Canada’s second-largest school board is preparing to roll out local area network products that will bring wireless capabilities to 90,000 students in 221 schools.

The Calgary Board of Education said budgetary restrictions mean

it will take approximately three years to bring the wireless tools to its primary and secondary schools. The schools will be given Avaya Wireless PC Cards to connect PCs or laptops to an 802.11 network running at 11 Mbps.

Mike Bester, the board’s information and communications technology curriculum specialist, said the system already has a sophisticated infrastructure of 20,000 computers, a number of laptops and fibre that runs through most of the schools. Overall, however, he said the schools were not making best use of the technology because of the limitations of a fixed network.

“”We have kids learning in hallways and open spaces,”” he said. “”The whole school to us is a learning environment, not just the classroom.””

Though some of the schools may purchase more laptops as a result, Bester said the Avaya cards would also allow teachers to put PCs on carts rather than taking classes to a computer lab in another part of the school.

Many Canadian colleges, universities and other campus environments have already embraced wireless technology, but bringing it down to the board level will raise the sophistication of tomorrow’s graduates, said John Williams, Avaya Canada’s director of distribution sales. “”There’s a possibility that a student will have gone through 16 years of education and will always have had wireless access to various networks,”” he said.

Bester said the technology also offers teachers greater flexibility in how they interact with their students. Sometimes they want students to be in straight rows, for example, but other times in “”pods”” or in a U-shape formation for a debate. In this case, the wireless cards mean the schools don’t need specialized furniture or have devices attached to a wall. From a professional development standpoint, he adds that both teachers and students have become less timid using notebooks instead of PCs.

“”You can actually see the children’s faces,”” he said. “”The computers are almost as big as the children. This allows us to use desk space better.””

Given some budget cuts within the school system, Bester admitted that conveying these intangible benefits to the superintendent was difficult. Williams said it was no easier from the solution provider’s perspective.

“”The return on investment is certainly more difficult when you’re dealing that number of schools, because the density of users is lower,”” he said. “”Going into a single high school, it’s very easy to actually determine the needs of that school and build an ROI on it, but with multiple schools you can make some assumptions, but the ROI becomes more difficult to pin down.””

The deployment has begun with the Tom Baines School, a junior high school that has been open for eight years. This pilot installation will be followed by a priority list that Bester said will focus on lower and middle-income areas first, as well as older buildings within the board.



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