Creating a 21st-century learning environment

Tuesday, 14 July, 2020 | Supplied by: Extreme Networks Australia

Creating a 21st-century learning environment

Glasshouse Christian College (GCC) is a Prep to Year 12 Christian school located on Queensland’s Sunshine Coast, leading the way in innovation through technology. All GCC students are educated on one campus with the school’s classrooms and facilities employing cutting-edge technology including data projectors, interactive whiteboards and fully networked computers. GCC is named one of ‘Queensland’s most innovative schools’ and recognised by Apple as an ‘Apple Distinguished School’, just one of eight schools in Queensland, and 470 worldwide.

In its 20 years of operation, GCC has grown rapidly from 16 children and two teachers in 2000 to its current enrolment of 1100 students. When the current principal joined GCC in 2008, he had a vision to build the college’s success on technology.

“I always want our kids to be totally engaged and in love with learning … technology gives us a wonderful tool by which that can happen,” said Mike Curtis, Principal, Glasshouse Christian College.

The school now leads the way in innovation and access to technology among the private schools on the Sunshine Coast. From prep, students have access to iPads and computers and from Year 2 to Year 12 every student has access to a laptop. Every secondary student is issued with a MacBook for their own use both at school and at home.

Technology plays a key role in innovative learning programs, including The DeLorean Project which provides Year 10 students with the opportunity to engage in authentic, student-negotiated learning. This program is focused on innovation, entrepreneurship and community mindedness, utilising collaborative technologies, social media and online resources for their projects.

“[The DeLorean Project is] also a way to promote what schooling should be like right now in the 21st century, preparing young people for the future,” said Professor Shelley Dole, Head of School, School of Education, University of the Sunshine Coast.

Technology plays a key role in innovative learning programs.

Solving intractable Wi-Fi problems

With a poorly performing wired and wireless network, GCC needed a solution that would give students and staff consistent and reliable connectivity throughout the campus, and sufficient throughput to handle a lot of audio and video content generated and transported across the network. GCC also has an in-house IT team of just four, so ease of management was another critical factor.

“Schools are a hub of activity; they never stay the same and things are moving all the time in our IT environment. We were looking for a one-stop networking solution. As IT Manager I was looking for a product that would free up my team. My team were repeatedly exhausted by solving the same sorts of networking problems,” said Roland Munyard, IT Manager, Glasshouse Christian College.

GCC had tried four different vendors’ Wi-Fi solutions over the years, without success. It was a difficult architectural environment for Wi-Fi, with a lot of different building materials and spaces in use across the campus. Also, GCC found that Apple devices were “notoriously sticky” once they connected to an access point (AP), which caused connectivity problems for students and teachers moving around the campus.

“The biggest and hardest obstacle for us to overcome was a consistent connection with a decent transfer speed. We could get kids to stay connected but they just weren’t getting the throughput that they needed in the classroom,” said Joshua Whysall, Glasshouse Christian College’s Network Administrator.

The school’s rapid and organic growth had also resulted in a complex and diverse wired core and edge network topology, which made it difficult to deploy new devices and identify and troubleshoot issues.

The truest version of software-defined networking

Evaluating a number of potential solutions, GCC was impressed with Extreme’s approach to software-defined networking (SDN), analytics and Extreme Management Center (XMC), which provided GCC’s IT team with a single view of everything that was happening on the network — even on the legacy HP switches still currently in use on the campus.

“I believe that XMC is at the front end of innovation and offered me a one-stop shop and competitive edge I was looking for,” Munyard said.

The Extreme environment is fully integrated with GCC’s security infrastructure, and user authentication and identity management solutions, ensuring new devices and users can be added instantly and securely to the network, all managed through a single XMC console.

Now, users can stream high-definition video to their iPads or MacBooks without interruption as they move from AP to AP throughout the campus.

“Companies all define SDN in a different way, but from our perspective, Extreme is the only one that actually does it right,” Whysall said. “For me, SDN is one piece of software that works all the way through the network where you have all the rules built into it so that when you plug in a new device or connect a new user, it does what it is supposed to do and works instantly and seamlessly.”

