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Written by Matthew Liebenberg
There have been significant upgrades to the Chinook School Division’s technology infrastructure in recent years that is benefitting learning outcomes.
Board members received an update on these changes with the presentation of a technology status report at a regular Chinook School Division board meeting, Jan. 11.
A significant upgrade of the technology infrastructure with new servers and networking has been completed by November 2015 at all Chinook facilities with the exception of the bus garages in Maple Creek and Shaunavon.
The Maple Creek bus garage has been connected wirelessly to the division’s network, but the Shaunavon bus garage has not been upgraded. The school division is still looking at cost-effective ways to connect the two garages to the network.
According to Deputy Director of Education Kyle McIntyre, the cost of this technology upgrade over a period of four years was about $2.5 million.
“We really went from a kind of mom-and-pop wireless network to an enterprise network,” he said after the meeting. “We’re seeing more and more students and staff wanting to have the ability to bring their own devices to work, connect anywhere and anytime without being hardwired into our networks. So that was part of the upgrade in all 31 of our public schools.”
There has been a significant increase in wireless access in Chinook facilities during the past 12 months from less than 10 per cent of network connectivity to the current situation where every teacher has a laptop. Some schools, for example Centennial, Irwin and Wymark, use wireless networking for more than 90 per cent of student access.
The wireless network is not only used by Chinook-owned devices for online access. On a daily basis there are around 1,200 devices connected to the division’s Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) network. These devices are owned by staff and students, and the use of the BYOD network is increasing at a rapid pace.
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McIntyre emphasized the school division is not implementing technology for the sake of having technology.
The goal is to use the technology to meet the learning outcomes of the curriculum.
“Back when we were in school we were probably reliant on memorizing information,” he mentioned. “The kids nowadays are 21st century learners. … They might have their own personal device that they bring to school, or they may have a Chinook tablet, they may have a wireless laptop in their classroom. So they’re going to be able to access that information readily and quickly and be right at their fingertips rather than go and search in the library or go into the lab and do a search.”
The Chinook School Division has various firewalls and control procedures in place to ensure that online access is used in a safe and appropriate manner. The school division uses wireless security software for network access control and the network is partitioned into three areas.
“There are Chinook-owned devices and every Chinook employee and student has an active directory account and password,” he explained. “A Chinook student or staff member with a password and a username get priority service in terms of bandwidth. Part of our active directory system is if a student logs in he or she is only going to be able to access certain parts of the internet.”
There is not an unlimited amount of bandwidth available in schools and the system is set up to prioritize bandwidth use for activities such as distance learning classes and video conferencing.
“The high priority areas are going to get the majority of bandwidth and those users are going to have a better experience than someone who is just surfing and especially trying to surf in areas that they’re not supposed to be in,” he said. “They are going to be locked right out with our network. So it is better protection and control. We can adjudicate the bandwidth, but we can make sure that kids and staff are safe and they are only going into the areas that we want them to go to for educational purposes.”
New laptops have been distributed to all non-Hutterian teachers who are working 0.5 full-time equivalent positions or higher and laptops will also be deployed to Hutterian teachers over the next few months.
After the renovations at O.M. Irwin School to become a K-8 school, the computer access is provided through the deployment of 85 student laptops. These laptops have been distributed in groups of five for all K-4 classrooms and through two laptop carts for grades 5-8.
The Chinook School Division’s goal is to replace the current fleet of desktop computers, which are more than eight years old. The industry standard is for hardware replacement to take place during a four to six year cycle because ownership cost is higher after five years and new software needs more powerful computers.
The school division has approximately 2,250 desktop computers, but it will be too expensive to replace all the machines at once. It will be considering various options on the most suitable devices to replace the existing computers
“Probably the most effective pedagogical model is not having a computer lab, but having three or four devices in the classroom where groups of students in pods can use those,” he said.
Another consideration is whether it will be more cost effective to upgrade the existing desktop computers or to purchase portable devices, which has become more affordable in recent years.
“The other one is looking at that whole concept of whether it’s more economical to lease equipment rather than to buy equipment,” he said. “So those are the things that we are looking at but we haven’t made a definitive commitment yet.”
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