By Lyle Roberts, Director of Learning Technologies, Foothills School Division
With the new school year in full swing, students and teachers are settling into their daily routines. Some of these routines revolve around technology and what can be brought to school to be used on a regular basis. Currently, we have almost as many personal devices as there are students showing up on the wireless networks throughout the jurisdiction. These devices include smartphones, laptops, tablets, and wearable technologies that require internet access to function properly.
With so many devices, the Learning Technologies department is re-evaluating wireless access and coverage areas throughout the jurisdiction. We know that with the proliferation of wireless devices, the need for a solid network infrastructure, particularly wireless, is important to having mobile connectivity. Ten years ago there were very few devices that could access a wireless network. When we fast forward to today, the type and number of devices has grown exponentially and will continue to do so.
There have been many pilot projects throughout the province that have investigated the concept of BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) and one to one computing. These research projects have informed the education sector in the province around what kind of access is required for the 21st century learner. Wireless is a big part of one to one computing and BYOD due to the requirement for anytime, anywhere learning.
Initially most of the pilot projects involved laptops because that was the technology available at the time. Since then, many other types of devices have come onto the market that have proven to be less expensive, more durable, and have a longer battery life.
One wireless device that is seen to have a lot of potential is a Chromebook. Chromebooks are inexpensive laptops that work using the Chromium operating system. They integrate with Google through the Chrome browser. Many apps and extensions have been developed for Chrome to provide all sorts of functionality and extend their use. When an organization adopts the use of Chromebooks and the Chrome browser as part of the enterprise, the management of the devices can be streamlined so they appear as network devices with extended functionality. The users are able to login to their Chromebooks to have access to a number of network resources as well as resources on Google. The resource sharing capabilities of Google for teachers and students opens up collaboration for a variety of projects that were very difficult to accomplish previously. A huge benefit of using Google is the access to one’s own data whenever there is a Chromebook and an internet connection available.
As many schools in the jurisdiction are adopting Chromebooks as a low cost device for education they are exploring the many ways that they can be used to enhance classroom instruction. The ultimate goal would be to have one device per user or what is commonly referred to as one to one computing, however, we’re not there yet. Eventually this may be a reality.
Chromebooks are not the only wireless device available. Tablets, laptops, and iPads have also proven to be viable in education and are being used in Foothills School Division to some extent. The common thread with all of these devices is they all need wireless connectivity. Without a solid wireless network infrastructure all of these devices become ineffective.
One question that should be asked is, “How can we support the education of students so that teachers and students have the technological tools available when they need them?” It all boils down to effective planning for the future and having the necessary resources and devices available to provide a basis for anytime, anywhere learning. We know that wireless is here to stay long term so having a robust wireless network that has the future capacity for growth is extremely important.