Mobile Learning is Becoming Effective in Schools Nationwide

Mobile Devices are now Powerful — and ubiquitous.  Everyone is looking to see how Schools Districts respond to mobile devices’ proliferation that will affect students and their readiness for college and the workforce. Most importantly, Mobile also impacts how well teachers, administrators and staff do their jobs.

School districts are increasingly taking advantage of mobile technology to engage students, make learning more interactive, and help them develop important 21st century skills such as creativity and collaboration.

“What started out as resistance to using mobile ­technology has turned to increasing acceptance. It’s a pretty rapid change,” says Peter Grunwald, founder and ­president of Grunwald Associates, a market research and consulting firm that has studied mobile learning in K–12 classrooms. “Mobile devices have extraordinary value from an instructional standpoint if they’re used intelligently. And with all this ownership of mobile equipment, students go to school expecting a [high-tech] environment.”

For mobile learning to work, school districts must develop a strategy for issuing, managing, securing and teaching with school-owned or personal mobile devices — or both.

School IT departments must first invest in network and wireless infrastructure to ensure that teachers and students have all the bandwidth and online resources they need to do their jobs and schoolwork.

The effect on district networks could be profound.  In fact, 90 percent of IT professionals surveyed for CDW’s 2013 Mobility at Work report expect the growth of personal mobile devices to have significant network impacts; chief among them, increased bandwidth requirements (63 percent), increased server requirements (44 percent), increased network latency (39 percent) and increased storage requirements (37 percent).

One-to-Web Instead of One-to-One

Certainly creating a mobile-friendly environment doesn’t happen overnight. Many Schools that have turned mobile learning into standard operating procedure made it happen through careful planning.

92% of IT professionals say their organization has encountered challenges with personal device adoption. Top challenges include securing data (55%), securing network access (54%) and network performance (39%).

OURCE: CDW’s Mobility at Work report

A Phased Approach to Going Mobile

Many school districts such as Lake Washington School District‘s mobile transition also took several years to implement. It required the deployment of new wireless and mobile technology by the IT department; the hard work of school administrators, staffers and teachers who are embracing a new style of teaching and integrating mobile ­computing into the curriculum; and the backing of local voters, who passed a 2010 levy to pay for the technology.

The levy allowed the IT department to replace an existing 802.11a/b/g network that was too slow and had too many dead spots with a faster Cisco 802.11n network that provides full coverage in each of the district’s 51 schools in Redmond, Kirkland, Sammamish and Woodinville, Wash.

The levy also allowed Lake Washington to launch a one-to-one notebook computer program for its middle and high school students and to purchase carts of ­netbooks for elementary school students to share. In three years, LWSD officials purchased enough ­netbooks to provide a 3-to-1 student-to-computer ratio for K–2 students and a 2-to-1 ratio for students in grades 3 through 5.

“We’re seeing a shift from an all-paper-based ­curriculum to an increasing dependence on web-based and digital” materials, explains Sally Askman, the ­district’s director of technology. “That requires mobile devices and a wireless network that’s highly available and resilient, with the appropriate security in place.”

Because the district owns its own fiber, it already had plenty of bandwidth. To prepare for the wireless network, the IT department in 2011 added a second Cisco Catalyst 6509-E switch at the core and upgraded 750 of the district’s 1,050 network edge switches with new HP switches.

The IT staff spent two years deploying the wireless network, installing one access point in each of the district’s 1,600 classrooms, as well as additional access points in administrative offices and school common areas. In all, the district deployed 1,918 access points and seven central controllers. LWSD standardized on Cisco Aironet 1142 and 3502e Series access points and Cisco wireless service modules for its controllers.

When LWSD launched its one-to-one initiative during the 2012–2013 school year, the IT staff rolled out 9,000 Lenovo ThinkPad X131e notebooks over five to six months to ensure that the network equipment and Wi-Fi network could handle the load, Askman says. “We got a chance to see what pressure was on the network in September, and we made adjustments for the next phase,” she says. “We had to adjust the size of our [Dynamic Host Configuration Protocol] scopes, for example, so that enough IP addresses were available for the student devices joining our wireless network.”

To bolster security, the district deployed a Palo Alto Networks PA-5020 Series firewall appliance, which blocks malicious traffic, such as malware, and detects and prevents file sharing, proxy bypass and peer-to-peer gaming.

Askman plans to make additional network improvements in the years ahead. The next school levy in 2014 would allow the district to upgrade its network further, eliminate single points of failure, improve speed and implement additional security safeguards, she says.

Building a Wireless Infrastructure for Mobile Learning

Wisconsin’s six-school Oregon School District has come a long way since the early days of Wi-Fi, when it relied on unmanaged, off-the-shelf 802.11b access points.

Technology Director Jon Tanner upgraded to a Cisco 802.11g managed wireless system in 2007 and expanded it in 2009 when the district embraced BYOD. With demand for network capacity continuing to skyrocket, the district upgraded again last summer.

52% of BYOD participants use more than one device.

SOURCE: CDW’s Mobility at Work report

“We had the coverage, but we didn’t have the capacity to handle the huge densities of clients trying to log in,” he explains. “A wireless access point can provide an individual client with 300-megabit-per-second speeds, but if you can only connect back to the switch at 100Mbps, it’s a huge bottleneck,” he says. “We are now getting full wireless throughput.”

To increase network bandwidth, the district spent nearly $500,000 to upgrade its networking equipment and Wi-Fi network with the latest Cisco technologies. Fifty of the district’s 62 edge switches had only 100Mbps of throughput, so Tanner replaced them with new 1-gigabit Cisco Catalyst 2960 Series switches. The upgrade has improved speeds dramatically, he says.

The district also purchased new second-generation Cisco Aironet 2602 access points and two Cisco 5760 wireless LAN controllers for redundancy. With the upgrade, it more than doubled its access points — from 75 to 168.

To begin, Tanner’s team hired a third party to ­perform a wireless site survey, which included the use of heat maps to pinpoint where coverage was and wasn’t available and ultimately provide full Wi-Fi coverage at each school. Tanner then studied usage reports from the district’s previous wireless controllers, which showed how many mobile devices were accessing each access point at any given time, as well as the number of devices that were denied access because the access point was overloaded.

With this data, Tanner made educated guesses on how many access points should be installed in each area to optimize their placement, he explains.

Oregon School District has spent the past three years making plans to move education from traditional ­lectures to more personalized learning, and for that to succeed, wireless technology and mobile devices are critical. Now, with the infrastructure in place, the ­district can ramp up its efforts.

“We were dipping our toes with BYOD before because we didn’t want students to have trouble connecting to the network or have slow network access,” Tanner says. “But now, we feel we can really tell students to bring their own device — and they will actually be able to use it.

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