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Protoype Educational Facility Opens in Philadelphia


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September 08, 2006

Protoype Educational Facility Opens in Philadelphia

By Erik Linask
Group Managing Editor

Meru Networks, a network solutions provider with a focus on all-wireless infrastructure deployments, has been chosen by the seventh largest school district in the country to deliver a WLAN solution that can serve as a model for schools nationwide. The School District of Philadelphia includes 278 schools with more than 210,000 students and will use Meru’s WLAN system to connect them and provide mobile Internet and educational tools to students and staff as it models itself as the ‘School of the Future,’ a partnership between the District and Microsoft with an eye on transforming education through technology.
The prototype School of the Future is a West Philadelphia secondary school serving some 750 students. When it opened at 8:00 AM yesterday for the 2006-2007 school year, it did so as a state-of-the-art facility where technology will permeate the entire educational milieu. The expectation is that students will be better prepared for their continued college-level educational experience as well as for their future entry into the workforce.
It was decided early on that the most effective way to facilitate this technologically advanced learning environment was through a wireless infrastructure that would provide maximum mobility to users in addition to fast, easy access to multimedia learning applications, online curriculum and instructional content — all requirements for an anytime, anywhere educational setting. Naturally, it didn’t hurt that wireless would also eliminate many of the financial impediments created by a wired network.
“A robust wireless infrastructure is at the heart of our School of the Future initiative,” said Bob Westall, Executive Director for Information Technology, School District of Philadelphia.  “The benefits of wireless for mobility, flexibility, and cost savings [are] a given.”
Following an evaluation period, during which different options were explored, the School District decided Meru was the most viable option for taking its school, students, and faculty into the future. Meru won the contract for the new WLAN deployment through its partnership with Avaya (News - Alert), which provides a variety of telephony equipment to the District. Meru built the network with the aid of Integral Wireless Solutions of Blandon, Pennsylvania. Both Meru and Integral Wireless Solutions are members of Avaya’s DeveloperConnection program.
“The Meru WLAN System affords unique benefits, including its ability to handle high density environments such as auditoriums, libraries, cafeterias, and classrooms, where wireless users will congregate and want to simultaneously access the network,” explained Westall.  “We were also impressed with Meru’s QoS capabilities, which will enable the School of the Future to handle converged voice, data and video over the wireless network as we expand our applications in the future to include media rich content delivery and remote classroom training and to facilitate communication between instructors, students and administrators.”
Meru’s system that enables this unique — though perhaps not for long, if the experiment is successful this truly becomes a model for the future — includes Meru controllers, access points, and the four-radio Meru Radio Switch. Indeed, this very system is already part of the future of education, having been implemented at 28 K-12 and 42 higher education institutions already.
While some of the features of the School of the Future are elements that are expected at any learning facility — like lockers, like performance facilities, like computer labs, and more. But, in this case, the lockers are smart card accessible; the underground performing arts center is a 480-seat facility with a 3,500 square foot stage and orchestra pit and two 100-seat rotating lecture halls; outside, the facility features an amphitheater for performances, lectures, and presentations; there also will be an arboretum; and instead of computer labs, each student is supplied with a tablet PC. There also are a food court and cyber patio, smart classrooms, and a library without books — the Interactive Learning Center — that is more easily updated as newer and better materials become available.
Furthermore, faculty are provided with tools to make the learning process both more convenient and more effective. For instance, the facility offers an online tracking system that allows teachers to assess each student’s progress easily and accurately.
In addition to educational applications, the schools advanced resources are also directed to environmental conservation, like a water collection system on the roof, which allows rainwater to be captured and used for non-consumption. Special solar panels in the windows and on the roof are designed to conserve energy and lower heating and cooling costs by converting sunlight into a direct current that will reduce the external resources required to run the facility. Real-time data will be transmitted so students can study and understand the longer term environmental and economic effects of the system.
When all of this is put together, students, teachers, staff, and even parents have become part of a new, optimized educational experience equaled by no other single facility. It is expected to provide a setting whereby everyone involved will gain more than a standard textbook education, but will also gain exposure to the latest technology and its uses, as well as a respect for and understanding of issues facing school systems across the country, with the hope that this trial will become a standard for school systems across the country, even the world.
To see the benefits of wireless networks and other state-of-the-art technological advancements, don’t miss the INTERNET TELEPHONY Conference & EXPO in San Diego from October 10-13, 2006. There, you will hear from telecommunications industry leaders and innovators and will have the opportunity to visit with many of them to see first hand what benefits they can offer for your business, educational facility, or home.
Erik Linask is Associate Editor of INTERNET TELEPHONY. Most recently, he was Managing Editor at Global Custodian, an international securities services publication. To see more of his articles, please visit Erik Linask’s columnist page.


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