After upgrading the core network with EXOS X690 Switching, and deploying Extreme’s Wi-Fi APs, GCC could take advantage of the business insights from ExtremeAnalytics and the high-density Wi-Fi capabilities demanded by students. When the edge switches were upgraded later throughout the campus, GCC had the opportunity to completely redesign its network topology.

“The coolest part was that about nine months ago we had to change the way our network worked. We built the rules, the VLANs and the groups in the back end. You synch it all in one go, and everyone in the school just switches and starts working. It just happens so seamlessly with Extreme. You don’t have to try really hard. It’s not like you are trying to do anything clever, it’s just networking,” Whysall said.

“Extreme has the truest version of SDN in the industry; it’s been an elixir for our network problems. Using Extreme’s software is like having another staff member, which is critical from an education perspective. It’s freed up my team, which has had tangible advantages for the college,” Munyard said.

Ready for NAPLAN online

In preparation for NAPLAN Online — which will see all Australian schools gradually transitioning from the current paper-based annual tests to the computer-based assessments for students in Years 3, 5, 7 and 9 — GCC’s IT team ensured that every classroom on campus had solid, reliable internet connectivity. While many schools and students across Australia experienced technical glitches and connectivity issues on the first day of NAPLAN Online testing in 2019, GCC students had a trouble-free experience with per student analytics available to GCC from the Extreme solution as a valuable proof point.

“Other schools went through hell. Our participation in NAPLAN went without a hitch. We were untouchable when it came to the network,” Munyard said.

“It’s been amazing working with the Extreme team. They have customer satisfaction at the top of their criteria. My total cost of ownership is demonstrably lower, and Extreme has worked collaboratively with us to stay within our budget requirements,” Munyard continued.

CompNow has been GCC’s technology partner for a number of years, supplying most of the college’s IT hardware solutions.

“Our partner CompNow has been valuable and supportive. They provide all our Apple needs and all our Extreme hardware. We have great rapport with them and they have great rapport with Extreme. More importantly, CompNow is very human, and very service-driven and customer-focused,” Munyard said.

“With CompNow, it’s like dealing with a friend when you are ordering. They are a part of our ecosystem. They’ve solved every issue I’ve had. We have a lot of ceilings that are gyprock, so we needed a special plate for our access points. They found me the plates and got them to me quickly,” Whysall said.

Future plans

GCC expects to have a complete, end-to-end wired and wireless Extreme networking environment on campus by mid-2020, and to introduce an increased level of automation for provisioning of new devices and other network administrative functions.

“Owning a robust, reliable and performing network would be key to any business’s future success, especially in the education industry which is as diverse and variable as can be,” Munyard said.

The rapid growth of the college has accelerated plans to continue to expand and redevelop its facilities, including Stage III of its Performing Arts Centre, which will contain a state-of-the-art 600-seat performance hall. GCC is also considering plans to open a second, greenfields campus, giving the IT team an opportunity to deploy a new Extreme software-defined wireless and wired network environment, ideal for a 21st-century learning environment.

“If I had one word to describe Extreme, I would say success; because with Extreme you can be as successful as you choose to be,” Munyard concluded.

System at a glance

  • 1100 K–12 students
  • 200 staff
  • 1600 connected devices
  • 4-hectare campus with more than 60 educational, administrative, sporting facilities
Technology needs
  • Reliable, high-performance wired and wireless networking
  • Ease of provisioning and management of devices and users
  • Operational efficiencies via automation of business rules and service provisioning
Extreme solution components
  • Extreme Summit X690 EXOS 10/100 Gigabit Switches
  • X440-G2 EXOS 10 Gigabit Edge Switches
  • Extreme AP3825i and AP3935i 802.11 Wireless Access Points
  • Extreme Management Center, ExtremeControl and ExtremeAnalytics
  • Network performance, security, reliability and scalability meeting intensive user and device needs
  • End-to-end management, visibility and control
  • Low total cost of ownership and upgrades within budget
Phone: 02 9959 1026
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