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The Role of Wireless Computing Technology in the Design of Schools

by Prakash Nair
Introduction and Review by Randall Fielding

Published October 2002 by the National Clearinghouse for Educational Facilities

quinns beachI remember an animated discussion with Prakash over three years ago about wireless technology. Prakash focused on the magic of students using mobile computing being in charge of their own learning; in that context, wireless would be a highly complimentary, even necessary, technology. There was considerable resistance to wireless at the time, largely because of the bandwidth limitations. That is how the Wired vs. Wireless debate was born on DesignShare in 1999 between Glenn Meeks and Prakash Nair and subsequently reprinted in various other online and print publications.

“The question for educators is not so much whether wireless is a good option but how to make it an effective tool in the creation of student-centered learning environments by integrating wireless into the overall scheme of learning.

Wireless devices are but one means of freeing teaching and learning from the confines of the classroom and making education truly an anywhere, anytime enterprise.”

quinns beachPrakash said in 1999, ” I predict that, two years from now, this debate will look ridiculous because advances in technology will make wireless communications in the classroom the only sensible choice in most situations.” An argument can be made, and Prakash makes it once again in compelling fashion in his latest work on wireless computing, that today’s wireless technology does make it a sensible choice in most situations. This is borne out not only by the advancements in the technology, but also by the extent to which it has won acceptance by schools and school systems nationwide.

quinns beachFor all the gains that wireless has made, there is still a good deal of confusion and misinformation about this technology that prevents even greater acceptance and use. To overcome these problems, Prakash’s current piece on the subject is addressed to the lay-audience and tackles every key aspect of wireless technology. Prakash notes that, “Today, wireless systems no longer are experimental or risky. In fact, a well-designed wireless network represents a good measure of future-proofing a facility”. He goes on to clarify issues relating to bandwidth, security, health and safety, interference and cost and provides useful case studies. He also includes a glossary of terms for the technologically challenged, provides a comparison of the various wireless standards and several references.

The article clearly lays out the advantages of the Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers (IEEE) latest standard, 802.11a; this is the standard that we used for one of my most recent projects, Harbor City International School, which has wall-to-wall wireless coverage. Bandwidth has ceased to be an issue, except for the largest media files.

Bottom line? The debate is over. Go wireless.
This well written, easy-to-understand piece is essential reading for all school stakeholders who are considering either new construction or renovations. It is of particular value if you are interested in setting up student-centered schools.

Download the complete text in English (12 pages, 81KB PDF)

To read the article in the Romanian language, go here.

Prakash Nair is an internationally recognized school and technology planner and community consultation expert. Previously Director of Planning for VITETTA and Director of Operations for New York City’s multi-billion dollar school construction program, he recently launched his own firm–Prakash Nair Consulting. Visit his website to view a list of publications, services and links to award-winning projects.

April 4th, 2006

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