Technology (Enhancing + Engaging + Connecting)

Anytime, Anywhere Access Leads to Fascinating Classrooms

Wi-Fi Access

PHOTOS COURTESY OF ARUBA NETWROKS

During the past 100 years, educators were repeatedly told a new technology would fundamentally alter their classrooms. First radio, then TV and on to the desktop PC, the metamorphosis never occurred. Paper and pencil still ruled.

Today there’s mobility and anytime, anywhere access. Educators are hearing terms like ‘revolutionary’ and ‘transformative.’ So what makes anytime, anywhere special?

We argue it’s profoundly different because it enables personalizing learning in ways impossible before.

Further, we’d point out that formal education in the U.S. is one of few arenas yet to personalize. From the food we eat to the music we listen to, we naturally gravitate to personalized experiences because they are the most motivating.

So what’s held education back? We contend that, until now, technologies weren’t easy enough, powerful enough or flexible enough to serve as the foundation for educating our kids.

Witness to a shift

With mobility and pervasive access we’re already seeing a paradigm shift in some districts. For example, at 41,000-student Poway Unified School District, just north of San Diego, Calif., efforts to personalize learning are paying big dividends.

To illustrate, consider how a group of Poway kindergartners personalized a fundamental grammar lesson. The group had recently learned to create stop-motion videos on their laptops to study how trees grow. The class was struggling with contractions, so the students came up with the idea to use stop-action to teach themselves contractions.

Wi-Fi Access

Fascinating Classrooms. Students at Poway USD, near San Diego, Calif., participate in a form of personalized learning known as “fascinating classrooms.” The idea is that the classroom will capture and hold a student’s attention by making personalized learning the norm. In these classrooms, the students and teachers frequently use more than one mobile device, whether school-issued or personally-owned. This means the 1:1 computing model is swiftly being overtaken by many-to-one.

They started with paper and crayons to create the letters in contraction roots, such as “cannot.” Next, using classroom video tools, they shot a picture of the entire contraction root. Then, they removed one letter and shot another frame.

This process continued until they formed the word “can’t.” All the while, students remained focused on contractions in a way that’s rarely, if ever, witnessed in a traditional setting.

In another example, we can look at another Poway classroom. There, the teacher developed sounds and rhyming goals for her 3rd grade students. She began by posting the results of the district assessment on a paper ladder on her bulletin board to show progress toward the goals.

Again, her students came up with the idea of using a rhyming game on their computers. In the words of one young man, it “helped us climb the ladder a whole lot.” According to the teacher, students reached their goals faster than expected because they were motivated by a learning tool they’d created themselves.

Going beyond engagement

At Poway, this type of personalized learning is becoming known as “fascinating classrooms.” Beyond simple “engagement,” a fascinating classroom captures and holds a student’s attention by making personalized learning the norm. (For more on the distinction between engaging and fascinating, see the sidebar Engagement vs. Fascination — Terminology Matters.)

Engagement Vs. Fascination – Terminology Matters

Today we talk a lot about “engaging” students. However, studies by Project RED suggest “engagement” only occurs during 17 percent of the school day; meaning students are unengaged the remaining 83 percent. That’s why Poway USD is pursing the personalized learning concept of “fascinating classrooms.”

Unlike engagement, the term “fascination” suggests total immersion in a subject, where students are motivated by their innate curiosity to teach themselves in a personalized way. Let’s face it, we’ve all met adults who didn’t achieve a high level of education, yet they are encyclopedic when it comes to a subject that excites them. That’s fascination at work.

But, the Poway fascination model doesn’t mean learning occurs haphazardly. Quite the opposite. Using Big Data techniques, educators are ensuring students learn necessary concepts and meet appropriate developmental goals. Those vital components of K-12 education remain the same — it’s only the path to achieving them that’s different.

Robert J. Gravina

Although fascinating classrooms still contain manual tools — paper and writing instruments remain critical for numerous tasks — technologies enabled by anytime, anywhere access are essential to the learning environment.

What’s more, in Poway’s fascinating classrooms, students and teachers frequently utilize more than one mobile device, whether school-issued or personally owned. This means the 1-to-1 computing model is swiftly being overtaken by many-to-one.

For Poway, the expectation is three to four devices per person, particularly at higher grade levels. This means preparing for more than 100,000 simultaneous wireless device connections in the foreseeable future. At large universities, connectivity at this scale is already a reality.

Enterprise Wi-Fi makes it happen

Naturally, enabling pervasive access requires the adoption of appropriate Wi-Fi infrastructure. Bandwidth-intensive apps — such as creating a contractions video or playing a visually-enhanced rhyming game — need reliable, secure and scalable enterprise Wi-Fi.

