Friday, January 18, 2008

Saturating the Download Pipe

We have been having some latency problems at school recently. Our administrators have not been able to log into their interactive network applications at the Division office. They have been timing out. For you technical geeks out there the latency has been anywhere from 1000 to 1400 ms. Not good. Well, the computer powers that be have found one of the problems.

The delays are being caused by extensive internet use at the school
saturating the download pipe.

In plain English we were plugging up our connection with internet use. So they looked at our webpage hits. Here is some of what the logs said: - 30% - 10% - 8%

Wow. That is almost half of our webpage hits. Well the authority figure in me automatically jumped to "We have to stop that - ban those sites, block them, make them go away!" That voice in my head immediatly want to control things. Another little voice said that those figures are embarrasing. I already knew that the computer powers that be are convinced that our students are out of control.

"But wait a minute, what do those numbers mean? Get over the initial gut reaction and have a real good look at them." Great, another voice. This is the one that makes my life difficult. - 10%
Ok some teachers use this site for teaching purposes. At least one uses it extensively in Social Studies and Native Studies. The students often also use this site to listen to music while they work. (And I see them listening to things like this as often as mainstream music). "And didn't we fight to get YouTube unblocked?" But we do seem to spend a lot of time fighting the students who are just watching videos for entertainment. It does also use a whole pile of bandwidth. Maybe internet radio is a better choice for music. Does it use much less bandwidth? - 8%
Umm, can't think of too many legitimate educational reasons our students are using MSN messenger. "But really, how much bandwidth does it really take up?" "It distracts the students from their learning!" There go the voices again. - 30%
This site does seem to be the first thing students log onto when they get their hands on the keyboard. It is chock full of big fat pictures as well. I just had a discussion about it with one of my co-workers. He doesn't have a real problem with it. He tells his students that if they have been researching hard and need to take a 5 min Bebo break to refresh then go ahead. And some of them follow this guideline fairly well. He also claims to have seen students chatting about an assignment through this site. "That's crazy talk!" "No they are social networking!" I don't know about this site. I personally find that it really distracts students when they are supposed to be working. I suspect it also chews through the bandwidth with all those pictures.

So what do we do? I do know that our whole system really bogs down when the computer lab is full. Any work involving the internet is difficult to do. I guess that it should be fairly obvious. Keep the students off of entertainment based YouTube during classtime (same with Bebo). "This should be fun."

I am curious to find out what these numbers look like in other schools. Are we as out of control as the computer powers that be claim? (Please say no, please say no, please say no.)


Rob Wall said...

No. Well, kinda, but not really. Especially in the long term. Perhaps I should explain.

The page hits is a bit of misleading statistic. What really tells the story is the maximum throughput at any given time. Sure, bebo accounts for one third of your download data, but at any given time how much of your download bandwidth is that using?Probably a large chunk if bebo contains a lot of images or other media files. But until your bandwidth is over 90 to 95% used up, it shouldn't lead to any noticeable delays.

OK - that's the technical, geeky side of things. What about the issue of control? I'll agree that control is needed, but the question is who should have control? I'll use YouTube as an example. To be prudent with a limited bandwidth, we might not want students to be on YouTube for their own entertainment. But there might be some very legitimate reasons why we would use YouTube videos to improve our students' learning. It seems clear that control should be with the teachers in the school. Kick the kids off YouTube if you don't want them watching videos for entertainment, but keep the resource available for when we need it. Same goes for Bebo and MSN. We might not have any educational uses for it yet, but don't prevent teachers from experimenting with the technologies that might improve student learning. Cell phones are usually frowned upon, but some teachers are finding good educational uses for cell phones. Banning limits our ability as teachers to try new technologies with our students.

The long term solution is more bandwidth, which is going to happen at some point. The tendency is for bandwidth, like all other digital commodities, to become much cheaper over time. How much was a high-speed bandwidth connection 10 years ago? When bandwidth is cheap and plentiful, it will not be a limit to what we do. In the meantime we can pick and choose what we use it for, but banning is a poor solution if we are looking to enhancing what we do with our students.

Gary Ball said...

Rob, good points. We are starting the YouTube and Bebo discussion right now as a staff. It was never our intention to look outside of our school for somebody to control the use of these sites. It is a supervision issue. We did not even want to block the sites. We did fight to get them out from behind the Iron Curtain after all. So far our thinking has been to just limit entertainment YouTube to only during breaks and noon. Bebo and MSN we figured are not as much of a problem, only a distraction. We are only concentrating on how can we minimize delays.

Anonymous said...

This guy is in my car pool and I just found out he hears voices!

creepy :)

Gary Ball said...

And that, apparently is one of the voices I hear.

Nickell said...

When we see students using applications such as bebo we automatically think that they are off task and not working. For the most part this is true: they are usually focusing on skills that we would rather have them apply to and through different mediums. Perhaps the real question is how do we capitalize on the skills they are using and their high interest level in order to foster learning. Maybe we should be incorporating social networking into more assignments and classes. Instead of discouraging it, make it required for academic purposes.

Anonymous said...

When we see students using applications such as bebo we automatically think they are off task and for the most part this is true. But what is meant by off task? Clearly they are not working on what we would like them to be. But, they are using and improving skills that will be very valuable in life. Perhaps we need to change our approach. Maybe the real question is how do we capitalize on the skills they are using and the their high interest in using them to foster learning? Rather than attempt to prevent such social networking we need to make it a required academic process. The possiblities are endless, until the computer guys grind our gears about students using applications like bebo far too much...hmmmm...

Gary Ball said...

Nickell double posted both of those last two posts. I put them both up because he said something slightly different in both. Don't think that I was trying to pad my comments numbers. That is what this comment is for.

cey something said...

Interesting and insightful comments. We haven't heard the word "bandwidth" whispered in a couple of years - coincidentally about the time the field of vision expanded for some personnel and tunnel vision was less useful. However, I would like access to this very information of webpage hits. It is data that could be put to good use - and guide future decisions. So, the upside least you know - now what to do...what to do...what to do:)