Accelerated learning

Aruba Networks’ secure wireless network is facilitating an e-learning and BYOD strategy at Kings of Wessex Academy in the UK. Kate O’Flaherty reports

Accelerated learning

Kings of Wessex Academy, a leading senior school in Somerset, UK, is enhancing e-learning and a ‘bring your own device’ (BYOD) strategy for staff and students with a wireless installation by Aruba Networks. 

Aruba Networks has deployed a secure wireless network across the school campus for both teaching and student bodies. The implementation included deployment of Aruba’s AP125 dual band access points (APs) and its ClearPass access management solution, which allows the customer to manage network policies, enable access and management of devices, admit guest users and securely distribute apps. There are now 45 Aruba APs spread across eight buildings on the campus.

The Academy specialises in technology with a focus on science, mathematics and design technology. By using Aruba’s MOVE (Mobile Virtual Enterprise) architecture, Kings of Wessex has been able to accelerate its plans for e-learning and bringing students and teachers’ mobile devices online.

‘They are quite typical of an education institution,’ says Chris Kozup, senior director at Aruba Networks. ‘We see a lot who have a very bare wireless infrastructure in place. Over time we are seeing more and more students demanding wireless connectivity. It becomes a differentiator for the university; they have a good connectivity experience across campus to attract students.’

The number of student-owned smartphones, tablets and laptops was surging. At the same time, the school’s ‘virtual learning environment’ – which gives students access to educational resources at home and in school – led it to equip each student with a netbook, introducing an extra 300 devices onto the network every year.

802.11n upgrade

The new solution was an upgrade from a single-band Aruba network (802.11b/g at 2.4GHz) to dual-band equivalents (802.11n) able to support 802.11ac at 5GHz as well, due to the increasing number of devices. Before that, the school had a Cisco network in place. ‘It started nearly 10 years ago,’ says Chris Oakley, network manager at the school. The school had previously looked at a wireless network for the teachers.

‘We had a Cisco network, but then we started looking at laptops for the students,’ Oakley says. ‘We had problems with encryption so we looked at the Aruba Managed Wireless network two years ago and it grew from there.’

It took just one day to swap the school’s existing population of single-band Access Points for dual-band equivalents. No changes were needed to the wired backbone, and the new Aruba AP-125 dual-band APs worked with Kings’ existing Aruba mobility controller. 

‘They had an unmanaged network and needed to move towards a more controller based network,’ says Kozup. ‘Aruba’s architecture is designed for centralised management capabilities – if they want to change something they can. It allows them to scale the access points.’

Scaling up

The school now has 350 to 400 devices on the network at any given time. ‘When we first started it was about 200, so it’s doubled,’ Oakley says.

And the expanded Aruba Wi-Fi network has already helped with a number of e-learning projects. The mathematics department uses QR codes to link students to online video clips to help with problem-solving and mathematical techniques. 

‘Students print out QR codes and scan them, then go to a web link with tutorials to watch on their iPad while the teachers deal with others who need help,’ says Oakley, adding: ‘Teachers use a camera to record what they are doing and people load it onto YouTube. The kids can also use these at home.’

It all starts with access points – the mouth and ears – which transmit the wireless signal covering 150 square metres, says Kozup. He adds: ‘All access points connect into a controller – that’s the brains, and the customer can make changes using this.’

‘As more devices come on, we will have to put extra APs in for each of the extra 300 netbooks,’ says Oakley. ‘Fortunately, when the backbone was installed, every AP site was allocated two powered Ethernet ports, so adding more APs is pretty simple.’

‘The Aruba network handles bandwidth much better than our previous network,’ Oakley adds. ‘The managed set up looks at access points and spreads the workload out so it runs more efficiently.’

Remote sites

Long term, Kings of Wessex will add more access points as more devices come on board, Oakley says. ‘Our school is quite spread out – there are lots of remote sites and six buildings. Although we have connection throughout, we might want to add more access points.’

Aruba will soon be introducing new types of access points – the AP220 using the 802.11ac – the latest standard in the market. ‘The difference is the speed,’ says Kozup. ‘The old ones can carry up to 300MB of data and the new ones up to 1.3GB data.’

Higher education institutions are often early adopters of new technology such as 802.11ac, Kozup says. ‘With BYOD it’s students who are pushing the envelope,’ he says. ‘As a result, higher education is being asked to respond more.’

Written by Wireless magazine
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