IT Science Case Study: Preparing Students for Connected Jobs of the Future

In this eWEEK IT Science real-world case study, a school district adds a reliable internet network that provides online learning programs, supports thousands of mobile devices, 400 IP-security cameras, intercoms that facilitate critical communication within each school, and HVAC control.

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Here is the latest article in an eWEEK feature series called IT Science, in which we look at what actually happens at the intersection of new-gen IT and legacy systems.

Unless it’s brand new and right off various assembly lines, servers, storage and networking inside every IT system can be considered “legacy.” This is because the iteration of both hardware and software products is speeding up all the time. It’s not unusual for an app-maker, for example, to update and/or patch for security purposes an application a few times a month, or even a week. Some apps are updated daily! Hardware moves a little slower, but manufacturing cycles are also speeding up.

These articles describe new-gen industry solutions. The idea is to look at real-world examples of how new-gen IT products and services are making a difference in production each day. Most of them are success stories, but there will also be others about projects that blew up. We’ll have IT integrators, system consultants, analysts and other experts helping us with these as needed.

Today’s Topic: Preparing Students for Connected Jobs of the Future

Classrooms around the world increasingly depend on IT infrastructure; Deloitte reports 80 percent of teachers are using digital education tools at least once a week. Forward-looking districts like McMinn County School System in Tennessee are taking the initiative not only to bring students online, but to immerse them in a digital-first educational experience every day. Leveraging its network as a strategic asset, the district offers everything from student-run newscasts to robotics programs that teach STEM skills in elementary schools, to Wi-Fi-connected greenhouses and barns that help students learn about agriculture in a hands-on, interactive way--all to prepare them for jobs of the future.

McMinn depends on its network, not only for basic connectivity but also to drive business decisions. For example, the district conducted a medical study using IoT devices running on its campus Wi-Fi networks. Survey results indicated a need to implement audio systems and digital touch boards to make learning more accessible to students in the back of the classroom.

Name the problem to be solved: McMinn County School System is a K-12 school district in rural Tennessee with 6,000 students and 450 staff across 13 buildings and nine schools. The network is foundational to daily operations of the school system, supporting administration, as well as BYOD and 1:1 initiatives, digital learning, and student safety. But outdated and disparate infrastructure across buildings, unreliable Wi-Fi service and limited IT staff hindered McMinn's ability to provide a consistent digital experience. Further, it lacked the scale required to accommodate a growing student body or offer new programs.

Describe the strategy that went into finding a solution: Many students in McMinn County don’t have internet access at their homes, so students depend on school to provide that critical network access. Recognizing this important responsibility, McMinn’s mission was to provide seamless connectivity that empowers students to learn and explore in their formative years, while at the same time ensuring student safety. McMinn secured E-rate funding to support a district-wide network upgrade. They had identified numerous bottlenecks and points of failure on its current wireless network, and wanted to solve for those challenges while also laying a future-proof foundation to power new, tech-driven educational initiatives.

After a careful vetting process, they chose Extreme Networks. The goal of McMinn CTO Jill Pierce was to implement a resilient and reliable network to increase student and teacher productivity and minimize network downtime. “We wanted complete resiliency in the network so that if anything had to be replaced or went down, the network could be back up and running in 30 minutes or less,” Pierce said. McMinn initially planned to upgrade only the Wi-Fi access points and older switches on its network, but they ended up replacing the entire network with a total solution from Extreme Networks.

Describe the solution selected: Using Wi-Fi access points, switches, network management, analytics, and automation solutions from Extreme Networks, McMinn County School System now has a total network solution that provides greater resilience and higher uptime. In just one month of installing the total solution, McMinn saw immediate improvement in connections, accessibility, resiliency and reliability, eliminating 97% of its Wi-Fi issues. By revamping its network infrastructure, its IT team can spend less time troubleshooting and more time on higher-level projects, such as cutting-edge education initiatives to help kids succeed in the digital economy.

Results of the Initiative:

  • McMinn now has a scalable network that can power online learning programs, and support thousands of mobile devices, 400 IP-security cameras, intercoms that facilitate critical communication within each school, and HVAC control.
  • The district is making better use of analytics to track application usage, monitor bandwidth, monitor user activity, look for bottlenecks, troubleshoot, and plan for where additional access points will be needed to fill any coverage gaps.
  • With a robust, secure infrastructure, McMinn County Schools have the freedom and ability to build immersive, engaging educational experiences for both its students and staff. Moving forward, they plan to do more with programming, gamification, VR, robotics, outdoor wireless, and 4K video.

Describe ROI: With Extreme Networks, McMinn has experienced:

  • reduced wireless issues by 97% from the previous year
  • saved $15,000-$20,000 in summer labor costs
  • increased throughput and access by 70%
  • minimized network downtime
  • redundancy; if the network goes down it will be back up within 30 minutes; and
  • reduced the total cost of ownership

If you have a suggestion for an eWEEK IT Science article, email cpreimesberger@eweek.com.