Welcome to the world of wireless connectivity. Wireless access adds value to mobility. The focus is off technology and on content and learning. Easy e-mail collaboration and Internet access from anywhere on campus mean more motivated and engaged students.
In an era of tightly stretched education budgets, the ability to leverage existing infrastructure investments is critical. As many schools are discovering, a wireless network adds value to the wired backbone:
Voice over IP for classrooms that cannot afford phones
Access control and student identification for campus safety
Constant Web connection for collaboration and communication.
Wireless networks offer inexpensive connectivity; they can be redeployed when classroom configurations change, and they are inherently scalable.
Most schools have found a three-tiered plan easiest to implement. First, the site must have a robust wired infrastructure. Next, the wireless layer is installed while faculty and staff receive their notebook computers and learn how to use them as teaching tools. For Emily Craft, staff development coordinator at Randolph School, this step was easy. "The only thing teachers had to learn was to insert and remove the wireless card in their notebooks," she says. "The wireless technology was transparent." Finally, the students receive their notebook computers.
Randolph School, Huntsville, Alabama
In 1996, administrators at Randolph School began to examine ways to incorporate technology into the curriculum of K-12 classes. After two and a half years of study and planning, the school provided faculty members with mobile computers and training so they could hone their technical skills.
By 1999, Randolph was ready to install a wireless infrastructure across the entire campus. Symbol Technologies did a site survey in the spring, and installed the wireless network in two days during the summer.
With a wireless network in place, the next step called for mobile carts that included laptops with wireless LAN interface cards. The carts were such a success that they are now being used in Randolph's lower grades. Students in grades 8 to 12 will have their own wireless notebooks for this entire academic year.
The wireless program at Randolph has achieved the goal of improving the learning environment for everyone. Students look at information cooperatively and apply critical thinking skills. As fourth-grade teacher Shelley Harriman says, "Now I can work at my desk and my students can bring their laptops to me if they have questions. Wireless access gives all of us the power of mobile computing."
Teachers are discovering that wireless access can help them approach their work more creatively. "Our teaching staff has found hundreds of ways to incorporate laptops; they've become another tool that helps us present information in a more compelling way," notes Betsy Allen, an eighth-grade history teacher. Staff development coordinator Emily Craft adds, "Our wireless network is seamless and invisible a very liberating experience."