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How To Prepare Your School WiFi For The Digital Classroom

by Jason Blalock on March 15, 2017

digital classroom

What was once a luxury is now a necessity:  The online world and the computing equipment which is needed to access it has become so ubiquitous that it simply has to become part of virtually any classroom experience, regardless of age or subject.  Younger children need to be exposed to online concepts and taught how to be online safely.  Teenagers and adult learners, nearly all of whom will have been online for years, will expect to be able to integrate digital resources into their learning.

Short on Time? Download our Free Guide to BYOD Strategies for School 

The trick is figuring out how to integrate them into a classroom in a way which will enhance the experience, rather than turning into a costly distraction.  There's no single solution here - it will depend on a wide range of factors including your budget, your students, and your educational goals.

However, we can still look at some of the biggest issues and talk about how they may factor into your own plans.

meraki systems manager Key Aspects To Consider When Creating A Digital Classroom

1 - Should the school provide the hardware?

This is one of the hardest of problems, because the basic answer is yes.  From both an educational and security point of view, it's going to be vastly better to supply your own hardware which the school can fully lock down and control.

The obvious issue is money.  Even when some brands are going to significant lengths to make their products more affordable for classrooms, having a laptop or tablet to accompany every seat in every classroom is going to be expensive.  Worse, technology advances so quickly that those machines are likely to be out-of-date within five years at most.

If you're going to rely on students -such as teens or adults- bringing their own smartphones and tablets, you'll have to police them to make sure people aren't simply web-browsing during class.  There will also need to be contingencies for those who can't afford their own equipment.

2 - What hardware to provide?

In terms of educational settings, there are two brands which tend to be mentioned most often:  Apple and Google.  Apple iPads are among the most easy-to-use personal electronic devices around, and are quickly accessible even to those who've never used a computing device.  However, we're back to the price problem - iPads are expensive.

The other popular alternative are Google Chromebooks.  These are perhaps a better fit for a classroom setting, since they're miniature laptops and include full keyboards.  Also, Google is probably the most progressive in terms of making their hardware cheap for schools.  However, the Chrome OS is somewhat more complicated than Apple's iOS.  It's also not one students are likely to use outside the classroom setting, as Chromebooks tend to be 'niche' devices.

In both cases, the machines are relatively easy to "lock down" to prevent students from tampering with them such as installing unauthorized software.
 

3 - Dealing with security and online protections.

The other major issue with digital classrooms is keeping the devices relatively secure against malware, ransomware, viruses and intrusions, as well as ensuring students are only accessing materials which are appropriate for the classroom. Obviously, the students cannot be relied on for this, regardless of age.  It has to be a top-down solution.

If the school owns its own hardware, this can generally be implemented at the server and on individual devices.  Anti-virus software and URL filters can be forced onto every device, without the students having a way to disable them.

If it will be a bring-your-own-device situation, things get trickier.  The best approach would likely be to pick the right WiFi hardware which allows you to control access.  Brands such as Meraki allow considerable control over what connecting devices are allowed to do or access.  They can implement URL blocks at the level of the access point.  Additionally, Meraki in particular can also include robust security and virus-blocking within access points themselves, which would greatly reduce the chances of malicious software making it onto school devices.

The Key To Digital Deployment In Schools Is Planning

There is no such thing as an easy rollout of technology into classrooms, regardless of brands or scale.  It's only going to be effective if a lot of time and effort are put in ahead of time to plan how the technology is going to be used, and how to keep it safe.  As such, we can really only touch on a few issues in a single article.

If your school is considering a migration to digital classrooms, we are here to help!  Hummingbird Networks has worked with many schools and universities over the years, custom-crafting solutions based on their particular needs and long-term goals.

To get started moving your classroom into the digital age, just contact Hummingbird Networks for a free consultation.

Topics: Network Security