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Wireless classroom gets a look

John King
Northern News Services

Yellowknife (Dec 21/05) - School trustees tossed around the idea of implementing wireless computer labs throughout Yk No. 1 during a public school board meeting, Dec. 13.

"Wireless labs improve student learning," said Metro Huculak, Yk No. 1 superintendent.

But there are several security dangers when running a wireless network in a school setting.

In fact, if Yk No. 1 opts to go wireless, the district will most likely use consumer-grade wireless networking, also known in the industry as WiFi, says wireless expert Graham Blake, a manager of network operations for SSI Micro in Yellowknife.

"Wireless equipment by default is not secure," Blake said.

The rough idea is that instead of each computer in a local network being hooked directly to a central hub with wires, the hub communicates something like a radio transmitter. Hackers could be able to intercept a computer's communications if they could determine the frequency.

"Most wireless networking equipment has some means of establishing security," Blake said.

There are security measures for WiFi networks such as Wireless Equivalent Protocol which encrypts data transfers

Yk No. 1 would like to use a wireless network instead of having to rely on the current system where everything is hardwired.

"We are taking an inventory of equipment across the district," said Mel Pardy, assistant superintendent.

Pardy outlined a three-phase plan to review the technological capacity of Yk No. 1.

"Phase one will be getting the server up and running to max capacity. Next we need to solve whatever issues arise, think about our objectives and integrate technology into classrooms," Pardy said.

From an education standpoint, said Pardy, the most interesting part of the technology review are phases two and three where educators will ask the question: "What do we want technology to do for us?"

"A big issue is getting teachers to integrate technology into their curricula," Pardy said.

School trustee Terry Brookes questioned whether fewer, better-quality computers would be more useful to students than trying to equip each student with a computer.

Pardy said there are budget considerations that need to be made before officials go ahead with any new technology plans.

"We're going to have to upgrade our systems. We have someone looking into what we have and what we will need to do to bring our systems up to date. Technology is the way to go," said board chair Reanna Erasmus.

"We need to be careful in regards to security and the board is looking at policy that will protect students," Erasmus said.