Only a select few have ever had the opportunity to ask, ‘how should I spend my millions’. However after the deregulation of New Zealand’s Electricity Industry over a decade ago, resulting in the sale of lines and retail components of the former Central Electric Power Board, Central Lakes Trust (CLT) was established as a charitable trust with an endowment of funds totalling over $120M.
With a philanthropic aim to support the local area by distributing grants for community projects, CLT formed a partnership with the Central Otago Principal’s Association (COPA), focusing on making significant improvements to the quality of education in the area.
For the 24 primary and secondary schools located within the picturesque regions of Central Otago and the Wakatipu Basin in New Zealand’s South Island, this promised to help alleviate the disadvantages the schools faced due to their remoteness and isolation. With the nearest major city being over 150 kilometres away, student opportunities for sporting, social and cultural interactions were inhibited, as well as important teacher access to professional development opportunities.
Paul Allison, Chief Executive of Central Lakes Trust comments, "In many ways our rural location means that as a community we need to work harder and smarter to get the same results as big cities. To facilitate equal opportunities for learning we needed to look outside the box.” CLT and COPA collaborated to identify and prioritise a number of key projects to maximise learning outcomes in the region — the first one being a $1.2M three-year literacy programme for the region’s primary schools. The next project to receive significant funding support was the delivery of a high quality e-learning network.
After commissioning a survey to analyse the existing ICT environment of all the schools in the region, it was evident that infrastructure upgrades were deemed to be the highest priority. Taking a holistic approach towards delivering a first-class network for the schools, CLT committed a total of $2.1M in funding towards not only the infrastructure upgrades, but also the provision of a robust wireless networking solution along with a Professional Development programme for teachers to maxmise the benefits of these initiatives.
"As the availability of laptops and handheld devices in the classroom grows, so too does the recognition of the benefits that mobile learning can bring”, comments Charles Newton, part of CLT’s e-learning network team now working on the Professional Development programme.
"We knew it was only a matter of time before the expectation was set for students to use mobile devices as part of their every day schooling. That’s why it was so important to get the right solution in place, not just for tomorrow’s needs but for today’s!” This was definitely the right approach for CLT to take, as evidenced by a recent New Zealand Ministry of Education announcement specifying that provision be made for wireless networking within each new or upgraded school. Clearly a Wi-Fi network in the classroom is fast becoming a necessity for schools nationally.
Although some of the region’s schools had previously installed a variety of Wi-Fi products, the study identified that they were not ideally placed to meet the diverse and growing demands of the educational environment. The common criteria demanded by the 24 schools were for a reliable Wi-Fi network that would be future proofed and centrally managed with ease at each school.
TorqueIP and Fusion Networks, ICT Project Managers and Systems Integrators specialising in projects of this size, were assigned to work through the maze of Wi-Fi networking products to identify a standardized, cost-effective solution with enough flexibility to meet the diverse needs of the 24 schools.
After further analysing the technical and budgetary requirements of the project, TorqueIP and Fusion Networks recommended the Wi-Fi solutions provided by Ruckus Wireless, which are distributed in New Zealand by Connector Systems.
Initially products offered by Trapeze Networks were also considered, but after discovering the Ruckus ZoneFlex system would provide a larger footprint per access-point (AP) through dynamic Beamforming technology for thousands of dollars less, the decision was made to proceed with Ruckus.
"Our experience in the education market with Ruckus Wireless meant we were confidently able to recommend it to CLT for this project”, comments Mark Cleeve, Network Engineer for Fusion Networks.
"Excellent performance and reliability is a given expectation in any market, but we also needed to give the schools a solution that was going to be simple to manage so they could look after it in-house.
All this for a lower total-cost-of-ownership was what the Ruckus system offered”, Cleeve concludes.
A Ruckus smart Wi-Fi system comprising of ZoneFlex 7962 APs and ZoneDirector WLAN controllers was deployed to the 24 schools. With ZoneFlex’s web based management GUI simplifying the installation process, each school was connected and their technicians trained in under half a day.
The schools’ ICT technicians were impressed with the feature-rich functionality and ease of use the system provided, such as automatic discovery and configuration of the ZoneFlex APs, and the customisable dashboard from which the schools would have instant access to statistics and information on the managed APs. The teachers found seamless connectivity between classrooms made lesson times more efficient, and no longer tripping over Ethernet cables in class was a welcome reprieve for some.
Now that new infrastructure is in place, the schools are ideally positioned to take advantage of the Government’s proposed roll-out of broadband and high-speed fibre to the schools.
The Ruckus Wireless network has also enabled some exceptional learning projects undertaken by students in the 24 schools, such as the QPS News project.
Each week senior students from Queenstown Primary School stream a live news segment which is written and presented by themselves to fellow students in each classroom. On its old network, this project would have been impossible for the school to achieve.
"The feedback we have received from teachers and students about the Ruckus Wi-Fi network has been incredibly positive”, says Paul Allison, "We are thrilled that schools are enjoying the benefits of speedy and reliable wireless access to the world as well as being match-fit to take advantage of future technology innovations.”