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Chief Inspector Michele M. Orner, Ed.D., had 2,200 students, almost as many iPads, and an old WiFi network on the campus of the Octorara Area School District with 50-year-old buildings.
The first step in her larger plan to transform teaching through instructional technology was a new WiFi network that can handle all those users and devices in the K-12 district about 90 minutes west of Philadelphia.
“It’s the first thing that needs to change, because if the network is outdated, you’ll only frustrate kids and teachers, and then taxpayers will ask why you’ve wasted $ 1 million on new devices that kids can’t use,” Orner said.
The district started offering an iPad for every high and secondary school student about five years ago. The school is expanding this one-to-one plan with kindergarten and primary school students and moving state tests to an online format, thereby increasing the demand for connectivity.
The school’s IT director, Rob Czetli, said he chose Wi-Fi 6 to replace a system that dates back to Wi-Fi generations.
“The HVAC and everything is on our network and we wanted to go with something that was future-proof,” he said.
Czetli said the Aruba district chose because the company offered WiFi 6. The installation process was completed for about two weeks while the school was busy.
Tom Kouns, director of infrastructure technologies at Hamilton Southeastern Schools in Indiana, said his district Wi-Fi 6 chose the network at a new primary school with 700 students. Kouns said that WiFi 6 was the best choice for the school’s collaborative learning environment.
“We have large collaborative areas with multiple classrooms coming together, meaning there are hundreds of children in one area,” he said.
Brandon Butler, a senior analyst for network infrastructure research at IDC, said that Wi-Fi 6 is excellent for school networks because it can provide high Wi-Fi performance to multiple users at the same time.
“This makes Wi-Fi 6 ideal for dense Wi-Fi environments where multiple clients use the network at the same time, such as auditoriums, cafeterias, stadiums, student associations, and lecture rooms,” Butler said.
He expects education to be one of the most important vertical markets to deploy Wi-Fi 6, including K-12 and colleges and universities.
Kouns said that Wi-Fi 6 will also give the school enough flexibility to add more smart devices and IoT sensors as the technology infrastructure grows.
“In a public school environment, we don’t have the luxury of upgrading Wi-Fi every year,” he said.
“We must be diligent with plans so that we can get five to seven years of work out of infrastructure.”
IDC Butler said that Wi-Fi 6 infrastructure components are more expensive compared to previous generation Wi-Fi products. Although the acceptance rate is low because the technology became widely available in mid-2019, IDC predicts that the acceptance rate of Wi-Fi 6 will increase significantly in 2020 and beyond.
Technical coach helped teachers
Octorara Chief Inspector Orner said the school’s educational technology committee led the WiFi 6 migration. IT director Czetli and the school director of curriculum and instruction led the committee, which includes parents, school administrators, building leaders and teachers. Orner said that being a member of the committee helped school drivers justify the $ 1.3 million investment in taxpayers.
Orner said the ed tech committee and technology coach helped her convince teachers who were skeptical about the role of technology in the classroom.
“If you set the right conditions, if you build it so that people have a safe place to take risks and the infrastructure is 100% reliable, I have seen that it is even the most reluctant educator in the classroom and student,” said Orner.
She said hiring an instruction technology coach was another crucial part of the success of the project.
“I was able to defend why we had to redesignate an educational position and have an instruction technology coach,” she said. “Things don’t work unless the instructive people talk to the hardware people.”
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