AS ANY PARENT OR RECENT COLLEGE grad knows, school is a far more rigorous environment than it used to be. The infusion of the Internet and cellular technology into campus fundamentally has altered the academic process and the capabilities of school administrators. For wireless dealers, learning to navigate the education vertical can pay off not only in device sales but also application development and professional services.
A range of applications can be loaded on the phones.
In kindergarten through 12th grade, schools have three main challenges related to communications and operations: school safety, academic improvement and operational excellence. In higher education, the interest lies in operational improvement and enhancing the campus environment for students. Cellular applications can fit each of these needs, explains Craig Carroll, national director of education sales programs at Sprint Nextel Corp. You just have to understand the individual schools particular needs across these buckets, then recommend the right solutions.
In light of recent campus violence, student and faculty safety and emergency planning has shot to the top of the curriculum for K- 12 administrators. We have a very open environment in our schools, and we want to make them safer while preserving that, says Carroll. No one wants a lock-down mode.
There are a couple of ways cellular can address the issue. One, an education-specific application from Wallace Wireless allows schools to import emergency-planning manuals into PDAs. In the event of an emergency, the particular instructions pertinent to each department or individual can be pushed out to the device eliminating the need to flip through a 500-page tome to find the right instructions for the situation.
Telcordia Technologies Inc. offers a hosted application called Parental Control for operators, which lets cell phones be disabled during school hours, except for an emergency numbers list. In the recent school shootings wave, student cell phones were the only link for parents as to what was going on inside the room, says Cathy McMann, executive director at Telcordia. Yet many schools ban cell phones on campus. This type of calendar functionality goes directly to the value having cellular access can bring in the event of an emergency.
Another solution for safety is child tracking. Students can be issued swipe cards or RFID devices that log when, where and who gets on and off a bus, for example, or when they walk into the school.
GPS capabilities can track which students are in which rooms on campus in the event of an emergency. Taking it one step further, IP video cameras can tie into the system and be triggered to click on in an emergency or when a bus driver presses a button or whenever the rear doors on the bus open.
Tracking is also commonly looked at when it comes to special-needs students, says Carroll. The school often brings them to doctors appointments and so on, and capturing the data on where and when students arrive and depart is a direct link to getting Medicare funding from the government for special-needs programs.
When it comes to improving academics, wireless routers on buses can let students with wireless broadband cards on their laptops do their homework particularly useful for field trip situations, athletes who spend time commuting to games and for students in rural districts where the bus ride is long.
Wireless applications can impact operations for a school district as well. Tracking school buses is one area. Bus routing software combined with GPS capability and wireless access gives dispatchers a real-time view of where buses are in their routes. The school can text message parents if a bus is running ahead or behind of schedule.
Facilities management is another area where partners can recommend solutions. ActSoft Inc., for instance, makes the Comet Tracker application for schools, which tracks time, tasks and workers in real time, and instantly pinpoints worker locations on a single map display. It also monitors asset location, status and performance, enables flexible PC data storage, assigns jobs, generates reports and captures timecard information.
There are a lot of these enterprise-oriented, work-flow management needs that really apply to schools, which have a large facilities and maintenance component in their budgets, explains Carroll. Mobile workers likely have some kind of wireless device anyway, so this helps them do more with less.
Devices can be used as clickers for polling inside the classroom.
For the college and university set, wireless applications are a way to enhance the student experience and streamline administrative tasks. With more than 90 percent of college students carrying a cell phone, and with a more mobile population than K-12 students, wireless offers a way to bolster communications with students while addressing academic improvement and emergency needs. The nature of the institution is very important in determining what kind of applications and devices fit the bill, says Ed Chapel, CIO at Montclair State University in New Jersey. For us, three-quarters of our students commute, and we wanted to find a way to reinforce the engagement of students with the school and each other, on campus and off so Wi-Fi wasnt applicable for us. Montclair also wanted to replace landlines in the residence halls, which no one seemed to be using.
The Popular Crowd
These are the most popular devices for higher education applications, according to Sprint.
