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December 2011

School Computing: Wireless Networking and Security

By | EdTech | No Comments

edtech costsAs we move more and more into a cloud-based environment and online learning becomes the norm, many schools are switching from land-based to wireless networking. And, with extensive budget cuts to education, many schools are turning to a bring-your-own-technology (BYOT) methodology, where students are required to bring their own equipment to school.

There is simply not enough space to provide a computer lab for every student. With a new law that requires mandated online testing, schools are trying to convert to wireless and BYOT as an easy way to provide localized data management for the entire student population.

The problem for many schools is that their infrastructure is outdated. Often, servers and other electronic hardware must be replaced before even attempting the installation of a wireless system and implementing BYOT. From thinkCSC’s perspective, the key to wireless in schools is planning.

There is still a year or two before the mandated online testing takes effect, so it’s imperative that schools not wait until the last minute to make the necessary changes. Until we get a team in the school to examine the infrastructure and take readings, we don’t know if there are any wiring needs, which can add time and expense.

The physical structure of the building and what it is made out of, such as drywall or brick, can have a tremendous effect on wireless capabilities. We set up an access point and take measurements on its strength to determine an appropriate setup.

Once we know what the school needs to accomplish their wireless goals, the school can secure finding and find a time during which we can install the access points. Some schools may have a technology budget, but many schools have to obtain grants or pass special budget addendum.  Most schools also try to avoid disruptions during classes, and try to schedule the installations for vacations. While these systems can be built in as little as three days, we have to know exactly what we are dealing with before we can give them an accurate estimate.

Luckily, we have partnered with an easily deployed cloud-based system called Meraki. Unlike most interfaces that require a physical piece of hardware in the school controlling the wireless access points, Meraki lets schools use the company’s website to control the access points with only a few clicks of the mouse. It’s easy to install, set-up, and change.

Some people worry about security with a wireless system, but the system can be as open or locked down as the school needs.  A lot of these schools want wireless access for events or other functions so parents and guests can have access to their system. As far as security is concerned, there really are no major issues as long as it’s professionally installed.

Many schools wait until it’s almost too late and end up rushing to get it done. With the mandate still more than a year away, there is still plenty of time for us to review the school’s infrastructure and draft a proposal so that the school can find funding and install the system before the deadline for the mandated testing arrives.