Next-gen digital learning environments depend on better Wi-Fi

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After being available for nearly 20 years, Wi-Fi isn’t really considered “privileged” technology at this point — it’s table stakes. If someone were to ask a group of educators if Wi-Fi is a requirement in schools, you could reasonably expect all to answer affirmatively.

But even so, the majority of school campuses still have slow, unreliable Wi-Fi. In this day and age, why should K-12 network administrators have to sweat over state-mandated online testing days, fearful of an outage?

Though a modest-sized Ohio town may not be the most obvious place to find a school district on the cutting edge of digital learning initiatives, Marysville Exempted Village School District is ahead of the curve, having just recently upgraded its wireless network for its population of 6,000 students and school staff.

An early adopter of K-12 technologies, schools in the district supply one-to-one Chromebooks for grades 5-12, computer labs that support advanced engineering and IT programs, and practice the incorporation of a learning management system (LMS) into daily routines. The district’s LMS and student information system (SIS) tools enable teaching staff to easily customize personal programs for each child based on their learning profile.

In addition, Marysville has rolled out learning improvement tools that pull student analytics from multiple resources, including classroom and state testing. These large pools of data and sophisticated algorithms offer school staff the visibility needed to see how individual children or grade levels are performing, so that inefficiencies and areas for improvement can be quickly identified and necessary resources allocated.

In a school district with a strong record of academic achievement and a reputation for being a trailblazer in 21st-century learning initiatives, Marysville IT leaders knew a robust Wi-Fi infrastructure was needed to support such digital learning environments. Yet, Marysville’s Wi-Fi was failing, due to access points (APs) suffering from interference and routine outages, particularly during high-usage periods such as state-mandated testing — arguably one of the most critical times for school Wi-Fi not to fail.

With more than 6,000 devices connected to the network each day, the APs simply couldn’t keep up with the number of connected devices and resulting traffic demands. Wi-Fi complaints from students and faculty were predictable and relentless, causing the lean Marysville IT staff to constantly travel to their schools for onsite troubleshooting, Standardized testing periods were anxiety-ridden, not just for already apprehensive students, but for the IT department that recognized the fragility of the network.

APs routinely crashed during crucial testing periods and the remaining functioning APs were forced to deal with a sudden onslaught of new devices, bringing throughput to a crawl. In order to maintain their commitment to forward-thinking educational excellence and support of the one-to-one learning initiative, Marysville leaders recognized they needed to upgrade the district’s Wireless Local Area Network (WLAN).

In order to up-level their WLAN to provide better Wi-Fi for students, the Marysville IT team was looking for:

  • Cloud-managed architecture
  • Simplified, cost-effective pricing
  • Impenetrable security
  • Automated network troubleshooting
  • Simple device authentication and guest management features

Since cloud-managed Wi-Fi was implemented at Marysville, it has become the backbone on which all of their digital learning tools and applications now function.

Marysville also now utilizes open APIs, allowing for Layer 7 implementation, which enables the IT department to block social media apps in the learning areas of schools’ red zones (classrooms, auditoriums, labs, etc.), while enabling social media access in green zones (less academic areas, such as cafeterias). This creates more focused classrooms, while preserving necessary bandwidth for where it is needed most.

The school district no longer wastes time, money or resources troubleshooting its network over and over, identifying the same recurring problems. In their first four weeks after installation, the IT staff reported they hadn’t received a single support ticket request for Wi-Fi issues.

“It was so awesome to sit back and have a Wi-Fi network that required little to no oversight,” said Tom Powers, the IT director for Marysville Schools. “The Wi-Fi just works. This allowed us to focus on other initiatives rather than constantly dealing with support tickets.”

Lisa Garvey is the vice president of marketing for Mojo Networks, a provider of cloud-managed Wi-Fi services for K-12 and higher education.

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