Wireless world

November 2011


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Education Review interviews ANDRE BASEL, IT manager for Rosmini College in Auckland about the school’s experience of installing a wireless network.


What prompted Rosmini College to install a wireless network in the first place?
There were two main motivators. In the short term, staff all had laptops which needed wireless access in order to be truly portable. This justified the immediate need for the wireless network while supporting what we thought was the imminent future of classroom computing – a time when any member of the schooling community would be able to use their own devices on the school network. It was both a practical and strategic decision.


How did you select your chosen network?

A year previously, after experiencing the pain of deploying four cheap stand-alone accessed points in the school, I got quotes on some enterprise solutions. The prices of these meant that there was no way we could consider these solutions, so I shelved the idea. A year later, I received some marketing in the post from Aruba (who I hadn't heard of before) and made an email inquiry about their products. The rest is history. Their senior man came out and saw me and I was totally sold, in terms of quality, price, service and ease-of-use. In a very short time, right there in my office, he set up an enterprise-level wireless network and took me through all its features and advantages.


How was the implementation process? Was it straightforward? Any hiccups?

Implementation was painless. The only external help we had was a few hours support from our IT service provider to configure our certificates, radius server and group policies. They also spent a few more hours with Aruba configuring the wireless controller. Since then we have purchased another control, but this time have done the configuration ourselves. Using Aruba’s 24-hour, free telephone support means that it is really very simple.  


What have been the benefits of the wireless network to students and teachers at Rosmini so far?

Currently the main advantage is for staff who can use their laptops, smart phones and personal tablets from almost anywhere in the school. This allows them to be able to access school and other resources without having to worry about connectivity. Student use of the network is still undergoing testing. So far the results are promising, with students being able to use their own devices (without needing them to be specially configured) to do research, download work and submit resources. Students also benefit from the wireless network when they work on the school’s student laptops. Currently history, science, social studies and geography all use pods of laptops to support students’ education. 


What are the future plans for Rosmini’s wireless technology and what is the time frame for these plans?

We are looking to purchase another control and hopefully 20 more access points. Our goal is to have an AP in every room and meeting area in the next two years.


What advice would you give to other schools considering implementing a wireless network?

An enterprise solution that has centralised management is a must. Do it properly at the beginning. And make sure you have free telephone support managed by engineers who are product experts; I can’t stress enough how important this is, as it has enabled us to maintain and service our own network without having to outsource it to someone else. 


How did you come to be involved in IT?

I graduated from university with a BSc in physics and computer science. After completing a Higher Diploma in Education in 1993 I started teaching mathematics and computer studies while maintaining and building the school’s network. The schools I worked at initially had either no computer network or a small one. In each case I helped to both develop the infrastructure and dramatically increase its use. At different times, I have also been involved in a home computer business and a web-development business.


What do you enjoy about your job and what are the frustrations?

I love working in a school environment, as schools are always looking to push the boundaries with the least amount of money possible. As such, I get to try and develop different technologies and ideas. I enjoy seeing technology used to bring value to the end user, and not just for technology’s sake. With the move toward tablet computing and the battles between Apple, Android and Microsoft, as well as the many other advances in technology, IT management and development is an exciting place to be. My greatest frustration in general is time and budget – there simply is not enough of either. From the point of view of a teaching environment, teachers each have their own programmes they want to use, and IT requirements vary between departments. Maintaining hybrid systems creates extra management overheads, which put added strain on our time. That said, the positives far outweigh the negatives and here at Rosmini we enjoy great support from our board and senior management, as well as staff.