As a result of the new infrastructure, the schools can encourage students and faculty to embrace BYOD and access e-learning applications on their mobile devices.
Al Nahda National Schools, which is divided into a boys’ school and a girls’ school, was established in 1983. Based in Abu Dhabi, the schools impart quality education, meeting international standards and accommodates over 6500 students. The academic courses are designed to expose all students to a wide range of creative, social, scientific and athletic experiences. The schools’ curriculum lays emphasis on academic achievements and believes in fostering the intellectual, creative, physical, personal and social development of students in a multicultural learning environment.
Establishing a Platform for 21st Century Learning
Right from their establishment, Al Nahda National Schools were always geared towards providing students with a holistic learning experience. They were one of the first schools in the country to have an established IT curriculum and had already equipped eight internet learning labs. However, as the school began to enlarge the scope and reach of its IT curriculum, the IT team was faced with the challenge of drawing up timetables to extract optimal usage of these labs. It was becoming clear that the use of modern teaching aids would have to extend beyond these IT labs.
One of the institution’s key philosophies is to ‘ensure students develop the necessary IT skills to meet the challenges of a rapidly changing, competitive global society and to promote the further integration of IT into the learning process by providing ample resources for staff and students’. In order to achieve this, Al Nahda National Schools aimed to leverage a number of cutting edge education solutions such as the Moodle Learning Management System (LMS), LiveText strategic planning tool, as well as eResources from Pearson SuccessNet, an online teaching and learning environment. The schools were also equipping classrooms with the latest smart-boards and projectors, and were hoping to encourage ‘Bring Your Own Device’ (BYOD) among students and faculty.
We were committed to providing our students access to the latest technology learning tools. This required introducing a number of IT solutions which could only be deployed if we had a stable and secure high-performance wireless connectivity platform in place
Dr. Sandra Zaher, School Director at Al Nahda National Schools
“In our efforts to remain a leading educational institution, we were committed to providing our students access to the latest technology learning tools. This required introducing a number of IT solutions which could only be deployed if we had a stable and secure high-performance wireless connectivity platform in place,” said Dr. Sandra Zaher, School Director at Al Nahda National Schools.
While the schools had basic wireless infrastructure in place, it consisted of a handful of routers, each of which was being simultaneously accessed by up to 250 users. If one of these routers happened to malfunction, a member of the IT team would have to physically address the problem.
Key Criteria: Visibility and Control
Highlighting performance, visibility and control as key requirements of the new wireless infrastructure, Al Nahda National Schools began its evaluation of solution providers. The schools’ IT team was guided by UAE based systems integrator, iDigamma Solutions, who helped them understand and define the criteria necessary for the ‘education oriented’ connectivity platform. “We placed a great deal of emphasis on access control. Parents needed to be reassured that while we were going to offer internet access to their children, it would be done in a manner that would not disrupt or detract from their education,” said Hatim Lrhorfi, IT Engineer at Al Nahda National Schools.
iDigamma proposed a solution from Aruba Networks featuring the vendor’s ClearPass Access Management System which would cover all of Al Nahda National Schools’ network security and access control requirements from a single platform. The integrator presented the selection committee with examples of other successful deployments for educational institutions in the region and highlighted how ClearPass had been leveraged to implement custom security policies based on the role, device, location, application-use and time-of-day of the users.
Convinced by the solution’s capabilities, Al Nahda National Schools then turned to Oxygen Middle East, an official distributor for Aruba Networks, who carried out the site survey, design, implementation and configuration of the wireless infrastructure. To ensure maximum coverage and ample bandwidth for all connected devices, the team decided to deploy one Access Point (AP) per classroom and selected the compact and cost-effective Aruba 103 series wireless APs for this purpose. In total 150 APs were used in the girls’ school and a further 100 were deployed in the boys’ school. Each campus leveraged an Aruba 7200 series Mobility Controller and deployed Aruba ClearPass for access management. A VPN connection was also set up between the two schools in order to facilitate easier management and better collaboration.
Secure Wi-Fi, a Platform for Innovation
With the new solution set firmly in place, Al Nahda National Schools now had the platform they need to revolutionize teaching and learning. “With ubiquitous Wi-Fi access across every classroom and common area, we were able to present students and staff with cutting-edge technologies such as smart-boards, iPads, projectors, eLearning resources and a Learning Management System. The students instantly took to the new approach and thanks to the simplicity of it all, we faced no resistance from the staff either,” said Dr. Sandra.
Today, Al Nadha National Schools’ IT team is no longer tasked with physically managing each router in the network. Aruba’s mobility controllers have eliminated the need for this while also enabling software updates to be automatically pushed to each AP. The efficient design provided by Oxygen Middle East has meant that even with coverage extending to 7000 users, the network never fails nor drops its performance. “Because administration of this Wi-Fi network is so highly simplified, our IT team has been able to focus its efforts on more productive tasks. We have been able to identify new solutions and implement them without having to worry about the impact they could have on the performance and stability of our network infrastructure,” said Mr. Lrhorfi.
The solution’s ability to provide seamless connectivity between the two school campuses has proved to be an invaluable aid to collaboration. Users can now communicate in real time, and instantaneous file sharing is now possible. The IT team can manage the wireless network across both schools from a single location and application deployment has also been centralized. ClearPass has given Al Nahda National Schools the ability to support BYOD and ensure that only the required access is granted to users thus enabling them to be as productive as possible.
“As our students and faculty have become increasingly familiar with the new IT systems, we are now looking at new ways to innovate. For example, we now make students’ report cards available through our online portal and provide parents with a rich set of features that allow them to analyse their children’s progress with far greater insight,” said Lakshmi, ICT Co-ordinator at Al Nahda National Schools. “Thanks to all the new technologies that the Wi-Fi infrastructure has enabled us to introduce, it has become a selling point for our institution. As we continue to incorporate an increasing number of processes onto the online environment, we have also realized a significant reduction in paper consumption. As an environmentally conscious institution, we believe this is also a very important benefit of our efforts.”
Al Nahda National Schools believes that the new Wi-Fi infrastructure will meet its requirement for the next 3-5 years. “Learning is a lifelong process and this is also the case with IT investments, where we need to constantly embrace new technologies. We will continue to enhance and upgrade our wireless connectivity infrastructure as it has become the solid base upon which we can further revolutionize the learning experience,” concluded Dr. Sandra.
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