Students in some cities arrived back to school to a bit of a culture shock.
They couldn’t log into some of their favourite social media apps while using their school’s free wifi access. For them, that means no SnapChat, no Netflix, no Instagram.
All of those apps require heavy data consumption, which eats through a school’s bandwidth in addition to providing a way for students to mentally check out of class.
But in Chilliwack schools, there are no hard and fast restrictions this school year, explains Kirk Savage, a director of instruction for School District 33. He says they really noticed heavy bandwidth use at secondary school sites last spring. And after seeing what some schools in Toronto were doing to restrict access to social media sites, they decided to roll out a pilot project here.
The school that was piloted for the all-out social media ban was Chilliwack secondary, while at GW Graham and Sardis they used “traffic shaping” to slow down access to discourage use.
“We didn’t want it to eat up our district bandwidth,” Savage says.
Over at CSS, the results were great for the first week, he says. But once kids learned how to bypass the system by installing VPNs on their devices, the usage problems returned.
“When we did this in the spring it was pretty quiet,” he says. “And we had a week where we noticed the bandwidth improved, but as kids found ways around it, it went up again.”
A ban on devices altogether isn’t a realistic option, either, he notes. Teachers use technology in the classroom more and more, as “our whole culture is moving to a very digital culture,” Savage says.
In fact, it’s impossible to run a school without proper internet and wifi these days, as teachers and staff have multiple sites to access, including MyEdBC, and other internet-based sites they use as teaching tools. And students are finding positive ways to use devices as a note taking and studying tool, too.
The shaping of wifi traffic is being used district wide now, making it difficult to upload large files like movies through a school’s wifi. In addition, the Ministry of Education has just “bumped up” the bandwidth at most of Chilliwack’s school sites.
With traffic shaping, administrators can prioritize websites, placing those that teachers use frequently at the top of the list, and those that students try to use at the bottom. In heavy traffic times, such as during the school day, priority goes to the top of the list.