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Why this IT function is a K-12 edtech savior

With budgets continuing to shrink, here's how to build school IT efficiency with automation.

K-12 IT teams have many challenges unique to their environments, including typically locally-funded public schools, and very rarely do IT budgets increase. Despite this, changes in educational approaches, and also the demands of parents and tech-savvy students, mean that schools are hard-pressed to adopt cutting-edge new technologies.

The increase in device purchasing and implementation is so schools can achieve an ideal 1-to-1 student-to-computer ratio. This means IT teams are on the hook for securing, managing, and tracking all of these machines. 

Shrinking IT Budgets Continue to Trend…

School budgets are generally tight, worldwide, and the US is no exception. According to The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP), most US states offer less money per student than they did before the recession of 2008.

“Some states are still cutting eight years after the recession took hold. These cuts weaken schools’ capacity to develop the intelligence and creativity of the next generation of workers and entrepreneurs,” the Center found.

Meanwhile The Consortium for School Networking (COSN) released a study on school spending. Less than a third of schools polled, 30 percent, had a budget increase. However, over half, 54 percent, don’t have the resources to “meet overall expectations of the school board/district leaders.”

What’s more, 70 percent of schools are facing static or declining IT budgets.

…which is Bad because Tech Improves Education

The International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) created Project RED to understand how technology is improving education.

Here are some of the key findings:

  • Proper implementation of technology is directly linked to education success.
  • Properly implemented technology saves money.
  • 1-to-1 schools that properly implement technology outperform all other

schools, including all other 1-to-1 schools.

  • A school principal’s ability to lead is critical to the success of an implementation effort.
  • Technology-transformed intervention improves learning.
  • Online collaboration increases learning productivity and student engagement.
  • Daily use of technology delivers the best return on investment (ROI).

As you can imagine, it’s difficult to accomplish these achievements without full commitment and/or IT funding. “Ubiquitous technology programs face difficult financial and philosophical challenges in today’s economic climate, in which superintendents and school boards must often cut programs and lay off teachers. In an era of high-stakes test scores and teacher accountability, it can be difficult to motivate teachers and administrators to move to more student-centered learning. And because the benefits of a ubiquitous educational technology program are realized over several years, many schools opt for short-term fixes and stopgap measures,” Project RED argued.

(Next page: This IT functionality can help produce results on a tight budget)

The Race to Innovate IT

According to The Center for Digital Education, education IT pros face a number of challenges. Chief among them (as of 2015), are:

  • Hiring and retaining qualified staff
  • Optimizing the use of technology
  • Developing IT funding models
  • Improving student outcomes
  • Demonstrating the business value of IT
  • Increasing the capacity for managing change
  • Providing user support
  • Developing security policies for mobile and cloud
  • Developing an enterprise IT architecture
  • Balancing agility, openness, and security

How IT Automation Can Help

Not surprising, the majority of the time spent by K-12 IT pros is around administrative and low-level technology issues, i.e. grunt work. What the real IT aces would rather be doing is adding value through IT innovation.

K-12 IT pros actually have two problems: keeping all systems and the network humming along, and doing so cheaply with a tight staff. Just as important, all these systems must be secured against malware, date leakage, and hacker incursions.

Technology and bold thinking are the keys to these bogged-down computer professionals’ prayers. Here are some technologies that give education IT departments the huge efficiency gains and dramatic cost cutting they require.

  • Remote monitoring and management
  • IT Automation
  • Asset discovery
  • Managed/cloud-based security
  • Network performance
  • Network discovery, continuous
  • Ability to track assets, rationalize software licenses and save money.

The Security Test

One of the toughest problems, and the biggest consumer of IT time, is security. Security in K-12 is a total Hydra, a many-headed monster to be sure. Users are ever changing, device types are many, and the varied user base can’t be expected to be expert in security. Worse, our young tech-savvy users may be the biggest threat.

There is not nearly enough IT staff to protect the network and often need outside help. “The vast majority of K-12 districts, especially smaller districts, do not have a full-time chief security officer, so they rely heavily on their ISPs and security vendors to fill this role,” said The Center for Digital Education’s 2015 Market Forecast. “This is a critical concern, and schools are looking for more solutions in student data and privacy.”

The same study found that only one out of three educators are very confident in the state of their security.

K-12 has another unique problem: students, even the youngest of students, are pretty technical, and also crafty. This may be the ultimate insider threat where students hack into systems, release viruses and spyware, and steal data.

History tells us that security cannot be perfected on a manual basis. Anti-virus deployments and updates, and especially patches, need be automated so schools are fully protected. Remediation should be automated as well. Deep data protection can be done with little money or IT time spent.

Next Steps

K-12 IT pros need to take the lead on transforming how they run IT operations, and at the same time help revolutionize education. This groundwork can be laid with a healthy dose of IT automation.

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