Kevin Cummings knows the value of using interactive videos to support his classroom instruction. The Aylen Junior High science teacher shows videos to help illustrate complex physics principles, such as force and motion, and astronomy concepts, such as the phases of the moon. As powerful a teaching tool as technology is, however, Cummings knows how quickly he can lose his students’ attention when a video freezes or, worse yet, fails to start in the fi rst place. “That gives kids a chance to be off task,” he said. “Any distraction is bad, especially in junior high.” Thanks to a recently completed upgrade to the district’s bandwidth — the amount of data that can be carried from one point to another in a given time period — teachers like Cummings and students across the district have increased speed and reliability for accessing information. Last month marked the completion of 42 miles of high-speed fiber-optic communication lines installed around the district. All 32 schools and most of the district’s support buildings are hooked up to the aerial and underground lines. Fiber-optic communication is a method of transmitting information by sending pulses of light through an optical fi ber. Because of its advantages over electrical transmission, optical fi bers have largely replaced copper wire communications. The school board approved the bandwidth upgrade in May 2009 and agreed to pay for the $8 million project using unallocated resources from the 2004 voter-approved school bond and accompanying state match money. Directors also unanimously approved a contract agreement with Missouri-based Unite Private Networks for the installation and lease of the districtwide fi ber-optic wide area network. The speed at which teachers and students can now access information between schools and on the Internet is as much as 500 times faster, said Randy Averill, director of information technology. Elementary schools and many of the junior high schools will notice the most dramatic change. The old computer network, he said, struggled to keep pace with increasing technological demands. “If another teacher in the school was downloading a video at the same time you were, it was almost certain you would experience problems with your download,” he said. The information bottleneck can be likened to a water main that serves a growing neighborhood. As more families move in, water use increases and the existing pipes might not be able to cope with the additional demand. As a result, water pressure may drop and some homes may have diffi culty getting water at all. Larry Gow, bandwidth project manager, said the new high-speed network “gives us possibilities to enhance the delivery of curriculum through technology like we have never seen in the past.” The increase in bandwidth also paves the way for other technology-related improvements, he said, including the consolidation of computer server equipment at each school into a single data center at the Information Technology Center. This, in turn, ensures that information is backed up regularly so that it is not lost in the event of a power outage or other emergency.
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