County schools to go wireless

Hairston's plan for Internet access is first in region

July 28, 2008|By Gina Davis | Gina Davis,Sun Reporter

When Baltimore County schools reopen their classrooms to students in August, the system is expected to be the only one in the region with wireless high-speed Internet access in each of its buildings.

The development would be the realization of a goal for district-wide connectivity set by Joe A. Hairston when he became county schools superintendent nearly a decade ago.

"This is an important and exciting step in our ongoing commitment to provide schools with access to the type of technology that is available in our businesses and homes," Hairston said in a recent e-mail. "Anytime-, anywhere- access to our Baltimore County Public Schools network and to the Internet gives teachers the capability to better integrate technology directly into classroom instruction. It also provides schools the opportunity to introduce mobile computing, giving teachers and principals greater flexibility in scheduling classes as well as managing classroom space."

The move was prompted by the growing number of laptops in use in the county's 171 schools and centers and the increasing use of digital media-based instructional tools, along with the high costs associated with cabling and installation of wired networks, according to school officials. In addition, schools will be able to make greater use of video learning programs.

Baltimore County appears to be the only school system in the region that anticipates being fully wireless by the coming school year, but others, including Carroll and Howard counties, are looking into it. Baltimore City has a half-dozen schools that are "centrally managed for wireless," and about a fourth of Anne Arundel County's public schools have some form of wireless access, according to spokesmen for those systems.

"It's part of our technology plan," said Patti Caplan, spokeswoman for Howard County public schools. "We're beginning a network redesign next week."

Most area school systems rely on wireless labs or wireless laptop carts that are wheeled from classroom to classroom, such as in Harford County.

"All secondary and many elementary schools have mobile laptop carts with a wireless access point built in," said Don Morrison, spokesman for Harford County public schools. "A teacher can wheel a cart into any classroom, distribute the laptops, plug the access point into a network drop and you have an instant lab all with network access."

No school system in the region, however, expects to have the kind of blanket wireless access that is planned for Baltimore County, which is moving toward having fiber-optic connections to all schools.

Nationally, more schools are moving toward wireless access. In 2005, 45 percent of public schools with Internet access used wireless connections, up from 32 percent in 2003, according to the U.S. Department of Education's National Center for Education Statistics Web site.

In Baltimore County, the increased wireless capability means that more of the district's 105,000 students and hundreds of teachers and administrators can work on the same network simultaneously, school officials said.

"Users can carry their laptops around school campuses and have the same access experience virtually anyplace," Michael Goodhues, the school system's chief information officer, said in a statement. "And as schools expand or shift resources between locations, we won't be facing massive rewiring costs."

Sun reporter John-John Williams IV contributed to this article.

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