What follows below is a draft of an open letter to administration and IT on the need for the Norwich Free Academy to make establishing a wireless network a top priority as a sort of table setter for all initiatives to follow. Your thoughts and ideas are welcome, I'll willfully admit point #3 is the weakest of the batch, but also part of the reasoning.
An open letter on the need for a campus-wide wireless network.
As we move into the second decade of the 21st Century, the necessity to establish a campus-wide wireless network is now greater than ever. The longer that we refrain from taking the steps required to advance the data infrastructure at this institution, the harder it will be to play catch up with the rest of the state, the rest of the country and the rest of the world.
What follows below is an outline of five key benefits of establishing a wireless infrastructure here at the Norwich Free Academy. I believe that these benefits, long term, will far outpace the initial cost and growing pains that accompany the transition from a tethered environment to a fully wireless experience.
1) Space, facilities, access. As classroom space continues to tighten, more and more faculty members are forced to vacate their rooms during their prep and study hall duties. With an extremely limited number of desktops available which are not placed inside of a classroom, it is often very difficult for faculty to share resources. Take, for example, the faculty lounge in Tirrell. There is only a single desktop available for use that room and when multiple people share a common prep period, it becomes a race for the chair. That is not conducive to a productive work environment. By having an established wireless network in place, any number of faculty members could be engaged in productive work in the same room on their own laptops or other internet enabled devices. Per the wiki, I understand that there is a proposal on the table for a faculty computer lab. With all due respect, another physical space with a finite quantity of devices is not the solution that will serve the needs of a faculty base that increasingly will become more adept in Web 2.0 services.
2) Shifting the equipment burden to the faculty. By allowing open access and use of personal devices on the wireless network, the task of maintaining the numerous campus desktop machines would continue to trend downward. Given the option of working with your own machine, your own files, and your own programs, I believe that each year more and more faculty would move away from relying on the monolithic desktops in the corner of the room. With the sheer number and quality of open source software solutions, the task of equipping Individual devices with the necessary tools and programs to integrate into existing systems would be minimal. All of our existing needs are accessible in web based format as well as the traditional desktop application.
By encouraging the use of faculty owned devices, the institution could instead focus on purchasing equipment that would allow greater access for students, rather than supporting and maintaining the current line of faculty computers.
3) Reduction of downtime from class to class. This is especially true for the growing number of faculty members who teach in multiple classrooms. By allowing for a plug-and-play approach to data projection (VGA ports open and accessible, rather then be tied to a permanent desktop) and wireless access for Edline, web and other services, classroom teachers could be up and running in a fraction of the time that it currently takes to log in and set up for the rest of the period. The benefit of having individual devices again shines in this argument because the end user knows that without a doubt, the presentation, video, or any other type of file will work on the device because it was created and maintained on that device. No guesswork of saving down to the correct version, no wondering if the computer will read the flash drive. In the last decade, I have yet to encounter a data projector that would not display or interface with any of the numerous devices that I have owned with standard video connections. As the analogue VGA standard is phased out and replaced by the newer DisplayPort standard, this will continue to become an easier task over the next few years. There should be no reason why any teacher should not be able to walk into a classroom, attach the video cable, and be ready to go without a lengthy log in process. One cable for video and instant network access equals more time spent on instruction.
4) Encouraging collaboration and experimentation. With the inevitable shift to cloud computing and Web 2.0 services, the need for a stable and consistent connection grows by the day. We will be the last generation, without doubt, that makes the distinction between off and on-line. Having access to these services, anywhere on campus, at any time will more easily facilitate the collaboration of faculty in planning and experimenting via wikis, Google Docs, discussion boards, blogs and cutting edge things like Google Wave. As it stands now, it is virtually impossible to do any kind of face to face collaboration that is combined with digital collaboration anywhere on campus. The juxtaposition of the two is where the world continues to trend towards and we are doing a great disservice to our students by not modeling the very 21st Century skills that we expect them to master. We want our students to take risks in the classroom with their education yet we aren't willing to take risks in our teaching with new and innovated ideas and technology integration.
5) Growth for the future. Assuming that the initial network would be for faculty use only, it wouldn't take any leap of the imagination to envision a time when all students would have equal access on campus with either their own devices or school issued ones. Make no mistake, this is the direction that the world is not just moving towards, but already in. There are plenty of examples throughout the country of schools that are 100% wireless, 1:1 laptop to student, and working knee deep in Web 2.0 services. Foreign language students are collaborating on translations and compositions in Google Wave, history students are creating their own wikis and materials for us in aiding their learning, science students are compiling class data sets in real time via Google docs and other cloud services. We need to be the leaders in southeastern Connecticut and provide this level of access and this level of experience for our student body, especially for those whose access at home is not as reliable.