Pennsbury Schools Move to Collaborative Learning

Pennsbury, Pa., may be located in a region rich in Revolutionary War history, but its residents clearly look more toward the future than the past. To that end, the Pennsbury School District has set about the lofty goal of transforming their students' education from a teacher-centric system where students listen and learn to a new paradigm where students work independently and share their lessons with peers in their own classroom and beyond.

To provide the infrastructure for this objective, Pennsbury recently launched a $9.2 million ATM metropolitan area network (MAN) based on 3Com's CoreBuilder 9000 enterprise switch, and supported by 3Com Ethernet switches. Deployed this April, the new voice, video and data network connects 1,200 classrooms and 11,206 students in 16 buildings spread over 50 square miles. 3Com also provided complete implementation services through its 3Com Care professional services program. In addition, the district's two high schools offer 3Com's NetPrep, a two-year program preparing students for careers in network management.

'With the power of this network, we're able to make a major shift in our curriculum," says Dan DiLorenzo, director of information technologies for Pennsbury Schools. 'Instead of teachers leading lessons, they're facilitators helping students to use technology to teach themselves and coordinating collaborative learning projects with fellow students in their own classroom and in others. We're able to give them a Ôreal world' education that will make them more effective students in college and after their formal schooling is over."

Making the Connection

By the end of the next school year, Pennsbury will transmit video, voice and data across the MAN at once through convergence -- the district's primary reason for investing in such an advanced and powerful network. Using 3Com systems in this way, Pennsbury will save thousands of dollars on telephone service alone by paring down 500 separate phone lines to 100.

More importantly, convergence will transform the concept of the classroom throughout the district's schools. By using video servers to send full-motion video across the network to classroom computers, teachers in one school will be able to broadcast classes to another or save lessons that students can access later on their PCs. Networked video will further enable videoconferencing and guest speakers to multicast presentations to virtually every classroom in the district, as well as to allow students to collaborate with other classes."Once we fully implement converged services, students will be able to access information any time, anywhere, not just during school hours," says DiLorenzo. 'Students will be the driving force in their own education and, of course, it will be much simpler for parents to keep up with what their children are studying."

From November 1998 to April 1999, 3Com Care engineers worked full-time with DiLorenzo's staff to build, configure and test a complex architecture. This included virtual LANs (VLANs) within individual classrooms, among classrooms and among schools as well as a separate VLAN linking administrative offices. Their final task was to connect all the VLANs into one metropolitan area network (MAN) encompassing the entire district. 'They were with us every step of the way and did an outstanding job in helping us get the new MAN off the ground," DiLorenzo adds.

High Bandwidth and Long-Term Performance

The Pennsbury School District's MAN is reliably handling both today's most demanding bandwidth needs and tomorrow's new multimedia innovations. At its core is a redundant 622 Mbps OC-12 ATM backbone based on four CoreBuilder 9000 enterprise switches. Two of those switches are in a data center in Fallsington Elementary School, where the school district's administrative offices are based. The other two are in a remote site on the other side of a superhighway splitting the district. The CoreBuilder 9000 switches have dual OC-12 connections to 32 CoreBuilder 7000HD ATM systems, two in each of the district's 16 buildings. The CoreBuilder 7000 switches power building-wide LANs with Fast Ethernet connections to IBM 330 servers in each building using the ATM switches' 7600 interface cards.

A total of 650 SuperStack II 3300 switches, one in every classroom, in turn distribute100 Mbps Fast Ethernet links to desktop machines with Fast EtherLink 10/100 network interface cards (NICs). A separate virtual LAN (VLAN) for administrative applications is connected by the CoreBuilder 7000 systems to an IBM 400 server in the data center, which connects via SuperStack II 3300 switches to desktop PCs equipped with Fast EtherLink 10/100 NICs. Each administrator and teacher has a PC with network connections, and every classroom has six PCs shared among 25 to 30 students.

In addition to 3Com hardware, the Pennsbury schools are using 3Com's Transcend Enterprise Manager network management software to control, configure and manage the network from a single management console. 'We wanted a core infrastructure of network systems we could use for at least ten years, and that's precisely what 3Com provided for us," says DiLorenzo. 'Our network's scalable architecture will allow us to provide sophisticated voice, video and data services well into the new millennium, ensuring our students the finest educational opportunities available."

Contact Information:
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(800) NET-3COM

This article originally appeared in the 09/01/1999 issue of THE Journal.