Michigan district goes wireless and mobile

It’s no secret that many of Apple’s biggest fans are teachers and students. But given the trend among schools to deploy Wi-Fi networks in order to support the iPad and other mobile learning devices, Apple is clearly gaining favoritism from the high-tech side of academia too.
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It’s no secret that many of Apple’s biggest fans are teachers and students. But given the trend among schools to deploy Wi-Fi networks in order to support the iPad and other mobile learning devices, Apple is clearly gaining favoritism from the high-tech side of academia too.

Holly Area School District in Holly, Michigan is one of the schools leading the Wi-Fi charge. The school district faced several challenges that would be met by deploying a Wi-Fi network:

Cost: Mobile devices were used by administration and staff, and yet cell phone reception was not available inside the buildings. The decision was made to move from Blackberry devices to iPhone 4s, but the cost of enabling 3G was prohibitive. The school district decided that a reliable voice-over-Wi-Fi solution was required to affordably solve its mobile communications problem.

Education: Holly Area School District wanted to achieve its goal of creating a 21st century learning environment for its students. This meant providing students with interactive learning tools and the apps that run on them with a goal of keeping the kids engaged in a way that old-school practices, such as pencils and paper aren't capable of achieving. Mobile devices are at the heart of Holly School’s 21C digital learning environment.

The solution would be a wireless network that could be optimized for voice traffic and seamlessly accommodate a plethora of Apple devices.

“Apple’s heritage is ease of use and exceptional value. Aerohive’s engineering, performance and support dovetail with Apple’s innovative approach,” said Matt Mello, Director of Technology at Holly Area School District.

Solution

A visit to Apple’s Cupertino campus gave Mello the nudge he needed to move forward with MacBooks, iMacs, iPads, iPhones, iPod touch devices and Apple’s 21C digital media tools, thus necessitating the requirement to deploy a Wi-Fi network.

“We knew we needed Wi-Fi but the real benefits didn’t connect for us until we went to visit Apple in Cupertino and we listened to the educational leaders who tied learning to mobility,” says Mello. “This visit really accelerated my decision to go with Apple and to deploy Wi-Fi.”

As for its Wi-Fi network choice, Holly Area School District chose Aerohive for its controller-less architecture and for other capabilities:

? Performance. “This means bandwidth,” says Mello. “Users have to be able to get on the network, without interruption when they are doing something bandwidth-intensive.”
? Easy to manage. “Can it be managed effectively and from a central location?”
? Security. “I have to be able to lock this network down so that not just anybody can get on there.”
? Easy to deploy. “I like how agile Aerohive is. I can provision consistent SSIDs across the district and yet have different, user specific, profiles and security.”
? Cost. “Aerohive ended up saving me over $ 40K compared to a Wi-Fi controller based solution. When coupled with the savings from not needing 3G repeaters, the total cost savings is over $100K for Wi-Fi and iPhone call / message handling.”

Holly Area School District has deployed 175 Access Points (APs) across its seven-campus district, which is comprised of four elementary schools, one middle school, one high school and a multi-program campus.

About 100 iPads have been distributed for the students’ use thus far, and there are about 20 iPhones in use by staff with a total of 30 wireless cell phones that are Wi-Fi-enabled. District-wide there are 1,500 computers.

Results

Mello says Holly Area School District’s Aerohive/Apple deployment is already yielding results ranging from cost-savings to learning.

Now that Aerohive Wi-Fi covers all Holly schools, administrators make and receive phone calls via the Skype iPhone app. When outside the schools they use the normal 3G wireless signal, then when entering the building they toggle on the Call Forwarding to the Skype phone number and turn on the Skype app.

“Having the Skype client on the iPhone is huge,” says Mello. “We make calls all the time via Skype. It works great and the cost is significantly less and provides added features.”

As far as its need for enhanced instruction, communication and productivity, teachers are now bringing in their own smartphones and iPads and requesting to be granted access to the Wi-Fi network. Theyre using their own smartphone and iPad apps for formative assessments, differentiated instruction and remote desktop control for mobile teaching in the classroom.

Having devices on Wi-Fi rather than cabled network eases the support burden on the teachers and maximizes classroom time. When laptop carts are wheeled around between classrooms, they need to be plugged in and booted up. Sometimes cables are put into incorrect sockets. With Wi-Fi, the devices are ready to go as soon as they reach their classroom destination and they are opened up.

“Because of Aerohive we can have consistent user policies applied across multiple sites and provide the same user experience from building to building and campus to campus,” says Mello. “We have a good chunk of staff and teachers that move locations. They may use a MacBook in one building, close the lid, open it up in a new building and they are on the Wi-Fi network right away. Carts are checked out and moved around all the time. We want the devices on those carts to know where they are when they wake up and we want this to happen transparently.”

As for improved education? Mello says the feedback he is getting early on in his Aerohive/Apple Wi-Fi deployment assures him the education experience has been notably improved.

“I get compliments regularly from our teaching staff about how much they love the Wi-Fi with their new MacBooks."

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