Laptops and tablets have been forcing colleges to expand wireless LANs for years, but now K-12 school districts are facing the same challenge. School children rely on mobile devices to supplement their educational experience, so school district IT organizations have no choice but to provide a solid mobile experience.
The Kenosha Unified School District (KUSD) in Wisconsin has used several different vendors' Wi-Fi technology in some of its school buildings over the years, but was looking for a unified wireless LAN (WLAN) technology that could be extended across the district to help keep up with mobility and promote classroom collaboration for its 26,000 K-12 students, teachers and faculty. KUSD chose to install Motorola WLAN technology across its 40 schools and administration sites.
Motorola WLAN encourages mobility, collaboration
Faced with tight budget constraints, KUSD's IT team knew it needed a wireless LAN that would grow with school district and the needs of its students and teachers, and one that could also be centrally managed by KUSD's small IT staff, said Jim Hanrahan, support coordinator of operations and applications for KUSD. After selecting Motorola WLAN technology, the IT team upgraded KUSD to a Gigabit switching system to support the new wireless infrastructure, and deployed over 800 802.11-enabled access points across the school and administration buildings.
KUSD currently has about 7,000 mobile tablets and 12,000 desktops and laptops supported by the Wi-Fi network across its schools. The district is piloting a bring your own device (BYOD) program for students at two of its schools, and it is also planning one-to-one device-to-student initiatives within certain schools that could add an additional 10,000 devices to the network, said Kris Keckler, executive director of information and accountability for KUSD.
BYOD and Wi-Fi-enabled devices have become an important part of KUSD's curriculum. Students and teachers are collaborating in the classroom and around the campus through online programs -- including Web-based platforms and document sharing tools, Keckler said.
"Teachers and students have definitely gotten used to a consistent level of connectivity, signal strength and access to collaborative tools -- it's been nice to not only expand our network infrastructure, but to be able to offer education value to students, [which is] an attractive offering for the district, too," he said.
The access points, which use Motorola's WiNG 5 operating system, allows for seamless roaming between sites and buildings -- a plus for students and teachers on the move, and a benefit that the legacy Wi-Fi technology didn't provide, Hanrahan said. "Without the [Motorola WLAN], users weren't having a smooth experience because they had to know all of the passwords as they moved between buildings, and it just wasn't working out," Hanrahan said.
"Now, we have a large number of users and whether they are moving to the library or to the classroom, or even to another building, we want the device to still be useful and not have any dead spots or inconsistencies with quality of service," KUSD's Keckler added.
Wi-Fi technology, now with centralized management
KUSD's IT team was struggling to manage its legacy WLAN, which consisted of about 300 standalone access points from different vendors -- like Cisco -- deployed across the schools, Hanrahan said. "Management was becoming cumbersome," he said. "Mobility needs were ramping up, and we knew we had to address that need better."
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Hanrahan and his team are now managing over 800 Motorola access points deployed at each school from a single pane of glass, he said.
The WiNG 5 operating system loaded onto the access points also allows the IT team to set policies based on users, which further helps the IT team with network management, Hanrahan said. "We can put teacher traffic on one VLAN and student traffic over another, [which] lets us give different users access to the right resources, and allows us to manage the traffic more quickly and easily," he said.
Motorola's centralized controllers allow for security and site-survivability at the edge of the network and seamless roaming between sites. The IT team is upgrading to Motorola's virtual controller this summer to keep up with the number of access points as they are increased throughout the district.
"We like the fact that we can leverage our current VMware environment and build controllers based on how many access points I think we'll need down the road, without having to buy a physical piece of hardware that is going to have limitations," he said.