Case study: Parade College overhauls network for iPad program

Bringing tablets to the classroom has enhanced education but created networking challenges for Parade College, according to the school’s IT manager, Daniel Caporetto.

Parade College is an all-boys school with two campuses in Victoria, in Bundora and Preston. The school expects to expand from 1800 to 2200 students in the next few years. Caporetto leads an IT team of five and his job includes planning, budgeting and implementing ICT projects at the school.

Parade decided to give students tablets because it saw ICT becoming an increasingly important part of everyday life, Caporetto said. The school also sought a way to better engage its students in learning than “the traditional method of a teacher just sitting there in front of a class and everyone opening their books.”

“If they’re engaged and more excited by learning, they will have the potential to learn more and be better students,” he said.

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That’s especially important at an all-boys school, he said. “Boys may have shorter attention spans [than girls], so you need to grab their attention a bit more.”

Parade decided to buy Apple iPads and resell them to students. The college chose iPad 2 devices with Wi-Fi and 16GB of storage, but has created a bring your own device (BYOD) policy for students who have an iPad already.

The BYOD students must adhere to the same policies and procedures as the other students, he said.

Caporetto said Parade College chose the iPad over other tablets because it had the most education apps sought by teachers. He left open the possibility of switching to Windows 8 or another platform in the future.

“It all comes down to apps,” he said. “If the learning material isn’t there, it’s not really worth moving” to another tablet.

Parade began a phase rollout of iPads to teachers in early 2011, about two years ahead of students, to give faculty the time to find useful apps and build lesson plans around the tablets, Caporetto said.

Students in years seven and nine began using iPads at the beginning of this year, and the school now has about 900 iPads on the network, including staff devices, he said.

Those students will continue with the iPads next year, while students currently in years six and eight will start using iPads when they move to the next level in 2014, he said.

Caporetto estimated that in three years, about 2000 students will use iPads in the classroom.

Pressure on the Network

Parade College realised before launching the iPad program that its existing network could not adequately support the added traffic expected from so many active iPads, Caporetto said.

The network was already showing weakness handling increased traffic from desktop PCs and other devices, he said. Besides the iPads, the network supports 1200 desktop PCs, 140 wireless access points, IP telephony and 180 CCTV cameras.

The iPad presented a unique challenge because it’s “always chitter-chattering through the network,” he said. And the addition of a tablet to the learning experience encouraged teachers to make greater use of Web-based content, he said.

Caporetto said he wanted a new network that was fast, reliable and cost-effective. The school considered several vendors but chose a network from Brocade due to price and Caporetto’s previous positive experience with the company’s products, he said.

The Brocade network has four full-duplex 40GBps stacking ports providing 320 Gbps of bandwidth. That has provided faster access, a unified IT environment and “peace of mind,” said Caporetto. He said he expects it to “future proof Parade for many years.”

Installing the new network was “pretty straightforward” with “no real show stoppers,” he said. “We planned out everything ... so we knew what was going where” and “implemented it in a way that would minimise any downtime.”

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Tablet management

Choosing iPad devices forced Parade College to do some creative thinking about device management and file sharing.

Parade chose an Apple Mac Mini server with Profile Manager to manage the devices. “That allows us to at least keep track of the iPads and allows us to push out our wireless settings and do some basic remote monitoring,” Caporetto said.

Parade considered more advanced mobile device management (MDM) products, but “in the end we wanted a more basic MDM solution” because the school felt the iPad is a more personal device than a desktop or laptop, he said.

Sharing files among students and teachers is critical in an educational environment, but Parade discovered that is “particularly painful” to do on iPads, Caporetto said.

The iPad supports WebDAV, “but your [Apple] iWorks suite will only allow you do one, and it’s very inconvenient for any user to have to keep entering a different WebDAV address whenever they want to access a different file from a different share,” he said.

Parade considered using Dropbox, but concerns about security, data ownership and potential bandwidth costs “made it a hail Mary option at best.” Forcing students to email files seemed “too cumbersome of an option,” he said.

In the end, Parade decided to use a Microsoft distributed file system “to provide a unified name space for all our [network] shares,” Caporetto said. “Then we implemented WebDAV on that name [space] so now via the iPad all the user has to do is type in one URL and they can access every single share.”

Another challenge was integrating the iPads with the school’s Web-based learning management system (LMS), the IT manager said. “Uploading documents to a Web-based system via an iPad is pretty much impossible.”

Parade contacted its LMS’s developer, eWorkSpace, and the vendor solved the problem by adding WebDAV support into the LMS, Caporetto said.

While students have not always kept their iPads in pristine condition, Apple has provided satisfactory support to students in its retail stores, Caporetto said.

“We had students that received [the iPad] and then broke it the very next day.”

The college has found that the Apple stores often provide quicker support to students than Parade can provide by sending the devices to the manufacturer, he said.

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