Adam LeFaive, Vice President of Information Systems for Ember Education, helped San Joaquin Valley College overhaul its Wi-Fi capabilities to support in-person classes.

Sep 27 2021

Colleges Augment 1:1 Programs With Additional Network Support

Hotspots and expanded Wi-Fi augment one-to-one device programs to give students the access and connectivity they need.

An EDUCAUSE survey found that although most students had access to some type of digital device for learning during the pandemic, many still encountered challenges, such as devices that were outdated or unable to support necessary software and applications. For some students, the need to share devices with other household members also posed a hurdle. 

Roy Mathew, a principal at Deloitte Consulting who leads the higher education consulting practice, saw these issues unfold across the country.

“The pandemic exposed a number of inequities,” says Mathew. As schools closed their campuses, “students who were using computer labs no longer had access.”

Recognizing that many of their students lacked consistent access to reliable devices, several institutions quickly procured laptops and tablets and distributed them to students through one-to-one device programs. 

“There were a lot of creative solutions,” says Mathew. “Some colleges called on alumni to donate funds for student laptops. Others tapped into resources from local resellers or national manufacturers.” 

Devices alone can’t solve the issue of digital disparities, however. Laptops and iPad devices depend on accessible, reliable Wi-Fi.

Rapid Network Installation and Configurations Enable Connectivity

San Joaquin Valley College is a private career college with 17 campuses throughout Southern California. Originally, SJVC had planned a one-to-one e-book and iPad device program on a small scale, but COVID-19 changed that.

“The original plan was for a single location and a single project to move some students to e-books,” says Adam LeFaive, vice president of information systems for Ember Education, which provides administrative and technology support for SJVC and other colleges in the SJVC network. “With the pandemic, we immediately pivoted to take the project global.” 

That meant buying about 3,000 iPad devices for new and continuing students. While the campuses were closed, students were able to connect to their courses remotely. However, administrators quickly recognized that when students came back for in-person learning, the demand on the aged wireless network would require a complete overhaul.  

To add another degree of difficulty to the challenge, the college had to complete the upgrade within a compressed timeline — five months, to be exact — to finish the work before students returned to campus. Working with CDW partners, the team got to work.

RELATED: Kent State University on building a network that is ready for anything.

First, they decided to standardize on Meraki components, which were already in use at several campuses. Next, teams of CDW engineers visited each location to conduct site surveys and determine how much equipment the college would need and where it would be installed. Then came the implementation phase. 

“We had three or four months to rip out all the old equipment and install the new equipment,” LeFaive says. “The CDW engineers handled the physical configurations. They would be at one location one day and another the next. Once they finished the first configuration, my team configured the Meraki dashboards.”

Intensive teamwork made the installation a success. Students are still using the iPad devices, and the improved Wi-Fi on campus now gives them access to even more features. 

That improvement, particularly the speed at which it took place, is what stands out to LeFaive.

“Normally, if you were to ask me about how long this would take for SJVC, I’d say it would be a one-year project,” he says. “We took a 12-month project and pushed it into five months.”

Optimizing 1:1 Programs to Engage Students    

Midland University, an online and in-person institution based in Fremont, Neb., began formulating its one-to-one device initiative in 2018. The university hired James Miller as its director of innovative teaching to spearhead the project.

“Midland’s vision is to provide relevant, innovative and dynamic learning experiences,” says Miller. “The prospect of providing each student with a device would help even the playing field for students.”

Like SJVC, Midland had to overhaul its Wi-Fi capabilities to fully optimize the one-to-one program. Engineers retrofitted classroom and residential buildings with updated equipment to provide full Wi-Fi coverage throughout the campus. The university also purchased Jamf, an enterprise management solution for Apple users, devices and services.

“The IT department is able to use Jamf to manage all of the iPads,” Miller says. “We can push out relevant apps and updates and track devices if they get lost.” 

Roy Mathew
The pandemic exposed a number of inequities, students who were using computer labs no longer had access.”

Roy Mathew Principal - Higher Education, Deloitte Consulting

Because the university rolled out its one-to-one program before the pandemic began, the infrastructure was already in place to quickly move to remote learning. Now that in-person learning has resumed, administrators want to expand the role of the iPad devices — for example, using a mobile app to manage student services and providing students with options for digital textbooks.

Today, more than 85 percent of the university’s full-time faculty members have become certified through the Apple Teacher program, and student engagement and learning outcomes are measurably higher.

Miller has enjoyed seeing the increase in engagement and enthusiasm throughout the process.

“I’ve loved seeing people go from naysayers to fully embracing the technology,” he says. “It’s really transformed the way people do things. Instructors are using active learning strategies, and student engagement and grades are improving.”

MORE ON EDTECH: 4 considerations for long-term one-to-one programs.

Getting Every Student Access to the Internet

Everett Community College, just north of Seattle, began its one-to-one program to meet a student need.

For many years, students borrowed laptops from the library for as long as they needed them. When EvCC had to close its campuses in 2020, students quickly checked out all 100 of the devices, with requests for many more.

“We have a student population that may not have access to technology in their homes,” says Tim Rager, the college’s executive director of IT. “And when everyone’s at home, it’s even more of a challenge. They might have to use a cellphone as a hotspot or a shared device to complete schoolwork.”

To support students’ remote learning, EvCC bought 400 Chromebooks, which students checked out from the library as soon as they were available. 

A second purchase of 900 Chromebooks filled the gap for the remaining students. The pace of checkouts, however, was much slower in the second round, so Rager reached out to students to find out why.

“Students said they weren’t checking out the Chromebooks because they didn’t have the internet at home,” he says. “At that point, we partnered with T-Mobile’s EmpowerED program. It’s typically for K–12 schools, but during the pandemic, they extended it to higher education.”

DIVE DEEPER: Bringing connectivity to rural, tribal colleges.

T-Mobile provided EvCC with 350 hotspots, which students immediately checked out from the library. 

“The hotspot program is popular,” Rager says. “I don’t hear students  saying that they don’t have internet access anymore.” 

As time went on, students began to request access to applications that typically weren’t available on Chromebooks, such as Microsoft Word and AutoCAD. Rager solved that dilemma with Amazon Web Services and Amazon AppStream, which virtualize applications. 

“Not only does that make the Chromebooks more versatile, it makes the device type itself irrelevant,” he says. “It didn’t matter if someone was using a PC, a Mac or whatever. It was a huge blessing for us.”

Rager is certain that EvCC’s one-to-one program will continue even when students return to campus. He knows, however, that the college will probably need to upgrade the campus infrastructure and find funding to continue streaming applications and purchasing new devices as needed.

“The upside of all this is that it forced our institution to find ways to be digitally innovative,” says Rager. “We learned a lot about how to lead through change. We’re getting a lot better about discovering and experimenting, all to better serve our community.”

Photography by Matthew Furman