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Marco Koene

Wireless.

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At the moment wireless networks are getting good results. How many school are already having these? At my school we have it for laptops, for desktops there would be not much use i think. Has anybody any experiences with wireless networks and do you see them 'catching'on?

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At the moment wireless networks are getting good results. How many school are already having these? At my school we have it for laptops, for desktops there would be not much use i think. Has anybody any experiences with wireless networks and do you see them 'catching'on?

We have one which seems to cause no end of difficulties for the department concerned - haven't worked out yet whether the users are computer phobics or whether the technology really isn't up to the job yet :(

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Guest Andrew Moore

Ninestiles School in Birmingham has a wireless network that covers the whole site. Every teacher has a laptop that can pick it up, while pupils are able to buy their own on a lease scheme - they pay two pounds (about three Euros) a week for three years, I think. The pupils' machines also access the network. And the school has a large bank of laptops that those pupils borrow, who are not in the scheme.

This school is untypical of the UK - but most secondary schools that I know have one or more portable wireless networks, useful, say, for work in a science lab.

All Saints Junior School (upper primary) in the East Riding of Yorkshire has a wireless network of second-user laptops, running on a Xandros distribution of Linux, and using open source application software.

There are many teaching rooms in schools where desktop PCs will prevent many kinds of learning activity, but where a portable network can be used - then moved to somewhere else.

The emerging trend in the UK is for a single networked PC (desktop or laptop), with a display device (projector, very large CRT) - to enable whole-class learning.

There is no doubt that these networks will catch on. If you have a computer with wireless networking, and you visit München airport, you can get free access to the Internet. There are similar facilities in various public places across Europe. Airlines and hotels that provide this will quickly attract more business (including mine).

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I had a wireless network installed in one block (13 classrooms + offices and staff area). I was interested on how the faculty involved (English) would build on an already flexible appraoch to learning supported by more traditional ICT approaches.

All was going well when lack of security resulted in all but one of the wireless laptops being stolen.

We have finally replaced the laptops and I look forward to being able to report back on how the provision is being used.

I am now negotiating with a supplier to provide wirless laptops to sixth formers on a lease/buy basis. The sixth form area will be wireless covered and login provided to access the network.

I am interested in facilitating the sharing of good pratice between schools using wireless solutions

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Wireless networks sound great - I have considered installing one at home for my LAN of three (currently cable-connected) PCs, but what do you do to counteract warchalkers?

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Marco asks:

Warchalkers: I do not understand this term. Could someone please explain it?

Warchalking: Warchalkers make chalk markings on walls or pavements to indicate that there is an insecure Wi-Fi (wireless access) point nearby. The symbols not only mark the location of the wireless access point but also indicate the network type, name, and bandwidth. The markings are similar to the symbols used by tramps to communicate information to fellow itinerants about the friendliness of a place or its inhabitants. The term derives from the 1983 film War Games, in which a teenager uses software to dial randomly selected telephone numbers, eventually managing to hack into a military computer and start World War III. People initiated in the ways of warchalking recognise the symbols and then all they need to do is take up a comfortable position with their laptop, suitably equipped with a wireless network card, and get online using someone else’s bandwidth.

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Marco asks:

Does anyone now a website with more information on this?

There are dozens of such sites. Do a search under "warchalking" with Google. One of the main sites - maintained by people who encuorage warchalking - is:

http://www.warchalking.org/

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I have a wireless network as well at our school. Only used for laptops by the teachers. These 5 laptops work reasonably well. Only problem is the structure of the building. The signal doesnt reach some places due to the material of the building.

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Wireless is great for what it is intended, but can be a major problem for whole class use. A wired system should give 100 megs of data to each of the connected machines and a wireless system will give 54 megs at the moment (more in the future) shared between the number of machines in range of it. One of the local first schools has an older system with air units that give 11 megs and they try and run 22 machines at the same time, not a good idea! Another problem is that as the distance from the air unit increases, the data rate falls off rapidly. For the staff to use for electronic registration, reports etc it is a godsend, try it with a full class trying to surf the net, load and save large graphic files etc it’s a waste of time. All of these problems have solutions so there is a way on making a wireless system work, but for now its best to use a normal workstation for most things and the laptops for the jobs that are suited to it, just keep charging the battery.

Paul

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Have a look at the VITAL Environment project website at the University of Melbourne. The purpose of the VITAL Environment is to provide an easily configurable space where different styles of small group teaching utilising wall length whiteboards, video projection and the use of wireless notebooks can be explored - i.e. a new kind of electronic space for teaching:

http://www.artsit.unimelb.edu.au/facilities/vital/index.html

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I have a wireless connection at my school and it causes endless problems for me - with the connection cutting out.

I would say that I am a fairly proficient user of ICT and certainly not a phobic...but I do not like the wireless system as it currently is at my school. The hub is within my block, and those in other parts of the school seem to have no problems. However I find that as soon as my classroom door is shut the connection cuts out. This is really annoying as just about everything at my school is done on the computer - registers, e-mail bulletins etc.

To be honest I just connect my laptop to the network point on the wall. Much more reliable!

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Warchalking goes on a bit in city centres where insecure office wi-fis exist. A group of students set up a virtual office in Bedford Square doing just this not long ago. I read that some system administrators actually like the idea of warchalking, since it flags up insecure connections so they can do something about it!

I don't think it's a problem as long as WEP is enabled and a decent firewall is in there. I have a wireless lan at home since we have 6 computers. It's all pretty secure and you'd have to be a genius to hack into my system (in my small seaside town, I'm, confident there aren't any!) and if anybody is sad enough to stand outside my house to surf the internet, I'm happy to oblige out of pity. A Netgear ADSL router ensures broadband is available throughout the house but it's important to locate it carefully otherwise there will be blind spots. My garden is a blind spot, but I do have a life, and don't particularly want to use computers there!

Like Liza we have a wireless lan at school which Bromcom also operates through. I use it happily with my laptop and it seems to be faster than the wired lan for internet access. It is crucial though where the access point is located. If it loses connection when a door is shut, then it needs shifting a bit. Sometimes contractors just install them in places where a mains outlet is conveniently located and give practicality not much thought . Mine at school is in the roof cavity in the centre of the music block so the whole building has wireless connectivity.

Another nice application of wireless equipment is a wireless projector and tablet PC. We got one of these through our local City Learning Centre. It means that pupils can pass the tablet around, contributing ideas to the lesson and giving opinions and this is projected on the whiteboard wirelessly. Also, I can write things on the tablet from the back of the classroom or, in A level lessons from the piano or student table which are then projected onto the whiteboard. Fantastic for aural tests and basic notes for listening lessons.

Edited by Rob Jones

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