Oct 31 2006

What Schools Must Consider While Building A One-To-One Computing Environment

The Bandwidth Crisis

Think like a current-day fifth-grader for a moment. Would you rather crack open a textbook and read about hurricanes or log onto the Web and track a storm in progress?

Most fifth-graders would probably opt for the latter. But if the class gets stuck watching an hourglass tick away as a Web page slowly loads, the excitement will quickly fade — along with precious classroom time.

Too often, the old cliché about too much of a good thing rings true when it comes to technology in schools. As more districts move toward one-to-one computing environments, they’re learning that buying the machines is just step one in a complex process. As Wylie Wong reports on Page 28, without a robust wireless infrastructure, online response times lag, classes slow down and technology gets a bad name.

Before implementing a one-to-one computing environment, schools need to think about professional development, bandwidth, standards and a host of related issues, says Tom Greaves, chairman of The Greaves Group, which, along with The Hayes Connection, recently released “America’s Digital Schools 2006,” a survey forecasting the future of digital schools. “There’s literally a thousand issues, and any one of them can kill you,” he warns.

But, he adds, there are four key steps that districts can take to increase their chances for success:

First, determine your district’s current and future bandwidth needs. Jeanne Hayes, president of The Hayes Group, suggests creating a checklist illustrating where the district expects to be in three years and in five years. How many students? How many computers? What types of technology activities will be incorporated into the curricula?

Once districts get a handle on their bandwidth needs, they can move to step two: designing their wireless networks. A classroom that regularly downloads streaming video probably should have a dedicated access point, whereas neighboring classrooms that use low-bandwidth applications can probably share an access point.

Step three is choosing the right technology. For instance, should your district install 802.11g equipment knowing that the standard is moving toward obsolescence or should it opt for the emerging 802.11n standard, which hasn’t yet been approved? One solution, suggests Greaves, is to buy 802.11g equipment from a vendor that offers automatic upgrades.

The final step is to install a layer of software so that administrators can reset networks, update security and manage Web traffic from a single location rather than going out to 100 access points.

Of course, even the best-laid plans go awry. Once your district has walked through the four steps, you need to test your networks to ensure everything is operational. And since technology is a constant work-in-progress, the information technology department must solicit ongoing advice from teachers on how to improve the infrastructure.

There’s no doubt that building a one-to-one computing environment is hard work. But when students are tracking live hurricanes instead of watching hourglasses, the payoff will be clear.

Chris Rother is group vice president for CDW Government, a leading technology provider to government and education. She is a passionate advocate for enhancing the educational experience with technology.

The Intergalactic Network

Although Al Gore claimed the Internet as his invention, the real credit goes to the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, created by the Defense Department after the Soviet Union successfully launched Sputnik in 1957.

Numerous brilliant scientists and researchers participated in this think tank directly or as defense contractors. Most attribute the naming of the Internet to Dr. J.C. Licklider. Licklider called the concept of computer-to-computer communications an “intergalactic network.”

A team of computer scientists toiled for years, and eventually on Oct. 29 at 10:30 pm in 1969, the first electronic data packets were transferred over a 50-kilobit-per-second line on a computer at Stanford in Palo Alto, Calif., to the University of California at Los Angeles.

The Bandwidth Challenge

The nationwide student-to-computer ratio will drop from four-to-one to one-to-one in five years.

In five years, every student will need bandwidth of 40 kilobits per second on average, 13 times today’s requirement.

School districts’ use of digital curriculum materials won’t occur significantly until system access is available 99 percent
of the time. Currently, a large number of districts are “not even close.”