Friday, May 16, 2008

2008 Digital Schools Report & Bandwidth

The 2008 America's Digital Schools Report just released contains some interesting, reassuring, and potentially problematic trends to technology adoption and student learning. eSchool News has a well-written, descriptive summary of the report.

The bandwidth trend is a bit concerning (and very interesting as a former network engineer) especially since much of our learning and understanding through tools depends on a crisp, robust network.
Karen Greenwood Henke wrote a comprehensive article How Fast Is Fast Enough? in Tech Learning which cites the 2006 version of the Digital School's Report. (In full disclosure, I was quoted in the article) Bandwidth was mentioned in that report too with 40KBPS being the optimal throughput available to students according to Henke.

My fascination with this topic in part inspired me to write No Data Left Behind which was published in the February 2006 edition of Learning & Leading with Technology.

For a teacher new or just starting off adopting technology, I think bandwidth can cause some concern. Quite possibly, no matter how effective or powerful the tool, it can be perceived not as such with slow bandwidth really being the culprit. I'm sure many of us at one time or another excitedly wanted to show an application to a teacher or administrator only not have it work well because of network congestion. This is similar to a prospective car running rough in the dealer's lot when considering buying it.

Also to state the obvious, the content-rich world in which we live requires bandwidth to view it. Pictures, video, audio, and text - staples of 21st century learning and understanding - all require bandwidth. Global learning (and competing) on a global basis have bandwidth as a prerequisite.

Before going back into the classroom as a teacher, I spent time assessing and auditing schools' bandwidth (and technology) needs as an educational technology consultant. Most schools from my experiences can reclaim about 5-15% of their total bandwidth through "low-hanging fruit". These "low-hanging fruits" usually can be as simple as:
  • Removing unneeded protocols from the networks (a good protocol analysis will show this)
  • Simple routing adjustments
  • Simple access-list adjustments
  • Duplex settings on Ethernet ports
  • Properly configuring Frame Relay or ATM interfaces
  • Removing or adding needed policy-routes
  • Relocating a server
  • Proxy Server Adjustment/Tweak
  • Broadcast Domain Resize (VLANs or Subnet Masks)
Here are some things that can be done to assess, increase, or reclaim bandwidth:
  1. Hire a knowledgeable consulting company to do an audit. A good consulting company will be able to perform detailed protocol analysis and network data collection. Also, they should understand the RFPs (technology standards) and also the unique needs of school networks. As a sidebar, be wary of "upselling" - some companies may use the audit to sell you gear and additional services.
  2. Use tools such as PRTG and HostMonitor to collect network capacity and performance data. Having a baseline set of data is crucial.
  3. Leverage logging on switches, routers, firewalls, proxy servers, and other devices to collect data at least initially (too much logging can actually decrease overall performance).
  4. Use a Cymphonix appliance to help make sense of application-bandwidth and user traffic.
As we like to make data-driven decisions when it comes to learning, networks and bandwidth, I believe, should be approached using the same principle. There are many tools, many free or low-cost, that can collect and aggregate the data in easy to read reports. This data is not only vital in knowing but also planning, reacting, and communicating the state of the network to school folks who ultimately will approve additional bandwidth.

Should you have any questions, please don't hesitate to contact me.

**Photo Credit** Photo retrieved from:

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