Jan 09 2013

New Frontiers in Learner Engagement

How an Alaska school district's infrastructure upgrades are transforming the classroom experience.

A mission to engage students in exciting new ways drove the Matanuska–Susitna Borough School District in Palmer, Alaska, to upgrade its infrastructure.

"It's all about interacting with the students and pulling in the learner," says CIO Justin Michaud.

According to Michaud, the 45-school district aims to use technology with both its K–12 and pre-K students to further its STEM program options and to engage students with special needs. "We want to use technology to help educate students in multiple ways," he explains.

To facilitate that, MSBSD deployed more than 400 Enterasys switches in various models and 530 Enterasys HiPath AP3610 access points, along with three virtual network access controllers and four wireless controllers. All the switches have Gigabit Ethernet capacity, up from the old 100-megabits-per-second Fast Ethernet standard. In addition, fiber connections are being installed in schools and will eventually be able to deliver up to 1-gigabit-per-second bandwidth. (The current range is 40Mbps to 160Mbps, Michaud says.)

"With the infrastructure in place, as usage increases, we can increase connectivity over the wide area network," he explains. "We also can offer those who bring their own devices guest access to the network. For those who authenticate — teachers, staff and students — we can offer faster speeds and have the ability to offer more access to the network, where needed."

The district also rolled out 300 tablets at the start of the school year, which allows users to take advantage of the wireless network. Tablets throughout the district are used to supplement instruction in many classrooms and enhance the availability of learning for students through MSBSD's Student Support Services department.

Michaud says these upgrades make for more flexible classrooms, leveraging the wired and wireless network so students can participate in hands-on, experiential learning and active engagement opportunities. For example, one class recently participated in a video conference with Sen. Mark Begich of Alaska, who chatted with them from his office in Washington, D.C.

Diane Collins and Jordan Hollender/Digital Vision/ThinkStockPhotos