Four years ago my friend Ken Williams and I cooked up a plan, which we dubbed TeacherNet, to provide teachers at Prince Street Elementary School with high quality wireless Internet. As I detailed here at the time, the genesis of the project went something like this:
Following from the January meeting of the Minister’s Advisory Committee on CIT and the later meeting with Premier Ghiz, Peter Rukavina prepared a report on the state of the education technology landscape for the board of the PEI Home and School Federation.
During the consideration of this report, we became aware of pilot projects, under the aegis of the French School Board, to install low-cost wireless routers connected to the community office Internet feed, to support both community users and educators in French schools.
Inspired by the French School Board project, with the Premier’s words in mind, and after discussion with educators and Terry MacIsaac, principal at Prince Street School, the notion of a similar wireless “pilot project” to test the viability of a low-cost parallel Internet network at the school was raised by the Prince Street Home and School. The principal encouraged the Home and School to pursue the project, and educators in the school were enthusiastic in their embracing possible uses of such a network in the school, so the decision was made to proceed.
With the support of the Prince Street Home and School, and with the cooperation and generosity of Bell Aliant, which provided the backhaul to the Internet, using low-cost wireless mesh routers Ken and I set up a network that covered the school. Every teacher and staff person had a username and password, and the Internet was completely unfiltered. After setting it all it, we stepped back and let things be, leaving the school to use its newfound superpower as it saw fit.
One of the things we had to agree to in our pilot project was that the provincial “help desk” wouldn’t be called upon to do support for the wireless infrastructure: Ken and I had to agree to handle this. Ken bore the brunt of this, but, fortunately, the network proved remarkable robust: most of the time it just worked.
It was reported in the minutes of the September Prince Street Home and School meeting that TeacherNet has served its purpose and will be shut down, replaced by government-installed-and-supported wireless Internet:
The school now officially has wifi provided by the Department of Education. The former TeacherNet, which was provided to the school as a project of Home and School, is being taken down —its work is complete. All the teaching staff has a laptop and there are computers in other locations around the school. There are also two full carts of Chromebooks plus 17 others to deploy as needed. Staff has been trained on the Chromebooks now. They are all web-based and memory is in the cloud. Work begun at school can be accessed at home and worked on from the home. Each student will have their own cloud account and sign-in. When people learn how to use it, it will be quite powerful.
None of this would have happened without the imagination and tenacity of Ken Williams, so please tip your hat to him next time you see him; he is a credit to technologists everywhere.
And it also wouldn’t have happened without being embraced by Bell Aliant, the Department of Education and the Eastern School District; we tend to think of bureaucracy, especially the technological bureaucracy, as being stubborn and implacable; one thing TeacherNet demonstrated is that if you make a solid technical and education argument, find the funds yourself, and are willing to roll up your sleeves and go into the school on a Saturday morning and string some cable, you can actually get things done.
TeacherNet may be dead, but the spirit of TeacherNet lives on.