Vanishing bandwidth

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Superintendent Silva’s decision last spring to provide every Saint Paul Public School student with an iPad in two years has not proven to be a seamless transition for SPPS staff and students. For those students who have received iPads it sometimes takes several minutes for web pages to load on their devices. Quite often the students are unable to download apps due to a dearth of bandwidth available to the devices. The network remains sluggish and iPads often lose their IP Addresses that allow them to access the network and the Internet. This generally means the iPads need to be restarted in hopes that the devices will be able to connect to the district network after they restart.

In almost every classroom where the iPads are being used there are new wireless access points (WAPs) so the network can supposedly accommodate anywhere from 250-350 wireless devices at any one time. So how come many times the devices either can’t or can barely access the network at all where you might have 35 devices trying to connect to the network in a large classroom? It’s because of YouTube!, says the district’s Technology Services department. OK-YouTube as well as other streaming video and audio sites are to blame for the vanishing bandwidth. Technology Services advises to block those sites from wireless devices and Superintendent Silva in her infinite wisdom agrees.

YouTube had been unblocked from all wired and wireless devices in the district for approximately a year and a half. Guess what? Teachers utilized YouTube and incorporated many YouTube clips into their lesson plans. There is a wealth of educational videos available to teachers on YouTube (particularly social studies and science teachers) so the teachers got used to being able to access YouTube. Everything was finally working quite well last spring and after some major network infrastructure upgrades there seemed like there was more than enough bandwidth to go around in almost every classroom. Then came the iPads.

More bandwidth has been ordered. The district currently has a one gigabyte fiber pipeline that connects to the district network via Century Link and plans are in progress to add an additional gigabyte of data. Evidently, the current bandwidth (which itself was added about a year and a half ago) isn’t good enough to support the influx of iPads because the bandwidth was and is still being constantly eaten up during peak times. I guess that means the district blocks YouTube-at least from wireless devices, right? Teachers can still access YouTube through the wired network.

The problem is a lot of teachers CAN’T access YouTube through the wired network since their laptops don’t come equipped with a simple Ethernet port. You know, wired technology is so yesterday and the district wants to be hip, right? So they got some really fancy hip WIRELESS only MacBook Pro Retinas for teachers that needed a computer or a replacement computer. Fantastic!-except now they can’t access YouTube from those high-tech Macintosh laptops and the wonderful content that’s available to educators on YouTube.

You would hope that Superintendent Silva asked Technology Services management and expert level 2 staff if the district’s network could support an additional 50,000 wireless-only devices before she decided to invest taxpayer dollars on purchasing new iPads for students and staff and new wireless-only MacBook Pro Retinas for staff. If the superintendent didn’t think to ask the question if the resource was available you would hope that one of those expert staff members would have warned her about the strain so many new devices would put on the network’s available bandwidth.  You would hope this had happened, anyway. In the meantime, the majority of teachers across the state’s second largest district will continue to complain about not being able to utilize great educational materials in the classroom. After all, if YouTube were unblocked from wireless devices that would just mean more vanishing bandwidth to contend with. It seems that sometimes the SPPS school district’s administration thinks that taming bandwidth is more important than providing a quality education to students. Of course, I guess that’s why they invented homework.

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