Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Networking for 1 to 1


With future posts I will look at pedagogy but this post will consider networking and it’s implications. The reason being that often people don’t understand the implications of adding more devices onto their networks, where the bottlenecks are etc. I hope that this post will make some of it easier to understand and help those making decisions for 2010. Otherwise we may hear this type of talk…

“We have got a whole lot of netbooks and all of  sudden the network seems awfully slow.”
”We used to have good internet and now students are waiting a long time for simple things to happen.”

There are large implications to increasing client density on our school networks (these are not just about our internet connection but internal also). 
What do we need to understand, do to create and maintain a network suitable for 1:1 student use?

5 Big ideas

  • The Network is now the most important part of Schools learning technologies infrastructure
  • Network contains 4 main components – Internet connection – Backbone – Network Layering (segmentation) – Wireless Access
  • These components have to match with client (device) density if the users experience is to be a good/successful/meaningful one
  • Wireless access is the only suitable way to deliver ubiquitous/natural learning technologies
  • "the value of a telecommunications network is proportional to the square of the number of connected users of the system" Metcalfe's law ie the more people connected the more learning the more opportunities.

A closer look at these

The Network is the most important part of the Schools learning infrastructure

It used to be that schools spent their money preparing servers to host mail, files and programmes. Now much of this functionality is moving to places outside the school. Schools are pooling forces to consolidate these like Nayland College who share a server with Nelson Girls. Network connectivity is the key to this. For a school to host the increasing number of devices that are being plugged in; or to enjoy wireless networking attention to this is important. In our school over 250 more devices are connected this year than last. Next Year and additional 230 are predicted. It could be  a bit like trying to fit a cities traffic down a normal road if we don’t take a few crucial steps.


The Four Main Components

As shown above High speed internet to maintain service levels if we connect more devices to our network. Jetstream is not able to put information from our schools onto the internet nearly as fast as it can bring it down so when more of us want to use web 2.0 tools we will struggle to do so.

The connections between buildings and switches (think old telephone exchanges) is our backbone. Fibre optic cables and fast switching are needed if we want to avoid bottle necks and teacher frustration.

Network Layering
When a computer or other device on a network wants to talk to another one it can happen in number of ways. In most school networks traditionally the device would ask all of the others if they were the right one ie send its message everywhere in a hit and hope type exercise. This was not such a problem when there were a small number of devices involved but now there are hundreds it can make things noisy and slow. To speed things up we can segment a network (make it layer 3) and send the traffic directly to where it needs to go. The important message here is to use layer three capable switches in our networks.

Wireless Access
The most difficult to get right but the most important in many ways because this is the where connections to the network for 1:1 devices will start. Schools need enterprise level wireless to manage 1 to 1 devices. A good system will be characterised by a central wireless management unit. What this does is ensure that access points are not competing with each other and that clients are handed on seamlessly from one to another.

The match to Client density
More devices = more bandwidth required for the same experience. Work using local software if the network can’t support multiple online users.

The value of 1:1 has come from the value of the network ie the value of connectivity.
We need to get our network environment right for the value of connectivity to show through. My next post will be a reflection on the realities of pedagogical (teacher readiness) for 1:1

For a look at the ideal world of a 1:1 implementation read this on Wesley Fryer’s Blog and then read the comments which allude to a hardware environment being funded but teacher readiness not. To get teachers ready is a more complex process than getting the students and their devices connected. In my mind we jump across and action research our way to individual teaching success. See easy isn’t it?


Justin Davis said...

I like your thoughts. Can you send me a link to your other posts?

Justin Davis
Disclaimer: Author does not represent any legal position of
Lightspeed Systems Inc. and is the author's opinion only, and
Lightspeed only provides an internet filter to K-12 schools and institutions