Local News

Students will be able to use own computers in pilot program

SEBRING -The Highlands County School District will launch a pilot program to see if it is feasible for students to bring their own computer devices to school.

A $456,000 grant will be used to install a schoolwide enterprise-grade wireless system, Management Information Systems Technical Manager Harry Howes said.

The system is built with better components, allows more users at one time, can be managed from a central location and has better security than lower- grade wireless systems, he explained.

The "improved" wireless system will be tested to see if the district can launch a "bring your own device" program, likely to start at the beginning of the 2014-15 school year.

Howes is not sure at this time if only one middle and one high school will pilot the program or if more schools will be involved.

"We are looking at a slow rollout because we don't want to run into issues," Howes said. "We want to work out all the issues before we implement it."

Students who bring their own computers can help the district save money but there are many "behind the scenes things" that need to be done to make sure they don't disrupt the normal day-to-day activities, he said.

"We have done some testing at the Career Academy with 'bring your own device' and so far the testing has been going well," he said. "Once we get this new wireless in this will give us expanded use of 'bring your own device.'"

Installation of the enterprise-wireless systems will start in about a month, he said, and should be complete at all schools by the end of the school year.

The district also has received a $28,000 bandwidth grant that will be used to purchase new firewall protection.

As the district increases its bandwidth, it needs bigger firewalls to monitor the increasing amount of Internet traffic, Howes said.

Firewalls work in two ways - they block Internet users from attacking the district's network and help manage content going out, so if a district computer becomes infected, the firewall blocks the virus from reaching the Internet.

The district increased its Internet bandwidth this school year from 100 megabits to 200 megabits to accommodate increased student usage of online resources but is far short of the recommended level.

Additional bandwidth also is needed for online testing, and the district wants to have enough bandwidth to simultaneously conduct online tests and continue with day-to-day educational Internet use, Howes said.

Despite the recent increase to 200 megabits, the district is far short of the state recommendation of 100 megabits per 1,000 students.

The district has about 6,000 students who access the Internet at the same time, Howes said, so the district's bandwidth should be around 600,000 megabits.

"The goal next year is to continually increase the bandwidth to the Internet as we feel is necessary," Howes said.