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What You Need to Know: Networking

3 Feb 2015 by Scott Sterling

“I can’t log on!”

“Something’s wrong with the Wi-Fi!”

“It’s so slooooow!”

Most teachers expect these bellows from the students every day they are engaged in a technology-heavy lesson. If you are a BYOD or 1:1 school, that’s every school day. Although, it might not be in your abilities or permissions to fix these issues, it helps to have a basic understanding of how the networking (probably) works in your school.

The architecture

In networking terms, the architecture means how the various gadgets are laid out, not how the building is designed. This can depend on many different things, including the age of the building and the budget available when they decided to wire the school.

You probably know that you and the students are accessing the network in one of two ways from your classroom: through a hard-wired connection in the wall or wirelessly through some sort of router. The hard-wired connection goes directly to the building’s switching hub. The Wi-Fi makes a few stops along the way.

Wi-Fi architecture

With Wi-Fi, the ideal setup is a router for every classroom — but that’s rare. Instead, you’re probably sharing a router with neighboring rooms and it’s located in the hall. This was probably a budgetary issue. You also could have a router attached to a laptop cart that needs to be plugged into the wall.

The more people who are on a router doing data-heavy work, the slower it will be. If everyone on the router is streaming YouTube, you’re going to have a bad day. Bandwidth issues also affect students’ abilities to log in, since they need to be authenticated through a main server.

If the connection is slow, the login times out.

Outside the classroom

The router is then hard-wired to the switching hub (the same one as the wall connections) and sent to the school’s mainline connection, which is usually provided by the cable or phone company — just like at home.

The difference is the data makes a stop first before going to the Internet: district servers that perform multiple purposes. One of stops is the authentication I mentioned earlier. The other primary job is to filter inappropriate or dangerous content. A different district server handles internal e-mail (usually through Outlook/Exchange), but if your district is using some sort of Gmail setup, that is going outside the district first before coming back to you.

While you may not be a networking expert, a basic knowledge about your school’s network will help you navigate some issues or know who to contact when problems arise. In the meantime, here’s some homework for you. Read the book, “An Educator’s Guide to School Networks,” by next week.


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