Turn It Off, or Turn It Up?

My school district has been adding some infrastructure to a facility for support offices recently, and our network team noticed some serious spikes in WiFi use after hours at the sites.  A few years ago, we implemented a very easy to use public network for any guest or personal machine in our schools to be able to connect with minimal inconvenience.  Basically, we have Starbucks-style free WiFi running at all of our sites.  That’s a good thing – as public schools are community institutions, funded and supported by the community.  That support should go both ways.  And yet – it’s a rocky road.

This facility, surrounded by homes and broadcasting a strong WiFi signal, was getting hammered by private residences in the area.  Serious use.  Non-staff use on the public network side.

So the decision was made, because of concern about the network and the high traffic, to shut down that site’s access points after business hours.  

One network technician, leaving the site, was asked by a nearby resident “Why did you turn off my wireless?”

What an interesting question, and it got me thinking.  What is the role of public infrastructure when it comes to personal use beyond the scope of our educational mission?  

I see both sides of this one – a network with no available bandwidth for students and staff to conduct their work just won’t do – and the primary mission of an educational entity is to educate the folks within the entity.  

But I wonder, too, about the larger role of a public school district in terms of its educational mission to the community beyond the classroom.  How do we create opportunities for learning for the folks served indirectly by our primary efforts?  Is a school’s WiFi, funded by the community through tax and use fees, “mine,” or “theirs,” or, maybe “ours?”

As the lines blur further between personal and professional and in-school and out-of-school, I think this is an important question.  I wonder how you’re answering that in your institutions, districts, and classrooms.  If you’ve got a great answer, I’d love to hear it in the comments.

13 thoughts on “Turn It Off, or Turn It Up?

  1. Hi Bud ; I always enjoy reading your posts. My question for you is: Was the after hours use of internet causing an increase in the cost to the district or school?

    1. Bud Hunt says:

      That’s a good and relevant question, and, in this case, I don’t believe that it was.

  2. We max out our bandwidth during the day. So much so, that we’ve had to add a service that distinguishes between “essential” services (usually translated to “testing”) and “non-essential” services (usually translated to “Netflix”). However, after-hours, the network sits mostly unused. Our particular building isn’t really near enough to any residences for them to take advantage, but the question of broader public service, particularly through an institution that’s funded by public dollars, is an interesting one. It seems to fit with the “school as community center” model.

    On the other hand, the heavy filters in place on this network may be a deterrent enough for anyone living near enough to actually connect. That likely takes us to another issue, though.

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