Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Tips to Improve Wireless in Your Classroom

In the past few years the wireless network across the School District of Waukesha has become one of the most robust, fastest, and most reliable networks of any school in the state.

You may not know his name. You may not have met him yet. However, there is one person who has been particularly important to planning, building and managing the wireless infrastructure across our district.

His name is Mike Garb and if you have questions about wireless, he's the go-to-guy in Waukesha.

Not only does Mike understand the intricacies of the wireless network, but he also understands how we, as teachers and students, are using the wireless network to support teaching and learning in our system.

Understanding Wireless Traffic

Most of us take little interest in how the movies, songs, and data that we want to see on our devices arrives there until we struggle to get the data on our device, or our lesson is disrupted because students can't get the data on their devices. Then we wonder, "Why can't somebody make our Internet more reliable here?"

Mike's been on it. However, given his best efforts, there are limits to what the wireless technology can actually do (even the most expensive equipment faces these limits). And that's where we come in. With some slight shifts in the way we interact with wireless, we can have the preferred outcome of a consistently reliable Internet connection in our classroom.

You don't need Mike's level of expertise to understand wireless.  Maybe you have seen this commercial. As you watch it, think about what happens in your classroom when you say, "Okay, I want everybody to click on the YouTube video and watch it." This will give you some perspective of what the student devices are doing via the wireless network.


Here is the important part to understand.  

With the work that has been done to district wireless in the past few years, our district is already offering the bigger door (seen later in the video). Yet we are still having some "piling up" of traffic on the network from time to time. This is similar to trying to get cell service at a crowded event, such as a festival or fair, where larger data networks ("doors") are available, yet so many people are attempting to use the service at the same time.

The difference in our system, though, is that we can create conditions for greater wireless success based on how we instruct and direct students.  Here are a few tips.

Tips for Improving Wireless Connections in Classrooms

1. Vary times at which you direct specific groups of students to explore online resources
  • "Ready, set, search" instruction is going to lead to wireless traffic pile-ups (similar to what happens in the video above). Instead of unleashing all of your students at once, split them into instructional groups. A face-to-face mini-lesson with one group that doesn't require the Internet with one group, while another group is working on a task or collaborating with peers, allows for another group to explore self-paced resources online.

    This is an instructionally appropriate way to personalize instruction and will lead to fewer "pile-ups" as students are using the network for instructional purposes. You have effectively cut your wireless traffic by half while employing an instructional best practice. That's a win-win in our book!

2. Downgrade the viewing quality of streaming videos (YouTube videos and other services)
    Using the YouTube app on the iPad, click on the three vertical dots button,
    click on the gear "Quality" icon, and select the lowest available number to
    reduce the quality of streaming videos in YouTube.
  • If only so much data can fit through the "door" of a wireless connection, then another way to allow more to fit is to "slim down" the size of the data.  Video requires a lot of data; high quality HD video requires a lot more data. Simply reducing the viewing quality of videos can cut the size of the videos down and make more room for other students to access their online resources.

    Instructing your students to view their streaming videos at a lower viewing quality is one way to improve the wireless access in your classroom. Encourage students to use this digital courtesy whenever they are on a public wireless network.
3. Disconnect and re-connect from the wireless network
Tap the wireless icon once to turn off the connection, then once more
to turn the wireless connection back on. Your connection is now reset.
  • iPads are REALLY good at holding onto their wireless connections. In fact, as you move from one room to another adjacent room, there is a chance that your iPad is still talking to the wireless access point (those white boxes on the ceiling with blue and green lights) a room or two over. The trouble is the iPad is holding on to a weaker wireless signal when they could get a stronger wireless signal. To "trick" your iPad into grabbing the new, stronger wireless signal, instruct students to turn off and then turn back on their iPad wireless connection.

    This can be achieved very easily simply by sliding up on the bottom of the iPad (the same slide up gesture used for AirPlay or AirDrop), tapping the wireless icon to turn off wireless, and then tapping the wireless icon again to turn it back on. No need to wait more than a few seconds before turning wireless back on. This simple step will reset your wireless connection.
4. No cell phones, please!
  • They may be out of sight, but they are not necessarily offline. Other devices in the room, such as student or staff cell phones, may be connecting to the wireless network through the same access point used by all other devices in the room if they are connected to the SDW_Guest network. Ask students to turn off the wireless connection on their personal devices as well as a courtesy to others.
5. Report details when wireless problems arise

  • Despite our best efforts, wireless issues will arise. However, support staff in the SDW Technology Department want to know so they can resolve these issues. You can aid them in this (and often speed up the resolution time) by collecting and reporting some key information:
    • The exact time (a window of 20 to 30 minutes or less) the issue was experienced
    • The exact location (what building and room were you in when this happened)
    • The exact device(s) that experienced this issue (if many, then collect just a few) -- collect identifying information, such as the asset tag (sticker on the device), the name of the device (found in Settings --> General --> About), or the serial number of the device
    • General ida of what others in the room were doing at the same time