School WiFi networks must be Like Macca’s (StarBucks) or I’m not using it… (student perspective)

The title of this post comes from a discussion with the ICT Manager at my current school when he talks about the philosophy behind the way he wants students to access the college wireless networks and the experience they have.

I am fortunate to have an ICT Manager, Andrew Cox, that supports a lot of my views when it comes to how the infrastructure compliments the Curriculum. Without this support a lot of the Curriculum initiatives that I drive would not be possible.

So… swinging back to the title…

With the integration of smart phones into our schools for either educational or personal use teachers must acknowledge the fact that each of these devices can act as a portable connection to the Internet, completely circumventing the college WiFi systems. While many might say that these devices are banded at their schools the reality is that they walk around with them in their pockets anyway, or the more advanced ones have worked out how they can create their own networks that broadcast 100meters anyway.

This was especially telling recently when all the West Australian Department of Education year 9 students were given apple macbook laptops and students couldn’t use the internet at the schools. The first thing they did was use their phones and MyFi devices to access the internet.

The second reason why many students prefer not to use the college WiFi systems relates to the slow speeds, reliability and have data limits which when exceeded are required to pay for. What many ICT departments fail to realise is that teachers are often the ones cause students to use more data than they should be by not providing directed research or allowing them to listen to music from youtube. Often more education of teachers needs to happen rather than looking at the students for misuse.

So what to do?

The way to combat this relates directly to the way colleges provide their Internet access to students.  Open captive portal networks provide the first line of this strategy with an open WiFi connection only allowing access to those that are authenticated against an Active Director list. This means that no setup time is required for each device and devices accessing the network can be directed automatically via the Active Directory group they are in.

Extending this easy of use of this network needs to be what it filters. Over 95% of students genuinely use the Internet at schools for educational purposes. With this number in mind the filtering system need to only filter the mandated list as prescribed by our mandatory bodies. From this schools can add sites to the block list as they are found. While this proves to be risky to some schools it is high gains for ensuring that Information Technology does not limit the curriculum.

This topic then extends into a how school infrastructures need to be setup in general to allow the curriculum the freedom it needs.

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