Adopting Cutting-Edge Technology as the Status Quo at Tabor College


At Tabor College, WiFi is more important than water. Naturally, I'm joking, but I'm also trying to make a point. Students can bring something to drink from home, but we provide the network connectivity that serves as the foundation of their entire educational journey at our three campuses here in the Netherlands. As a matter of fact, our 20-gigabit network offers the fastest school internet connectivity in the country.

Some schools will tell you that technology is the future, but at Tabor, we believe that technology is now. We provide our teachers with cutting-edge tools that guide students and lead to the best educational outcomes. At the same time, we are showing kids how to use their devices as tools rather than as distractions. These skills not only make them better learners, but also provide a solid foundation in technology that will serve them when they enter the workforce a few years from now. 

Technology isn’t the future of education. It’s now.

I've been with Tabor for 16 years, and I've served as head of IT for the last five. During my time here, we've always used technology in the classroom, but we didn't always have a unified approach. 

Embracing a Single-Vendor Solution and Roadmap

When I started here, we were using Windows desktops wired into our LAN and a handful of Dell laptops. Our network was a hodgepodge of routers, switches, and hubs from a variety of vendors. We were sourcing our infrastructure based on our budgetary constraints and had never given a second thought to consolidating our purchases under a single supplier. 

In 2010, we were still vendor agnostic, but we recognized that we were starting to fall behind. Network hardware and network management tools were growing in sophistication. The trend in network architecture had shifted from sourcing best-in-class components from various vendors to consolidating solutions that combined hardware, software, design, and support services from a single supplier. 

At the same time, desktop computers were giving way to laptops, tablets, and smartphones in our classrooms and administrative offices. So we started thinking in terms of wireless infrastructure. After exploring various options with our partner Avit Group—a specialist in network infrastructure, with offices in Belgium, Angola, Ethiopia, and here in the Netherlands—we went with a 360-degree network solution from Cisco

Cisco not only offered a total network design solution, they also provided a roadmap. When we sat down with our Cisco technologists, they showed us what we could do in the present day but also what we would be able to do three to five years down the line. 

Technology changes fast. Find an IT foundation that will keep up with tomorrow.

The ability to peer into the future was especially reassuring for Tabor College because IT changes so fast. Knowing we were ready for tomorrow's tools helped us commit a budget to this new wireless infrastructure. After all, we didn't want to spend money merely keeping ourselves afloat; we needed to swim ahead of the current. 

Once we'd consolidated our infrastructure, we started thinking about adopting a single vendor for our computing devices. The shift to mobile technology provided an opportunity to update our educational strategies and priorities, and to improve the way we use IT to serve our students, our teachers, and our staff. 

Standardizing on Apple Products

At the time, one of our board members, who was an Apple fan, came to our IT team and asked for a MacBook. We set one up for him, authorized it on our network, and saw all that it could do. We were so impressed that we decided to change from Windows PCs and Dell laptops to MacBooks, iMacs, and iPads.

Apple hardware may cost more, but it's durable and highly specced. An iPad or a MacBook is made of metal and is more likely to survive four years of school than a low-end Chromebook with a plastic shell. Also, we have special pricing from Apple, and our students can purchase their devices at a significant discount.

At the moment, we have about 5,000 iPads, 600 MacBooks, and 200 iMacs on our network. Fortunately, Apple and Cisco have a longstanding history together. Every time Apple releases new hardware or updates for Mac OS and iOS, Cisco is ready with its own patches to support any new features. Cisco's dashboard-based network management and monitoring tools also allow us to see what Apple devices are connected to our infrastructure, and this on top of showing us the status of our routers, switches, firewalls, and wireless access points.

Financing and Renewing Cutting-Edge Technology

At Tabor, we've adopted cutting-edge technology as the status quo. One of the ways we're keeping abreast of progress is by upgrading critical elements of our infrastructure every three years. We can budget for this on-going expense by financing our network through Cisco Capital

The Cisco Easy Pay program gives us zero percent financing over three years, thus allowing us to spread out and manage the cost of our network hardware, software, and services, rather than investing all our money at once. At the end of every contract, we can buy out our entire setup, or we can renew our agreement and upgrade only those elements of our network that are slowing us down. 

Photo credit: Ilse Kuit

Whenever administrators and IT teams from other schools visit Tabor, they are stunned by our network and ask how we pulled it off. "We can't afford it," they often say. That's when I talk about our deal with Cisco Capital. I explain the benefits of predictable cost structures and help them to do the math. 

Any school with a sizeable student population can afford to buy infrastructure through a Cisco Easy Pay contact. IT administrators need to stop thinking in terms of lump-sum payments and one-time purchases. It is a smarter way to get the equipment you need and stay ahead of the curve.  

Technology Is Baked Into Everything We Do

At Tabor, technology is everywhere. Our network is ubiquitous and transparent, and people tend to notice it only on those rare occasions when it does down. At any given time during school hours (9 a.m. – 3 p.m.) there are some 6,000 devices connected to our network. Sometimes this number can climb as high as 8,500, and this is not just for classroom use. 

Photo credit: Ilse Kuit

For example, our students use their devices to learn anywhere on our three campuses. We even have an app that allows them to assign themselves and open lockers anywhere in the school. On top of providing storage for their personal belongings, these lockers also have built-in USB charging ports to keep their iPads and smartphones powered.

Our teachers use Apple's Classroom app during lesson times to guide students, to monitor their progress, and to keep them on track. Using the solution, they can disable the home button on every iPad in the room and steer all the students present to a single document, app, or web page. They can also monitor what individual students are doing on their iPads or even share a student's screen with the entire class by beaming it to an AppleTV.
As soon as the bell rings and students exit the class, they regain control of their devices. Apple Classroom is a powerful and transformative tool. Best of all, it's free. We get tremendous value out of our partnership with Apple, but our students are the real winners because they have in hand the best tools to further their educational and personal growth. 

Partnering for the Future

Of course, none of this would be possible without Cisco. Our network rarely fails, and we can monitor everything from a single pane of glass. And, thanks to Cisco Capital, we can keep our IT costs under control and upgrade our network infrastructure every three years. 

In the next five to ten years, we'll be moving all of our applications and storage to the cloud, but the next big thing is WiFi 6. We're looking at doubling the number of data streams from six to 12 and boosting transmission speeds by 40%. This extra capacity will surely spur innovation, and we'll no doubt see the emergence of new types of learning tools. 

Through our partnership with Cisco and Apple, our teachers, our students, and our IT staff are ready for the exciting possibilities to come.