Company giving students freedom to RoamAbout

Simon Fraser University and Enterasys Networks are making sure students have no excuse for not having their homework done.

Rochester, N.H.-based Enterasys Networks has introduced its RoamAbout wireless solution to Simon Fraser University in Burnaby, B.C., as part of a pilot program in its teacher education curriculum. That means students can work on the campus network from most areas on campus. While it may seem like an idea born of convenience, Burkhard Kraas, supervisor of network operations for Simon Fraser University, said there are some practical reasons as well.

“One of the reasons is that we have run out of space,” he said. “We don’t have enough space for the number of students we have, so in order to provide network access for every student to have access to the Internet we have areas that we have carousels. Also, in the teaching environment – to have new media and technology, this is important.”

Students can use a mobile lab of laptop computers on a portable trolley and various wireless workshops enabled by the technology.

Kraas said all this is the result of a lot of work overcoming some structural challenges at the school.

“We had some background from the proprietary access points about three years ago, but very little because we only had a few access points where there was no interference and it was very basic,” he said. “In this environment, we have some things built on concrete so we had to look to find the right places to get service. We also have coated glass, which doesn’t allow it to go through, so we had to figure out the performance. How many access points for how many users?”

Kelly Kanellakis, director of technology at Enterasys’ office of the CTO in Toronto, remembered his college days and how much he liked to work in one little corner of campus.

“Being in a campus environment means that you have wire up for any of the possible places a student would want to wire up,” he said. “If you remember your college and university days, those can be some very interesting places. We have to provide that kind of connectivity for people to do their work.”

Teachers studying to teach students from Grade six to Grade nine were the focus of the pilot program. Workshops are built into the teacher education curriculum, and are designed to teach the theory of utilizing technology in the classroom and to demonstrate the advantages in a situated context. Instructors within the program can reserve a mobile trolley with ten laptop computers wirelessly connected to the network for use in the classroom.

The trolley travels from classroom to classroom, connected via 802.11b standard-based wireless connectivity within the educational buildings. RoamAbout PC Cards connect to different access points as the laptops “roam” throughout the building.

“What the people at SFU had to do was look for all that when they were looking for a wireless solution,” he said. “They have designated areas where they believe students really want to work, so they have focused on those to make them really reliable. Generally, what will happen is that you find you can work in other places as well. The speed of the signal drops off when you move out of range, but you will find you can work in most areas we didn’t plan for, but not as fast.”

The University is now working to replace proprietary NetWave wireless access points in its Harbour Centre campus with the standards-based RoamAbout Access Point.

The University’s six network operations staff members use Enterasys NetSight management tools to manage the network, which provides access to more than 8,000 active ports and 23,000 users.