Today’s K-12 students are coming to the classrooms toting three or more mobile devices, from smartphones and laptops to tablets and smart watches. Teachers are putting more of their educational content online and streaming it to their students, administrators are storing more student information in the cloud, and district officials are automating more of the schools’ operations. There is the Internet of Things, digital signage, and video being used to monitor cafeterias. Technology continues to shape the future of how we educate our children and operate our schools, from flipped classrooms to the use of augmented and virtual reality.

At the center of all this is the network, and more and more the wireless network. Where connectivity was once a nice luxury, it is now a must-have, and increasingly the focus of many school district CTOs is making sure that those networks are up 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and that they’re secure.

Here are five network issues that tech directors must focus on.

1. Casting a wide net with the network

Picture a school district with 160,000 students who each have three mobile devices; that’s almost a half-million devices that need to be supported, regardless of the platform they run on. Teachers and staffs also have their own devices, and the one-to-one program may include different devices for various grade levels.

The wireless network needs to be agnostic, able to support whatever device and platform is brought in by the students or used in the curriculum. School CTOs must ensure their networks are sustainable and flexible from the beginning, because the worst thing that can happen to a technology department is to go down one path and find out that the superintendent is buying iPads. If the network doesn’t already support Apple iOS devices, changing directions can be costly.

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2. Keeping the network up and running

Students, faculty, and staff need to access the network at all times of the day and night from both inside and outside the school facilities. Flipped classrooms call for students to be able to view instructional content outside of the classroom. Teachers increasingly want to live stream video into the classroom and more and more content and information is being stored in and accessed through the cloud. In addition, state testing is now done year-round. A district’s network must be up and running at all times.

Administrators are increasingly leveraging tools—often automated tools—that allow districts to proactively troubleshoot and resolve issues. There are a lot of components between mobile devices and the core network and if something happens to take the network down, it can take time for the tech staff to find and solve the problem. A network management tool that gives instant visibility into the network, proactively monitors a network’s health, and can instantly pinpoint any issue and give guidance on how to fix it is invaluable.

Related: Spotty internet access for rural students limits achievement

3. Securing the network and protecting privacy

School districts are not immune to cyber threats like ransomware. Going hand-in-hand with managing the networks is protecting them. The visibility tools that help administrators find network problems also can help detect attacks. Content filtering and firewall technologies also are being leaned on to help protect the networks and the apps and data that run over them. And with districts continuing to be hacked, administrators are evaluating cybersecurity insurance to protect them from the millions of lost dollars an attack can lead to.

About the Author:

Frankie Jackson has worked in K-12 technology leadership for over 25 years as a chief technology officer (CTO) supporting medium to large school districts with 25,000–117,000 students. She has received national-level recognition for leading world-class technology teams, building one of the largest highly resilient, high-speed wireless networks, and serving as a trainer and volunteer supporting education technology. At the national level she serves on the Consortium of School Networking’s policy committee, and at the international level she is the Association for School Business Official’s Information Technology content leader. As a Certified Education Technology Leader (CETL), she is a national-level trainer helping education technology leaders and CTO’s learn and become certified in the CETL program.


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