As K-12 Schools Continue to Go Online, Attention to IT Infrastructure is a Must

With each passing academic year, technology is playing a larger and larger role in education, as teachers and administrators seek to improve teaching and learning by making effective use of the latest computing devices and online tools. In some cases, they have little choice, as some regions and countries are adopting mandatory tests offered online, forcing schools to ensure students have appropriate devices and Internet access.

students in a classroomAll of this activity is causing schools to take a fresh look at their technology infrastructure. In many cases, they find that infrastructure needs a significant refresh, to increase overall bandwidth and reliability. The good news is that some governments help subsidize the cost.  For instance, in the United States, the federal E-rate program reimburses up to 90% of the services and infrastructure related to providing Internet and telecommunications services (as explained in this previous post).

Such funds provide welcome relief to schools dealing with trends including the move to 1:1 computing, use of online resources in the classroom, and the advent of online standardized tests.

1:1 Computing

There’s little question that schools are spending more money on computing technology. Schools spent $15 billion on hardware for educational purposes in 2015, an increase of 7% from 2014, according to Futuresource Consulting, a U.K.-based provider of educational technology research.

In the U.S., an increasing share of that amount is going for Chromebooks, according to this CNBC report from Dec. 2015:

So far this year, Google’s Chromebooks make up 4.4 million of the 8.9 million devices sold to [K-12] schools and school districts. Put another way, every school day 30,000 new Chromebooks are activated in schools.

Chromebooks, of course, are intended to be used with online resources, which means they require an Internet connection to be most effective.

Online resources

The devices are attractive because they are relatively inexpensive and offer easy access to a variety of online resources, many of them from Google. As CNBC reports:

More than 50 million students are using Google’s Apps for Education to share and collaborate on documents, submit homework, and research projects. Chromebooks [also] offer easy access to Google Play for Education.

These and loads of other online resources make it far easier for educators to tailor lessons to students individually. Advanced students can work on more challenging lessons online while those who may be struggling get content more suitable for them – all in the same classroom at the same time.

Various online apps also help bring learning to life, whether it’s a visualization of the solar system or dissecting a worm – without the blood.

“Nearly all school districts are using online learning at some level,” according to the “2015 Keeping Pace with K-12 Digital Learning” report from Evergreen Education Group, a consulting and advisory firm.

Online testing

Another driver for computers in education is standardized testing, which is increasingly moving online. In the United States, many schools have updated standardized tests to match changes in curriculum as a result of many states’ move to the Common Core standards.  About 22 states gave either the SBAC or PARCC test in 2016. SBAC is online only while PARCC offers both online and paper versions (after some balking by member states that they would not be ready for online only).  The situation is fluid, however. Massachusetts, for example, has since decided to come up with its own test, using elements of its previous MCAS test as well as PARCC. It, too, however, will be online.

With so much reliance on online resources, schools must ensure the infrastructure is in place to provide reliable Internet connections. That means not only a speedy Internet connection and adequate wireless bandwidth, but racks to properly house all the required network gear, plus power distribution units (PDUs) and uninterruptible power supplies (UPSs) to ensure the equipment stays alive even in the face of power disruptions. With all that’s riding on their online connections, schools can’t take a chance that a simple thunderstorm interrupts the day’s lesson – or, worse, a high-stakes test.

To learn best practices on how to ensure technology availability in the 21st century classroom, read our new e-guide.

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