Michigan school district goes high-tech

Michigan school district goes high-tech

Converged voice, video and data enhances learning process

By Claire E. House

GCN Staff

A Michigan school district recently added cable broadcasts, desktop videoconferencing and intranet support to its teachers' traditional resources.


Meadow Ridge Elementary third-graders Sadie Burkhart, left, and Danielle Gerow talk to students at Lakes Elementary over a network that is rolling out to Rockford schools.


Rockford Public Schools is installing an $8.6 million Gigabit Ethernet network from 3Com Corp. of Santa Clara, Calif., in its 16 buildings. The network will bring 1-Gbps converged voice, video and data to every classroom in the district.

Works for them

'One of the things that's really interesting is trying to differentiate between 'Gosh, this is a really great solution that will work well in the corporate world at a desk, but gosh, I have 24 kids, and it doesn't really work best for them,' ' technology director Maggie Thelen said.

Kelly Taylor's third-grade class at Lake Elementary tapped into the network during a joint study of weather and the United States. Students viewed the Weather Channel on both a PC monitor and a central 32-inch TV. A couple of students using the PC had to minimize the Weather Channel window during commercials, Taylor said.

The class simultaneously videoconferenced with another group of third-graders already versed in the subject of weather. They appeared in a separate window on the screens.

Another class recorded birds' eggs hatching in the classroom while other classes watched online, and one class studying spiders viewed a video that had been encoded and stored on the district's intranet.

'It just extends what they're learning already. It's another resource to learn the unit we're teaching, and they're also getting the technology skills at the same time,' Taylor said.

The network will have two hubs: Rockford High School'already up and running'and a middle school under construction.

Rockford High connects to the network through a 3Com CoreBuilder 9000 enterprise switch, which internally connects to a 3Com NBX 100 phone switch for phone service and a CoreBuilder 3500 switch for data and video.

3Com announced last month that the NBX 100 had become the first Ethernet telephony device to qualify for funding through the federal E-Rate program, which provides discounts to schools and libraries for buying telecommunications and Internet access services.

The video server is a 450-MHz dual-Pentium II Dell PC with 512M of RAM and a 9G hard drive, running Windows NT 4.0. It runs the Microsoft Media Services suite, as do several encoders that connect to it. Encoders are Dell PCs with Osprey 100 video cap- ture cards from Viewcast.com Inc. of Dallas.

One encoder connects to a VCR for encoding videotapes; each of the others is dedicated to one cable channel for broadcast throughout the network. The network receives the Discovery Channel and the Weather Channel.

Teachers can send videotapes to the hub schools for intranet storage within 48 hours of receipt. Any teacher on the network can then call up the stored video online and play it in the classroom. For more convenience, each school will eventually have its own video encoder, district network administrator Peter Young said.


The Gigabit Ethernet network will use hardware from 3Com and other makers to connect two hub sites with classrooms throughout the school district.


Various file servers running Novell Netware will store network data and video files.

Each building will tap into the network through a 3Com SuperStack II 9300 or 9400 switch, which in turn will link to a Superstack II 3300 switch to support an internal 100-Mbps Ethernet network.

Each classroom will have at least two Dell Precision 210 PCs'one for the teacher and one for students. The teacher PCs also connect to a monitor for classroom viewing.

Clients run Microsoft Windows Media to tap into stored video or cable services. Microsoft Net Meeting facilitates videoconferencing with the help of computer microphones and speakers, as well as the 3Com Big Picture cameras that sit atop each PC.

PC phone calls

Each PC runs 3Com pcXset software for phone service. Teachers and students can make phone calls directly through the PC using the microphone and speakers or can use a SoundPoint speakerphone and handset device from Polycom of San Jose, Calif.

The network is running throughout one elementary school and in four classrooms in each of two pilot elementary schools. The district plans to complete installation next fall, Young said.

'We're really thrilled to be part of the future, part of the potential for what can be brought to the classroom,' Thelen said.

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