Bringing Plug and Play Wireless to the Classroom By Richard Raymond, SAU 41 District IT Coordinator

Schools nationwide are increasingly shifting from fixed computer labs to mobile laptop carts, giving students improved access to technology. Deploying laptops into the classroom can be challenging, a fact that our New Hampshire school district, SAU 41, has learned from experience.

Hollis Brookline High School is a silver medal school of 917 students located in the heart of New England’s high-tech industry. Our district wanted the ability to offer these students the use of computers in class. Realizing that it would be impractical to wire 30 connections for every classroom, we decided to deploy wireless technology. Teachers were then able to reserve a block of time which would give their classroom access to one of three carts, each containing 30 laptops. The teacher would need to connect the wireless access point (AP) that traveled with the cart into the computer jack in the classroom, and the students would turn on their computers. Valuable instruction time was lost as teachers had to connect and power up the access point. Often only half the laptops would connect, requiring a tech to be summoned. This delayed the lesson and wasted valuable learning time for students. Needless to say, this caused considerable frustration for staff and students.

We knew wireless was the way to go, but we needed a more reliable wireless solution for our classrooms. We had heard about U4EA’s Fusion 300 Wireless LAN Controller and access points, a system with a reputation for being fast and easy to set up and manage, and decided to give it a try.

We placed U4EA’s Wireless LAN Controller at the high school, and then mounted access points in the hallways throughout the school. Because of the greater range of the new solution, a single AP could cover multiple classrooms with cinderblock walls. That provided us with a significant cost savings.

The U4EA solution was put to the test and proved to be incredibly reliable. Teachers now have the confidence that when the laptop cart is wheeled into the classroom, the students will be able to turn on the computers and connect to the network. It is critical that classroom educators know the technology is reliable, thus enhancing and not distracting from the learning environment. We can’t afford to repeatedly stop classroom work to deal with IT issues.

Managing the Fusion 300’s configuration has resulted in huge time savings for our technical staff. With the old equipment, in order to provide security for laptops on the wireless network, each AP had to be configured separately. With the new solution, all configurations are completed on the controller, resulting in greatly simplified set-up and management.

As a side benefit, our teachers, administrators, and even the consultants that come to our school are enjoying the flexibility that reliable wireless access brings. Staff can now bring in their laptops from home to use in the classroom. Hollis Brookline can also easily grant wireless access to consultants who come to campus to help students with various educational programs, such as the school’s active robotics program.

The Fusion 300 has been so successful, additional access points have been purchased to cover the remainder of the high school. In the future we would like to expand the system to include the Hollis Brookline Middle School. The controller at the high school is able to manage access points at the middle school over our fiber WAN.

To summarize, at SAU41 we have learned the following lessons:
- School systems need “enterprise-class” performance at affordable prices
- The wireless system must be easy to configure with centralized management
- Solid security is a must without the complication of configuring multiple appliances
- The system should have scalability for future expansion

With these guidelines in mind, your district should be on its way to effectively educating the next generation of leaders.