Rollout Ready

How the nation’s schools gear up for Obama’s $3 billion education technology commitments.

GUEST COLUMN | by Kowshik Bhat

CREDIT XirrusPresident Obama’s February 4 announcement of nearly $3 billion in education-technology commitments is an important step in keeping pace with other nations and ensuring the best educational resources for our students. The most important investments include the FCC’s $2 billion commitment to provide high-speed broadband Internet access to 15,000 schools, and nearly $1 billion in contributions of free or discounted products, connectivity, and professional development for educators from companies such as Microsoft, Apple, AT&T, Sprint and Verizon.

The upgrades are clearly needed; surveys indicate that more than 70 percent of K-12 schools nationwide are not prepared or have insufficient infrastructure to support new Common Core testing requirements in the 2014-2015 academic year. Most classrooms currently have one or two computers for teachers’ use – and none for students – connected to a wired network. Moreover, a new wireless-networking standard, 802.11ac, operating at 5GHz, will take effect this year, and schools will be faced with the choice of spending to upgrade to the new standard or sacrificing speed and performance to stay on the current standard. Executing online testing will require upgrading current wireless networks to support the new student and teacher devices. As a result, schools face a perfect storm of IT challenges: connectivity, bandwidth and hardware.

While the $3 billion commitment is impressive, this is only the first step of many toward providing every child a world-class education. If the upgrades are not properly planned and implemented, a debacle like the Healthcare.gov rollout could ensue. Now the onus is on technology providers to guide the adoption of these resources so that any school can easily implement necessary technologies.

The successful rollout of modern educational technology largely rides on pervasive wireless networking throughout schools and the proper planning and infrastructure to support it. Without pervasive, reliable wireless connectivity, new inquiry based learning and adaptive learning applications to transform education will fail.

A Short Guide for Wireless Infrastructure Design

Below are seven design considerations that school IT departments, equipment vendors, and government agencies should take into account, working together rather than in silos, to ensure a successful roll-out of a new education technology platform for our future leaders in business, technology, government and the arts.

  1. Application Performance Assurance: Schools must ensure optimal performance for their testing applications by controlling traffic and application accessibility at the edge of the network, where students connect – not by simply blocking traffic at the Internet gateway.
  2. Density Support: Schools must determine how many students will connect to the wireless network in a given area to ensure a proper capacity design. This is critical for classroom testing, 1:1 learning (each student is provided a device), and Bring Your Own Device (students use their own compliant devices).
  3. Peak-Versus-Average Bandwidth Utilization: Schools need to account for peak bandwidth needs in the network design, including 1) the access layer, where students connect to the network, and 2) during testing, when the use of multiple applications mandates a design that can handle peak loads.
  4. Changing Device Landscape: Schools must account for a minimum specification, including Wi-Fi access via 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz bands, and consider how varying operating systems, drivers and chip sets behave. A wireless network that supports 5 GHz band is essential for the longevity of the technology investment.
  5. Future-proofing for New WLAN Standards: Schools need to plan upgrades to core-network and wireless network infrastructure and end-user devices that support the new 802.11ac 5GHz standard.

While technology vendors, school IT departments, and government agencies face considerable challenges in transitioning to digital learning environments, there are resources and solutions available to help participants work together to research, plan, and implement the necessary infrastructure to meet our needs and prepare our children for success. President Obama’s work with the FCC and private companies to provide the much-needed funds for technology in schools is a step in the right direction, but there is still much to be done.

Kowshik Bhat is the Director of Product Marketing for Xirrus, a leading provider of high performance wireless networks. Contact him through their education division.  

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