Monday, March 25, 2013

Bandwidth Boosting: APS increasing Internet speed throughout district

APS Technology Director Joey Andrews prepares equipment for an upcoming upgrade that will significantly boost the district's bandwidth.

Technology in Arkadelphia Public School classrooms grows in importance and prevalence every year. Use of computers, tablets and smartphones is commonplace and increases the need for high capacity, dependable Internet service throughout the district. An upgrade currently underway, and scheduled to be completed in July, will increase APS’s Internet service capacity, or bandwidth, providing an additional 90 megabytes per second of transmission speed.

“This upgrade puts in place top notch equipment,” District Technology Director Joey Andrews said. “I am very confident that this will provide the bandwidth needs of our entire district for a long time. There isn’t a better service anywhere on the horizon.”

Approximately two years ago, APS upgraded their existing Internet service to two, residential DSL lines, which provided sufficient bandwidth for staff computers and school computer labs at a time when Internet and instruction were not as closely related as they are now.

“We were beginning to bump into some limitations with our DSL service,” Andrews said. “We were looking at 30 MB of download and 8 MB of upload, and that was on a good day.”

APS’s Technology Department is working to make certain the district’s technological challenges are met. Such challenges include Arkadelphia High School creating a “Bring your own device” policy for students, the implementation of New Tech which includes every AHS student receiving a school-issued laptop within the next three years and an education model that relies heavily on students having constant internet access for e-mail and research, and an increasing use of “C.O.W.’s,” (computers on wheels) which are essentially portable computer labs.

The quadrupled, 120 MB download rate through Metro Ethernet is a combination of 100 MB from Windstream and 20 MB from AT&T. Andrews expects the entire upgrade to be completed by the end of July.

“There should be substantial improvements by April 1, and that is 30 days ahead of our initial schedule,” Andrews said.

The additional bandwidth will benefit the entire district, as the gains in Internet capacity will improve speed and reliability in every APS facility.

“This will resolve a lot of our Internet network issues, like being able to stream media much easier, facilitate online testing, and manage our off-site, or cloud, storage of data,” Andrews said. “The accuracy increases a lot too, which means that this bandwidth is guaranteed from the providers. Our prior system could not guarantee bandwidth. Lightning [electricity] does not travel down these new fiber lines either, so that will eliminate a lot of weather-related equipment shutdowns.”

Workers bore underneath the parking lot at Goza Middle School to install the conduit that will house the fiber optic  line for the district's improved Internet service.
APS is one of the first districts in the region to move to such an advanced system.

“We are probably the smallest district to receive this sort of bandwidth,” Andrews said. “Lake Hamilton upgraded to a similar service last year, but this type of upgrade is not yet commonplace. We are a technology rich district and this will put us on an a level of several 6 and 7A schools, as well as the local universities.”

Also being improved is the district’s Wi-Fi infrastructure. Though related, the demands on Internet bandwidth, and the demands on Wi-Fi are two completely different hurdles. The Metro Ethernet system is the primary delivery of Internet to the district, and the Wi-Fi provides the couplings through which individual wireless enabled devices are linked. Andrews said the new Aerohives will be piloted at AHS, given the amount of wireless devices currently in use there.

“Aerohives are the choice for wireless systems,” Andrews said. “There are almost no capacity issues and they have come highly recommended from other large, local institutions.”

Andrews and his staff will be conducting test runs with the AHS campus as the equipment arrives.

“The high school is testing this new wireless system as a future replacement for the entire district,” Andrews said.

By Sean Ruggles, APS Communications Director

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

AHS New Tech freshmen ambassadors reflect on Business After Hours project

AHS New Tech Ambassadors Mackenzie Suggs and Colby Bagwell explain a 3-D puzzle students created. The demonstration was part of Business After Hours hosted by the New Tech students.

When Arkadelphia High School freshman Colby Bagwell greeted a group of guests at New Tech’s Business After Hours, they let him know they weren’t there for just the food and small talk. Bagwell was serving as an AHS New Tech Ambassador for the event, so his role was to provide guided tours of the New Tech program for guests.

“We are a group of teachers, and we are here to evaluate you,” Bagwell recalled the group saying upon their arrival. “It was one of the scariest things I’ve ever done,” he added.

Bagwell didn’t recognize any of the guests in this particular group, and at first was intimidated, but he rose to the challenge, answering questions and explaining the innovative program to the educators. He is a member of the class of 2016 at AHS who is helping pioneer the New Tech model in Arkansas.

AHS freshman Macklaine Irby shared his sentiment, saying that learning how to lead tours and speak in a public setting were the most challenging parts of hosting the event.

