Since I started blogging about iPads in Education I've been getting carried away with the positives that this handheld technology can bring to the classroom, but there's been one major area of concern that I'm encountering if the schools 'iPad Journey' is going to hit the ground running - it's the schools wireless network!
As ICT coordinator one of my biggest headaches over the last year has been our wireless networking. The downsides are the notoriously unpredictable wireless technology and its performance, which can lead to high levels of frustration for both teachers and pupils. The wireless is going to be a central especially when there could be any thing up to 30+ iPads and or iPods that all need wireless access at the same time and all expecting a fast connection to the internet. A powerful wireless network is therefore essential to a successful implementation of handheld devices in the classroom.
A bit of background ...
Over a year ago, the school invested in a class set of laptops - Fizzbooks, (the iPad 2 hadn't been released yet!) with a charging trolley. Before the Fizzbooks were released to staff we needed a wireless network to support these devices around the school. The wireless system which was installed just didn't work! I'd be the first to admit that I had no idea or the experience on what was required to get 30 laptops onto the wireless network all the same time. I relied on advice on what to buy, bought it and the routers were installed. The consumer level routers that were installed couldn't cope - we were lucky to get a third of the laptops connected to the internet. It was a disappointing start. Needless to say the initial hype of the laptops soon diminished, children and teachers were left frustrated and so was I. This was a costly error in both time and money, and we had to learn a lesson from this mistake.
Therefore, needing to get a class set of laptops working wirelessly, we needed some expert advice, so we contacted a company who advised installing a whole-site wireless network. 14 wireless access points across the school site were installed. The wireless local area network (WLAN) was supporting 802.11g. This system has been adequate, although by no means perfect, in terms of getting 30 Fizzbooks connected wirelessly to the internet for simple web browsing.
|802.11g Wireless System|
Whilst this wireless system has done a resonable job keeping up to 30 Fizzbooks connected to the internet, how will it cope with a flood of iPads and iPods all needing wireless access at the same time? The simple answer is, it won't! I want children using iPods or iPads to blog using Wordpress or Posterous apps, using google Docs for Education, simply web browsing, uploading iMovies to Vimeo, using Dropbox to access documents, etc etc. All of this will require a robust wireless system otherwise it just won't work and teachers and pupils will once again be left frustrated and return to the static ICT suite in their droves.
Again we needed some expert advice. I contacted an Apple reseller who suggested a Meraki managed wireless system would be the way forward. The Meraki system 'provides a solution to the burden that handheld technology can have on a wireless system and uses the newest standard in wireless technology - 802.11n. This system was design to improve on the 802.11g in the amount of bandwidth supported by utilising multiple wireless signals instead of just one.'
Advantages of Meraki & 802.11n
- the system is designed for heavy tablet usage
- built in firewalls segregates and restricts network access from unauthorised devices
- Security appliances provide easy to manage content filtering and security
- it operates with complete visibility and control over uses, content and devices
- an easy to use cloud base management system that can be used without dedicated training.
A new wireless system need to be simple, reliable and constant. The network and not the devices should be in control, becuase a traditional wireless system gives equal access to all devices, which can congests the network. If as a school you are wanting a large number of handheld devices to access your wireless system, you need a solution that won't let you down leaving your teachers and pupils to get on with what's really important; teaching and learning! I guess the wireless is one of those things schools would be reluctant to shell lots of money on money on, it not glamorous it just makes things work - but it is essential if the iPads and iPods are going to hit the ground running and revolutionise teaching. The advice I am getting is go big and use a managed wireless system, doing so will likely make life easier for everyone.
As a school we will be buying 16 iPads for Key Stage 1, 16 iPads for Key Stage 2 and iPods for each of the children in Year 6, but first, it's the Managed Wireless System ...