Teachers College, Columbia University Wires Classrooms to Explore How Wired Classrooms Work

May 31, 2016 • Blog Post

Teachers College, Columbia University educates educators, but also studies education. In other words, what goes on there is very meta.

Among the school's areas of study is the classroom environment itself. So when the college wires up a class, it could serve as a model for others. That's why the school's recent deal to implement a full suite of Hewlett Packard Enterprise and Aruba wired and wireless solutions is significant.

With a portfolio of HPE core and data center switches, Aruba Wi-Fi, mobility access switches and controllers, ClearPass secure access platform and AirWave network management, Teachers College can now give its 5,300 students spread across eight interconnected campus buildings quick and reliable access to resources via any mobile device. The school had previously used a wireless system from Cisco, but decided to upgrade the network.

The College plans a total of 52 classroom updates, seven of which will be completed by the end of 2016. The classrooms will include complete wireless access and will sport wall-mounted touchscreens.

"Our new classroom approach is to create a flexible modular space that provides a physical place where both faculty and students can have the freedom to incorporate new methodologies in support of their curriculum, and to provide a cost effective option for the institution to address long-term capital needs," said Laura M. O'Connell, director of capital projects, Teachers College, Columbia University. "The classroom concept was a collaborated effort between the design consultants and the stakeholders of the institution so that all programmatic elements were captured and integrated within the design."

The new tools will let the College explore effective uses for mobile devices in the classroom. Occasionally, they will also help point out when old school tech is better.



Experimenting with Wired Classrooms

Since 2000, almost every public school in the U.S. has had access to the Internet, according to the National Center for Educational Statistics. But sixteen years later, truly wired classrooms are far from the norm and some experiments have failed. And some teachers find that adapting to 1-to-1 instruction is difficult and that the devices themselves can be distracting.

Naveed Husain, CIO for Teachers College, acknowledges that while devices sometimes can be a hindrance to learning,classroom technology is valuable as it allows teachers to recognize different types of intelligence.

"Its the flexibility of learning thats changed today," he said. "People now recognize that people learn differently. In the old days, the thinking was different and the rote method used."

For example, Husain said, a class can use multimedia tools to learn about the Vietnam War. "Today you can look at Walter Cronkite's newscasts from the Vietnam War and live through the messaging that people were receiving in those days," he said. "You're not reading about history, you're living history."

Students can also "tweet" during a discussion. While one screen in class may show the material, the other will highlight students comments and questions. "In my day, passing notes in class was considered bad, said Husain. "But now it's viewed differently."



The Education Cost Model

When businesses scale up these days, they order more space in the cloud and are able to pay for it with increasing revenues. But for schools, there's a different cost model. If the need for more bandwidth increases, there's no corresponding increase in cash generation.

"The higher education economy is different than the corporate economy," said Husain. "We want to use that nickel twice."



Analyzing the Classroom

The continuing use of mobile devices and Internet-based learning begs the question of whether we need classrooms at all. After all, some businesses have found they dont need offices. But Husain said there's still a role for classroom-based learning.

"There's a role for both classroom based and online learning," he said, noting that hybrid programs that include both are also viable. However, Husain said he believes that there's something intangible and irreplaceable about in-person instruction.