“At the end of it all, I felt much more confident talking with the guests. I think that was the most rewarding part for me,” Irby said.

With the guest list including a range of local and state dignitaries, there were plenty of chances for students to engage in conversation with politicians, city administrators, university presidents, as well as educators and parents from the local area and other school districts alike. 

At the beginning of this school year, AHS implemented New Tech, a project-based and technology-rich educational model for the freshmen class. The model will expand to include freshmen through seniors at AHS over the next three years. The classes use projects that utilize practical application of concepts learned through traditional teaching to reinforce the overall academic process. AHS New Tech students were recently tasked with organizing every aspect of their Business After Hours event including the advertising, guest lists and invitations, catering, and presentations. Students relied upon skills such as writing, oral communication, graphic design, video editing, mail merge, and video editing learned in their classes to make the event a success. AHS freshman Mackenzie Suggs cited the collaboration between students and the Arkadelphia Area Chamber of Commerce in promoting the event.

“We wrote the press release and designed the ads for the Chamber’s E-blast,” Suggs said. “We were constantly having to rely on things we’ve learned in class.”

For New Tech’s Business After Hours, students designed a tour through the remodeled classrooms where student work was displayed. Through viewing the final products, guests gained a better understanding of the students’ capabilities as well as a better understanding of the New Tech process in general. A variety of work was displayed ranging from math and science oriented projects, to creations from AHS’s humanity classes.

Student Ambassadors were particularly pleased with the response from guests after completing the guided tours, including Bagwell’s group of teachers.

“They said that they would give me [a score of] 100 percent for the tour,” Bagwell said. “And that I answered all of their questions. I was proud to be able to step up and improvise at the last second to give tours. In the beginning, I wasn’t even assigned to give any tours, but we got overloaded with guests. We were prepared to give about 20 [tours] and we ended up giving over 40 [tours] ... Being able to perform under pressure, and meet real deadlines when we were organizing the event, that’s what impressed me the most about our class.”

Technology is at the center of the New Tech model, and is also what impressed most of AHS freshman Alexandria Hunter’s tour guests.

“The access we have to advanced design and engineering programs, equipment and instruction startled a lot of my guests,” Hunter said. “And it’s not just in the engineering classes. All of our classes use computers in some way. Several of them [guests] said they wished they’d had the opportunities we have when they were in school.”

Also receiving a lot of attention were the “school-wide learning outcomes,” and Suggs said her guests reiterated that the grading scale reflected a more accurate idea of how the students would be graded in college or the work place, appreciating that the outcomes not only held students accountable for content, but other important aspects of producing quality work.

The school-wide learning outcomes are:

60% - Content mastery: AHS New Tech students will learn the state approved content for each class.

10% - Critical thinking: AHS New Tech Students will be able to approach problem solving by considering a variety of viewpoints and will use organized and rational methods for developing solutions.

10% - Communication: AHS New Tech Students will be able to effectively share ideas and knowledge through various modes including: Formal and informal writing, speaking, listening, and the use of visual aids.

5% - Collaboration: AHS New Tech Students will be able to develop a positive vocabulary and show an understanding of group dynamics by working together effectively in a professional environment.

5% - Global and community awareness: AHS New Tech Students will actively engage and participate in making connections with their community and beyond while demonstrating an understanding of global issues.

5% - Technology: AHS New Tech Students will be able to use available technological resources and demonstrate professional etiquette when using formal and informal communications.

5% - Work ethic: AHS New Tech Students will show the ability to be on time, on task, and contribute positively to school culture.

Business After Hours guests explored the details of the New Tech program at AHS, guided by student ambassadors who also organized the event.

AHS freshman Blanca Rodriguez said one of her guests was particularly interested in the student experience, as this guest was the mother of an eighth grader soon to join New Tech at AHS next year.

“She asked a lot of questions,” Rodriguez said. “When we were done with the tour, she said that I did a great job. I am so glad I helped her and her son be more comfortable with coming to be part of this program.”

After the event concluded, student ambassadors agreed unanimously that overcoming the coordinating obstacles with all of their separate planning teams and the public speaking were the hardest parts of the project, but that the compliments received from the guests affirmed the value of the event.

“Knowing we helped people better understand the positive impacts of New Tech, not just the ways it has helped our class, but the model in general, that made it worth all of the work,” AHS freshman Brock Heurkamp said. “We believe in this program and we want the community to see and understand why. It does look a lot different [than traditional classes], but shouldn’t it? This event showed what we are capable of achieving, and even though I was part of it all, it’s still hard to believe what we accomplished.”

Visit AHS's Facebook page for a photo gallery of the event. Two of the videos presented at the event are also available by clicking here.  

By Sean Ruggles, APS Communications Director