. It does this by gathering performance information from mobile devices and using it to intelligently steer each device to the best AP based on signal strength, traffic load and connection type. With ClientMatch, our students are able to move seamlessly between locations served by the Wi-Fi network.

With the number of apps being used by our students continually rising, the AppRF technology in our APs has been important in helping to ensure critical apps have priority on the network. With AppRF, we can set a policy and limit bandwidth for streaming video from specific apps for specific groups of users. Just as easily, all streaming video apps can be rate-limited across all users to ensure first priority is given to academic related apps.

Robust security and management capabilities were also a key consideration when making decisions about the new student housing network. We are using the same company’s ClearPass Access Management System to manage network policies, onboard and manage devices securely and admit guest users, all from a single platform. With ClearPass, we are able to get the 50,000 unique devices we are seeing daily connected and configured quickly and efficiently. Our students can now configure their own devices for secure access without involving our IT department, saving time and resources. We can also automatically check every computing device that connects to the network, regardless of ownership or type, to ensure it meets security compliance requirements. Devices that fail to comply can be redirected for remediation. In addition, we are able to use contextual attributes for controlling network traffic priority, which ensures wireless activities related to teaching and learning, aren’t competing with off-hours endeavors.

On the network management front, we are utilizing Aruba’s AirWave Network Management System to help us diagnose network issues. With AirWave, we are able to access a visual representation of each AP, and its location, at every facility, along with the number of users connected to a specific AP and whether they’re using an institution-owned or BYOD device. We are also able to access current and historical device information and reports on applications and their performance. With this level of visibility, we can resolve in minutes problems that previously took hours to address, improving our operational efficiency and reducing network downtime.

With the new student housing infrastructure, more than 95% of our campus has wireless coverage. As our connectivity needs continue to evolve, due to changes such as offering more online courses or mixed classrooms, we plan to move to 802.11ac and all-wireless for the entire campus. The success of the residence life deployment is giving us the confidence to review the potential of an all-wireless enterprise, campus-wide.

Richard Chan is Assistant Director of Networking and Telecommunications at West Chester University of Pennsylvania.

Posted in guest column | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Cool Tool | Naiku

CREDIT NaikuA unique and comprehensive cloud-based software that helps transform teaching and learning through more effective assessment, Naiku is used across all subjects and grades to provide deeper and faster insight into student knowledge for informed instruction that better engages students and truly supports the personalization of learning. Comprehensively used for student assessment, from instant student polling and formative quizzes to benchmark and summative tests – teachers can create, import, and share items and assessments with their team, school, or district using the platform. Teachers can instantly view student and class proficiency for any learning standard, either for each individual assessment or longitudinally over time, and collaborate with others for informed and differentiated instruction. Meanwhile, students are actively engaged in their learning: in addition to answering a wide variety of question item types, students can express their confidence and provide justification and journal about their answer. After test submission, they can review and reflect on their performance and knowledge by viewing each question, correct answer and automatically supplied answer rationale along with their answer, confidence, and justification; these research proven self-assessment processes accelerate student learning. In addition, they can automatically be provided instructional resources such as videos, ebooks and more – all personalized for them based on their proficiency.

Posted in cool tools | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Trends | Hour of Code

Posted in trends | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Teaching Tomorrow’s Teachers

Personal perspective from a veteran educator working behind the scenes at PBS.

GUEST COLUMN | by Alicia Levi

CREDIT PBS LearningMediaWhen I began my career, the classroom looked very different than it does today. In fact, it looked completely different; textbooks were the focus of learning and multimedia resources were rare and extremely expensive. Today’s digital classroom would have looked like a science fiction fantasy, or something from the Jetsons, to my young teacher eyes.

In my current role leading the team behind PBS LearningMedia, PBS’ media-on-demand service for educators, I speak with teachers from every grade level, across the entire U.S. The overarching sentiment from these educators is that media and technology have transformed their classrooms and inspired their students in ways they never thought possible. Digital media sparks students’ curiosity and they are excited to learn from videos, games and self-paced lessons. With new digital tools, students are no longer merely consumers of content but have become savvy creators.

More than two-thirds (68%) of teachers expressed a desire for more classroom technology. This number is even greater in low-income schools (75%).

With new and exciting ways to engage students and personalize learning, its no wonder teachers are using technology more than ever before. PBS LearningMedia recently surveyed educators from across the country, and three-quarters linked educational technology to a growing list of benefits. They said technology enables them to reinforce and expand on content (74%), to motivate students to learn (74%), and to respond to a variety of learning styles (73%). Seven in 10 teachers (69%) surveyed said educational technology allows them to “do much more than ever before” for their students.

In that same survey, more than two-thirds (68%) of teachers expressed a desire for more classroom technology. This number is even greater in low-income schools (75%).

It’s not just today’s teachers that need digital tools for the classroom. The next generation of teachers will have even greater demands for technology – and they will have more ways to access that technology than ever before. If classrooms look different today than they looked 20 years ago, they’ll be unrecognizable 20 years from now. The teachers of tomorrow are receiving their degrees and undergoing training as we speak. As the classroom continues to evolve, these teachers will be expected to use new technologies and prepare students for careers that don’t currently exist.

That’s why PBS LearningMedia has joined with WGVU Public Media, a member station in Grand Rapids, MI, to partner with Grand Valley State University College of Education for an innovative new education initiative. This is the first time a PBS member station has partnered in this way with a university to provide digital tools from PBS to the next generation of teachers.

Now all professors and students attending Grand Valley State University College of Education will have access to the PBS LearningMedia Custom Service, which is designed to further support technology and digital resource integration into the classroom. Teachers, students and parents across the country access the PBS LearningMedia Basic service, but schools and districts using the Custom layer can do even more with digital content. PBS LearningMedia Custom enriches the free service by including tools that allow administrators to manage the service and gather analytics about how the service is used in their schools. In addition, Custom users can access thousands of valuable resources not available through the free service and schools can manage and add content that meets the needs of local classroom instruction.

The College of Education will utilize the Custom Service to train future teachers on how to successfully incorporate digital media and fuel deeper discussions and understanding of curriculum topics using videos, interactives, self-paced lessons and other digital resources. Students at the College of Education will have access to thousands of valuable resources for research and support. With access to the Custom Service, these teachers will also have the opportunity to personalize their experience and add their own unique content.

We’re thrilled to be working with WGVU and Grand Valley State University. PBS member stations are on the ground every day in their local communities, and the WGVU team knows firsthand what today’s – as well as tomorrow’s – teachers in Grand Rapids need and want. Their longstanding relationship with Grand Valley State University made them a model station to launch this innovative new education partnership.

As Paula Kerger, the president and CEO of PBS, said when she announced the new initiative, “WGVU is leading the way for public media.” WGVU, together with Grand Valley State University, have taken a big step for future educators, and I’m honored that PBS LearningMedia is here with them to help create tomorrow’s classrooms. It will be here before we know it.

Alicia Levi is Vice President of PBS Learning Media where she oversees PBS’ efforts in developing digital education services for PBS, local public television stations, students, and teachers. She is responsible for PBS’ strategic partnerships, digital media production, professional development, and other emerging products and services that support the PreK-16 education market. Follow @PBSLrnMedia

Posted in guest column | Tagged , , | Leave a comment