To that end, the school built out a specialized cellular network to cover the campus with a quality that matches landline connectivity and layered on valueadded applications for student involvement. As of this fall, the university requires all entering students to obtain a university-certified device that has the apps built in. It emulates the general market, from high-end PDAs to bare-bones handsets with nothing more than Internet capability and GPS, says Chapel.
The applications the school developed run the gamut from offering 300 channels for various organizations and clubs, e-mail, shuttle bus tracking, university directory integration and access to dining hall menus to Goal Quest, a student adjustment facilitator for freshmen that helps them navigate the financial aid process. On the academics side, student cell phones are tied into the Blackboard system to help them check homework assignments and course materials, chat with professors and file postings on bulletin boards. In the classroom, an application from Rave Wireless Inc. lets devices be used as clickers, so a professor can poll the class, which responds via the cell phones, and the data is aggregated and presented via a projector in the classroom. Also, Lecture 123 is a podcasting and bulletin-board application that allows a running Q&A over the course of a semester on a particular professors lecture.
Safety is another area of importance for higher education. For instance, a mobile guardian application from Sprint allows students to register their walking routes with campus security. The student turns on the GPS functionality, sends a message saying she will be walking across campus to the library and the trip should take 10 minutes, and an LCD screen tracks her progress. If the student doesnt arrive in the time allotted, security can call to check in, and if there is no response, can dispatch an officer to the scene.
Social networking is a growing need for colleges as well. Now that everyone has a cell phone, its very easy for freshmen to spend time talking to their parents and friends back home instead of embracing the college experience, says Carroll. Many universities are very concerned with engendering engagement because of that.
Montclair tackled the problem with a networking application that allows students to build entourages of friends, teammates, club members and so on. It includes presence information, group chat, the ability to send out text messages to groups and more. This really pays dividends for new students adjusting to being on campus, says Chapel. This is a hook back into campus, especially for the commuters. The university also can send out alerts as to whats going on at the school, news bulletins as to class closings, arts events and more. Its all about creating a real sense of community, Chapel adds.
Whether K-12 or higher education, selling wireless to schools offers a way to sell devices and airtime, but also applications, network planning and maintenance, and, perhaps most importantly, it offers the ability to make a difference.
For schools, developing these applications isnt an opportunity, its an obligation, says Carroll. If youre selling in the public sector, you have to approach this as a duty. Our children are one of the most important resources we as a nation have, and all of this speaks directly to that idea.
Selling K-12: Its Elementary!
An understanding of the requirements in K-12 education is one piece of the sales process puzzle. For dealers to be successful, its also important to understand how to approach the deal in the first place.
The decision-making process tends to be slightly longer, says Craig Carroll, national director of education sales programs at Sprint Nextel Corp. The cycle is a June through May calendar, and technology decisions require budgeting upfront. In K-12, e-Rate funding becomes important. In 2007-’08 the federal funding program will, for the first time, include wireless as a fundable service.
And funding is the No. 1 obstacle schools face. Parents and residents want to put money into education, says Carroll. But there are a lot of competing interests for that tax dollar. What dealers have to demonstrate is that there is a greater cost in not implementing this technology than the upfront costs. ROI models become important. For instance, work-order management can bolster productivity by 20 percent, but only costs 5 percent more to implement. Also, schools are at risk of losing funding for special needs without proper documentation, which wireless tracking can automate. And the No Child Left Behind Act cuts funding to underperforming schools, making academic enhancement of key importance. Enabling children to do homework on their way to a game speaks directly to this.
Its also important to understand that K-12 school districts often mandate individual schools to craft a technology plan that may be a five- or 10-year process, in order to avoid obsolescence and forklift upgrades. Also, the decision makers in any deal wear multiple hats. You could be talking to the principal, who is also the IT person, says Carroll. You just never know. But you have to give them a plan that speaks to today, and also tomorrow, crafted for that particular schools needs. Thats the key.
|ActSoft Inc. www.actsoft.com
Montclair State University www.montclair.edu
Rave Wireless Inc. www.ravewireless.com
Sprint Nextel Corp. www.sprint.com
Telcordia Technologies Inc. www.telcordia.com
Wallace Wireless www.wallacewireless.com
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