This article was originally published in the fall 2012 Harker Quarterly.
Upper school students, faculty and staff saw firsthand the results of Harker parent philanthropy as they set foot on campus at the start of the year. Digital signs, manufactured by Cisco, have been placed at various points around the campus to inform passersby of upcoming events, lunch menus, sports scores and more.
The signs are expected to be a big help in keeping those traversing the upper school campus up to date on the many happenings at Saratoga, while also allowing several of the school’s key donors to see the fruits of their donations and hard work. The hardware for the project was made available to Harker through a special Cisco donation program, wherein Cisco employees can have three dollars added to every dollar they donate if the donation is made in Cisco products equal to that value. Thanks to the coordinated efforts of Harker parents employed at Cisco, the school has saved hundreds of thousands of dollars on Cisco products in the last several years.
“For many years, the Cisco families have been giving us stuff which blinks in closets, and so they don’t get the opportunity to say, ‘See, I helped buy that,’” said Dan Hudkins, director of instructional technology. making the latest Cisco implementation visible to all who pass through the upper school campus on a daily basis is also an outward gesture of thanks to Cisco families.
The signs have been placed in strategic locations with large amounts of foot traffic to ensure that they are viewed by as many people as possible. Three of the screens are located in the main classroom building: one in the lobby, one just outside the college counseling office and another in the hallway near the northern entrance of the building. The Shah Hall and Dobbins Hall lobbies each have one of their own, as does the Nichols Hall atrium. One more will sit on the wall in the Manzanita Hall dining room.
Each sign’s content is tailored to the area where it is located. For instance, the dining room sign will be updated daily with lunch menus, while the sign in the main building hallway may contain announcements, information about upcoming events or video clips of recent sports highlights. The content of each sign is handled by a person in the building or department where the screen is located.
The signs, however, are just one component of a planned multimedia technology project to produce and share video with the Harker community in a variety of ways. Once fully implemented, Cisco’s Show and Share server will enable those who produce videos at Harker to quickly and easily encode their videos into various formats and then make them available to the appropriate audiences.
“Sometimes there are things that you want to share with everybody. YouTube works great for that,” Hudkins said. But some things you only want available to students. Some things you only want available to upper school students. Maybe you have a recording of a faculty meeting; you only want the rest of the faculty to see it.”
Using the server, video producers will also be able to simultaneously create videos for a wide variety of devices, including high-definition TVs, laptops and smartphones.
Both Show and Share and the digital signs are part of Cisco’s Digital Media Management Suite, meaning videos produced by Show and Share can easily be output to the signs.
The Show and Share server is planned for rollout over the course of the 2012-13 school year. Digital signs are tentatively expected to appear at other Harker campuses by the spring of 2013.
Over the summer, tech also completed the installation of Cisco’s LAN Management System (LMS), also known as Cisco Prime. With the ever-increasing use of online teaching resources combined with new device policies that allow students to connect to Harker’s network with smartphones and tablets, the need for improved network management became more apparent than ever. Cisco Prime enables network managers to take a more active approach in keeping Harker’s network infrastructure up and running.
“It used to be that network administration, in terms of troubleshooting, had to respond to a report of a failure,” Hudkins explained. “Now we’re actively monitoring so that we avoid failing.”
The project was helped immensely by parent and Cisco employee Mark Basinski (Alexander, grade 7). “Thanks to Mark’s help, we were able to implement the system very efficiently,” Hudkins noted.
Cisco Prime allows Harker’s network administrators to keep track of the status of the network much more efficiently than before. It can notify tech staff, for example, when a piece of network hardware’s software is out of date and automatically install the most up-to-date version. It will also alert them when a power supply is becoming unstable.
The new LMS also offers the ability to schedule downtime for large portions of the network in order to save on energy costs. Hudkins hopes to begin this stage of the implementation sometime in the fall.