Back in September, I was sitting in a collaborative planning session with my principal and my department chair when an assistant principal stuck her head in the room and asked to speak to me outside. With her stood our technology coordinator. They showed me a piece of paper with the name of a wireless network written on it. The network emanated from my classroom, a stink wave that had left the building without Internet access for the past hour.
I knew that we weren’t supposed to use our own computers and networking equipment on school wires, but I didn’t understand the technical reason why. And I’d just set up a class set of iPads for my students that were going to prove pretty useless if I didn’t have WiFi for them.
Shamed, I hustled upstairs and unhooked the contraband wireless router. Internet access was restored through out the building shortly thereafter.
The next morning rolled around, and I still had 29 iPads what weren’t very useful without WiFi. So I cracked open my school-issued MacBook Pro and flipped on Internet Sharing in System Preferences. The essentially turns your MacBook, plugged into an ethernet port, into a wireless hotspot.
Two hours later, I started noticing that my network connection was sluggish. Then our technology coordinator knocked on my door, displeased. She asked about a wireless network that shared a name with my MacBook. This time I was too embarrassed to completely own up to the crime and quickly shut off the sharing function. But the damage had been done. Internet access was down for the whole school, not 24 hours after the first incident.
But because our middle school shares a building with an elementary school, access to the entire site was down. Apparently, central IT rules stipulate that when the system spots unauthorized networking equipment sharing net access in a school, the connection gets cut to the entire physical location. Which meant that for the second day in a row, I had brought down two school networks at the same time.
The upshot: I got an authorized wireless router later that day.
I also learned a few lessons about how (and how not) to push school tech adoption forward:
Ask about protocol.
Internet access is a shared resource, so if you’re going to use it in ways that are new or unexpected, be diplomatic. I should have asked more questions before I went rogue with my self-styled WiFi setup. It would have prevented a lot of disrupted work and instruction.
Think about bandwidth.
Bandwidth is a measure of how much data you’re pushing through the wires on a given network. All networks have a limit to how much data they can handle—think of it like the amount of water you can squeeze through a pipe of a certain diameter in a given amount of time. Bigger pipes = more data. But even mundane-seeming tasks can gobble up huge amounts of network bandwidth. Stream an entire HD movie into your classroom over Netflix and you’re talking about 3.5 GB of data—basically an entire DVD or half your free Gmail storage. If you’re consistently using a lot of bandwidth for just your classroom, that limits what everyone at your school has to play with.
Reflect: Is what you’re trying to do centered on student learning?
I was excited to get my iPads up and running. But I also had to stop and and ask myself if what I was doing was about helping them learn or just running nifty technology tricks. Ultimately, I’m glad that I pushed the rules because it meant that my students got access to eBooks, a class website, and online assessment materials within the first weeks of the year. However, I risked future support for projects like this by skirting the rules. The trust and support I’d earned from my principals was critical to continuing my experiments.