In a nutshell, modern Wi-Fi blankets facilities with wireless coverage using equipment designed to handle the increasing densities of mobile devices. This infrastructure also ensures schools have the flexibility to permit any type of device, whether Apple, Windows, Chrome or whatever operating systems come next.

Additionally, enterprise Wi-Fi includes various hardware and software systems that centralize and automate Wi-Fi security and management. This enables districts to provide teachers and learners with secure and reliable mobile experiences without adding to operational overhead.

ABCs of next-gen infrastructure

To help determine what types of Wi-Fi infrastructure components are essential for your anytime, anywhere access initiative, consider the following. (For news on funding pervasive Wi-Fi, see the sidebar E-rate Boost Supports Anytime, Anywhere.)

802.11ac Access Points. Based on the latest IEEE wireless standard, 802.11ac-enable APs — including the latest performanceenhancing Wave 2 access points — provide the technology characteristics needed for many-to-one classroom demands.

Also called Gigabit Wi-Fi for its wirequality speed characteristics, 802.11acenabled APs can offer technologies to ensure seamless transitions within enabled facilities. This allows students and teachers to move between learning spaces non-disruptively, boosting collaboration and motivation.

So how much faster are 802.11ac and Wave 2? The first 802.11ac wave improved speeds by about 3X versus the previous standard, 802.11n. Initially, Wave 2 will increase throughput by another 30 percent, and subsequent updates will offer further performance enhancements.

Access Unification Switches. As the name implies, this type of hardware streamlines user access and network management by unifying the wireless and wired networks. When deployed in combination with a robust policy management application (see below), unification permits issuing one set of credentials to each individual, whether they plug in a laptop at a port or sign on wirelessly with a tablet. Using a single set of credentials per individual, rather than per device, allows organizations to provide — or restrict — access based on district policies.

Application Optimization. Enterprise Wi-Fi can include application optimization technology that continuously evaluates mobile app usage and performance. The technology can also make real-time network configuration adjustments automatically, to provide optimal bandwidth, priority and paths based on district policies. For example, online testing systems can receive priority over classroom apps during testing periods.

Network Optimization Tools. While 802.11ac AP-enabled Wi-Fi systems are capable of providing wire-quality experiences, getting the most from your wireless hardware requires enterprise-class network optimization software. Such tools also centralize Wi-Fi network planning, management and troubleshooting, which reduces burdens on K-12 IT staff.

Robust optimization tools supply a map-like dashboard giving schools visibility into each AP and the devices connected to it. Additionally, these tools can expose RF interference sources — like microwaves or Bluetooth gear — and automatically move mobile devices to a cleaner channel.

Policy Management Applications. These technologies provide the hassle-free, secure connectivity features of a wired network in a wireless environment, ensuring convenient and safe access for K-12 users.

With an enterprise policy management solution, users connecting to the Wi-Fi network automatically receive the appropriate type of access based on the policies your organization sets. And, in the case of unified wireless and wired networks, users can login with the same credentials regardless of connectivity type — wired or mobile — making access simple and fast.

E-Rate Boost Supports Anytime, Anywhere

If you need affirmation that pervasive access is a national priority, look no further than the recent E-rate expansions. Within a six-month period, from July to December 2014, the FCC increased the E-rate annual spending cap from $2.4 billion to $3.9 billion.

What’s more, the agency also established a $1-billion annual target budget for Category 2 funds through 2019. As you know, Category 2 funds are those designated specifically for implementing modern internal Wi-Fi networks.

This means more schools have more opportunities to obtain Wi-Fi funding over the coming years, giving districts time to adequately plan and deploy enterprise Wi-Fi to achieve their anytime, anywhere access goals.

Dan Rivera

Easy does it

Regardless what combination of Wi-Fi equipment and applications are right for you, the most important goal is making the technology easy. As is well documented, when a technology fails, teachers will put it away because it is too disruptive to learning.

At Poway, this means developing one-click access to apps and classroom devices, such as display screens, wherever possible. This strategy has caused technology utilization to proliferate, with over 85 percent of Poway teachers reporting they use technology in their classrooms every day.

Moving forward, districts like Poway will continue to adopt additional technologies, such as classroom video conferencing and multiple projection stations for large and small group collaborations. And new innovations are also expected, such as 3D creativity environments a la Microsoft HoloLens.

For all of these innovations, whether immediate, near term or something yet to be developed, we believe anytime, anywhere access will only become more vital to personalizing learning and creating fascinating classrooms.

This article originally appeared in the August 2015 issue of School Planning & Management.

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