When I joined the College of the Mainland as CIO two years ago, one of my first priorities was to create a mobile campus, so students and faculty can take advantage of mobile devices and wireless technology inside and outside their classrooms.
Upon my arrival, most of the campus technology was either at the end of life, obsolete or just not up to standards. Desktop computers were between eight to 11 years old and extremely slow, taking three to five minutes to boot. The aging network infrastructure was also slow and the Wi-Fi coverage was spotty. We were the technological equivalent of being in the Dark Ages.
Thanks to the backing of our president, Dr. Beth Lewis, and the Board of Trustees, my IT team and I quickly launched multiple technology upgrade projects to bring the campus up to speed and provide our faculty, staff and students the state-of-the-art technology they deserve.
"Today’s generation of students love technology. They want to use technology inside the classroom and outside of it"
Now two years later, our campus community has high-speed wireless Internet access throughout every campus building, including the outdoors. Students and faculty can access all the educational applications they need anytime, anywhere and on any device, whether they’re walking across campus with a smartphone or tablet in hand or using a laptop in class from one of our new mobile computing labs.
In this column, I’ll highlight the technologies that we’ve implemented – and still plan to implement – to enable mobile learning on campus. The first step, however, was to build the foundation, and that required us to overhaul the network infrastructure and install a new wireless network.
Building a Blazing Fast Network
The previous network on the main campus would slow to a crawl by mid-morning when the campus filled up with several thousand students, faculty and staff. The network was made up of a patchwork of 3Com, HP and Cisco 100 Mbps switches that were at least a decade old, maybe older. We had Wi-Fi in each building, but it was also old and slow. Making matters worse was that our Internet service provider at the time provided only 50Mbps speeds, which is slower than the connection I have at home.
In late 2014, my IT team and I installed redundant Cisco switches that provided 10Gbps speeds at the core and new Cisco switches providing 1Gbps speeds at the network edge. And in early 2015, we installed 120 high-speed and high-density Cisco Meraki 802.11ac access points to provide full wireless coverage and gigabit wireless speeds in all campus buildings.
We also added access points outdoors, so students could walk from building to building and not lose connection, and so they can congregate with their classmates in our open spaces and study. To top it off, we switched service providers and increased our Internet bandwidth from 50Mbps to 250Mbps, a five-fold increase.
Network bottlenecks are now a thing of the past. The faster, more reliable network, combined with a stronger Wi-Fi network and faster Internet speeds, provides our campus community with plenty of bandwidth to watch iTunes U content, stream video and access educational applications or large files.
New Mobile and Wireless Technologies
With the network and Wi-Fi network upgrades complete, my team and I have invested in new mobile and wireless technologies to support our digital learning efforts and to increase the use of technology in our classrooms. Some highlights, include:
Mobile Laptop and Apple iPad Carts.
We’re investing in mobile computing labs, so faculty can have their students collaborate on projects and do research in class. So far, we’ve purchased six mobile laptop carts, each featuring 30 notebook computers. We’ve also purchased one iPad cart with 30 iPad 2 tablets. And we plan to buy more in the future.
Apple AirPlay. Faculty and students can wirelessly connect their notebook computers, tablets or smartphones to a HDTV or projector in their classroom and project or stream any content, such as presentations, websites or videos. This allows professors and students to freely roam around their classrooms, while controlling every aspect of their presentation. This technology is compatible with MacBooks, Windows 10 devices, Android tablets and phones and Apple iPads and iPhones.
Interactive Media Displays. We’ve purchased several70’’ Sharp Aquos Board interactive display systems for classrooms and staff meeting rooms. Unlike traditional interactive whiteboards, these media displays are high-definition, touchscreen LED screens. Faculty, students and staff can wirelessly connect their mobile devices to the displays to deliver presentations. Users can manipulate content on the screen with their fingers or write on the board using touch pens.
Virtual Desktops. We’ve implemented XenDesktop 7.5 to provide students, teachers and staff access to all the educational and business apps they need on any computer, tablet or smartphone For example, staffers can log in from home to access finance or HR applications.
Mobile App. Students can download a free app on their Android and iPhone phones to check their grades and sign up for classes the next semester. The app features the latest campus news, a calendar of campus events, a campus map, faculty/staff directory as well as access library databases and receive emergency notifications.
Microsoft Office 365. Students, faculty and staff can now access their email, calendars and office productivity software over the cloud.
Unified Communications. To facilitate communications between staff, faculty and students, we’ve deployed Microsoft Lync 2013, a communications tool that allows users to make voice and video calls as well as instant message each other.
Internet Protocol Television (IPTV).Faculty can now stream educational video to any computer or TV connected to the campus network, including televisions in classrooms.
Live Event Video Streaming. We are using Livestream to live-stream special events online, such as graduations, presentations and lectures. Students, parents and alumni can connect via any mobile device, computer or Roku-connected TV to watch the events live. Previous events that were live-streamed include Black History Month guest speakers and employee training.
Return on Investment
We’re not done. In May, we will roll out new notebook computers to all faculty members and provide training to further facilitate the move to mobile and digital learning. They will no longer be anchored by desktop computers in classrooms or in their office.
Overall, the new network infrastructure and Wi-Fi network is not only improving employee productivity, its transforming education on our campus.
Today’s generation of students love technology. They want to use technology inside the classroom and outside of it. They want to access educational content and network resources wherever they are on any device – in class, at the student center, the library or in their homes. In recent years, our faculty members have made great strides in their effort to incorporate more technology into the curriculum. The trend in education is a move toward mobile and digital learning – and the mobile and wireless technologies we’ve deployed the past two years are helping facilitate that.