As students and teachers begin preparations for a new school year, many will expect to find changes to classrooms, such as new furniture or upgraded whiteboard displays. However, what will most likely go unnoticed is the hard work conducted by IT teams over the summer holidays to upgrade the school or campus network and the integration of new technologies in order to build the foundations for a fully-realized digital classroom experience.
School IT teams will be looking to future-proof their networks in preparation for an influx of new technologies. But with cutbacks in IT spending and a limited amount of time to actually make foundational changes to networks, what should school IT teams prioritize in order to prepare themselves for a digital future?
Getting the basics right
Internet access is now a necessity for the education sector. Both teachers and students rely on it on a daily basis to complete homework as well as in-class tasks. Most learning materials are housed online so that students can access it no matter where they are, and teachers’ lesson plans are increasingly being stored in the cloud as well, so having consistent Wi-Fi access is essential.
However, implementing a site-wide Wi-Fi network that’s consistent, no matter if you are in a building or on the playing fields at the edge of the school grounds, is a far harder challenge for school IT teams than it would appear. The problem lies in legacy networks that many institutions are still using that were built to look after centralised IT suites, whereas now they are being asked to handle multiple IoT devices accessing the network at any one time. Whether educators like or loathe the use of mobile devices during school hours, they are increasing becoming part of the educational toolset. With this fundamental change to teaching, it must be a priority for IT teams to integrate enterprise-level Wi-Fi in order to handle this influx of devices, and manage their bandwidth efficiently, wherever they are on-site, in order to keep up with the expectations of staff and students.
By getting the basics right and untethering classes from having to be stuck with wired devices in classrooms, you open the door for teachers to think differently about how their curriculum works and try new ideas. With more and more digitally-savvy teachers and students who have grown up with mobile devices, we are seeing a greater drive internally to transform the classroom with new digital ways to engage classes.
Build the foundations for the future
There has never been a greater need to connect students, classrooms, and buildings. Student enrolment (who are always more tech savvy and more expectant than the year that preceded them) continues to rise, and the benefits of technology – better grades and greater staff well-being – are necessary if schools are to maintain high levels of performance during the challenging time of digital transformation.
According to IDC, more than 150 billion devices across the globe will be connected by 2025, and nearly half of those will be IoT devices. This development, which will impact educational institutions as these types of devices become a greater part of the curriculum, means greater stress on IT departments and will require proactive planning to manage. To ensure wireless coverage everywhere, schools need to start reviewing and testing Wi-Fi 6, the next generation of networking, which is designed for more demanding environments, like universities and campuses.
With a fit-for-purpose wireless network in place, schools unlock the opportunity to digitally transform their workplace. Staff will be freed up from manual tasks, such as data input, to make faster decisions and engage students whose learning styles vary. For instance, Bryanston School in the UK has been trialling new technologies like ‘eLockers’, using them as a drop folder where teachers and pupils can upload resources and assignments, such as PowerPoint presentations and homework. With the greater level of network access, teachers at the school can use a Bryanston-built app called ‘eChart’ to mark pupils’ work, providing a more immediate and engaging feedback loop than by traditional methods
In a recent book, ‘Opportunities at the Edge’, from Fast Future, in collaboration with Aruba, it highlighted the possibilities of a boundaryless classroom when edge networking is integrated into the education sector. Edge computing, defined by Gartner as products that facilitate data processing at or near the source of data generation, delivers far speedier results than traditional architectures. For instance, students and teachers may be able to utilise mobile and devices and headsets to join a virtual classroom, no matter where they may be. Alternatively, by integrating AI into the classroom it could curate personalised lesson plans for each student and monitor whether may be struggling with a topic. The system could then provide additional explanation and guidance in the classroom, offering to replay video of critical parts of lessons and lectures during self-study outside the classroom.
Make sure security and safeguarding are key
The biggest challenge for institutions will be balancing technological innovation with the threat of security breaches. Schools, colleges and universities all want to prioritise providing the best possible education to students whose expectations around technology are growing exponentially. To connect with them in a meaningful way requires reliable, optimised, and personalised learning experiences. But with an influx of Internet of Things (IoT) devices, from phones and tablets, to smart speakers and VR, and a cohort that aren’t all trained in security best practices, the network could easily become at risk of intrusion. This not only could cause a data breach, but more seriously, puts young people at risk of communication from people who may wish to abuse, exploit or bully them.
A worrying set of statistics from our ‘Digital Workplace’ report from last year, highlighted that education employees don’t think their security practices are up to scratch. Just under half (49%) of teachers admit they rarely (if ever) think about cybersecurity, despite 91% acknowledging its importance. In addition, more than three-quarters (76%) believe there is room for improvement in the way connected tech is managed.
In order to tackle this issue schools must implement new tools that go beyond traditional cybersecurity measures, such as User and Entity Behaviour Analytics (UEBA), which identify patterns in typical user behaviour and flag any anomalies. These kinds of solutions don’t hinder employee creativity, collaboration, or speed as many clunky security systems do. Instead, they provide real-time protection and enable quick responses should a network breach occur.
While I’m sure these priorities may feel overwhelming for schools to think about, particularly as we get closer and closer to the start of term, but by implementing a wireless network which can handle multiple devices securely and has the flexibility to adapt and evolve as new technology is added, they will be in a great position for the future.
With the right technology and a security strategy in place that allows educators to innovate without fear of cyber threats, there is huge potential for educational institutions to become efficient, productive and inspiring digital workplaces.