Four K-12 trends and the technology strategies to harness their potential.
GUEST COLUMN | by Dan Rivera
During the past year we witnessed mobile-first digital learning move from experimental to mainstream as the convergence of technology infrastructure, digital curriculums, educator proficiency and cost-effective mobile devices enabled more districts to embrace collaborative classrooms, project-based learning and the movement toward “learners” and “facilitators” rather than students and teachers.
Despite any uncertainty arising from the recent presidential elections, the E-rate program will continue supplying $3.9 billion in available funding annually.
For the year ahead, we not only expect more of the same but also several new developments that will spawn various technology initiatives for K-12 IT departments. Here are four trends we’re seeing along with the strategies districts are using to harness their potential for improving educational outcomes and boosting organizational efficiencies.
1) Mobile-First Digital Learning Expands Nationwide.
As workplaces continue transitioning from traditional inflexible paradigms to project-based collaborative digital models in office buildings, on the manufacturing floor and in industrial settings, schools are swiftly adjusting their approach to ensure learners gain the interaction and research skills needed for mobility-enabled college and career experiences.
2) IoT Proliferates in K-12 Districts.
With the latest forecasts suggesting between 20 and 30 billion “things” will be connected to networks by 2020, it’s a sure bet there’s an uptick in IoT interest in your district. Whether Apple TVs in the classroom, IP-based cameras for surveillance or sensors to monitor irrigation systems, schools are automating, securing, and improving their organizations with IoT devices. As new options become available and affordable, IT can count on increased expectations to add them securely to the mix.
3) Location-based Services Enhance Security.
When an emergency occurs at a school, the ability – or lack thereof – to communicate information quickly and confidentially to a large number of people has proven key to alleviating impacts. Adding location-based technologies to school facilities enables schools to leverage devices adults and students are carrying to convey controlled messages, boosting safety and security while also reducing trauma to all constituencies. Day to day, location-based services enable school staff, students and visitors to easily navigate facilities or find materials, such as in the library.
4) Big Data Helps Personalize Learning.
According to the majority of school principals (76 percent), using student data to inform instruction is resulting in positive learning outcomes. This makes combining third-party big data and on-site information the next logical step for improving student success. Location-based services can generate significant local insights, such as where an individual student spends her free time. Although privacy considerations are still getting hammered out, it’s a matter “when” rather than “if” schools begin using multiple data sources to create highly personalized learning programs.
Efficient, Effective K-12 Blueprint
To address digital classroom experiences, as well as operational demands, K-12 schools can turn to more sophisticated and intelligent solutions. To provide the performance required for meeting mobility and connectivity expectations, while relieving management burdens, we suggest the following strategies:
Invest in affordable, context-aware Wi-Fi. To meet current needs and future-proof your wireless and wired networks, take robust and cost-effective action.
For wireless, consider 802.11ac Wave 2 infrastructure as the suggested yardstick for capacity planning is now 75 devices per 30 student classroom. Wave 2 can answer these high-density demands affordably by supporting multi-user multiple inputs and multiple outputs (MU-MIMO) and four spatial streams (4SS). In other words, Wave 2 APs can transmit to multiple client devices using different streams simultaneously, thus increasing network efficiency and enabling fewer access points to service greater device densities.
Moreover, advanced Wave 2 APs incorporate the Bluetooth low energy (BLE) technology, which simplifies management of the BLE beacons needed for location-based services. Additionally, be sure to evaluate zero-touch APs for automatic provisioning, which makes installation and replacement plug-and-play.
Also, minimize cabling costs in existing facilities by deploying the highest-performance Wave 2 APs over existing Cat 5e/Cat 6 cabling. To do this, you’ll need multi-gigabit Ethernet edge switches. This technology resulted from work by the NBASE-T and MGBASE-T alliances, which the IEEE subsequently utilized to create the recently-released 802.3bz specification. Some multi-gigabit solutions can even automatically detect and provide the proper connection, such as 1, 2.5, 5 or 10GigE, further streamlining operations.
Leverage the cloud to simplify deployment and management. With many school districts spread across dozens of square miles, most lean IT departments need a simple, secure and cost-effective way to manage and monitor their networks. By combining cloud management with zero-touch access points, any individual at a school site can replace an AP, or augment the network by plugging in new APs, while you provision and manage it from another location – whether at a desktop or via a mobile device.
Most importantly, a cloud-management solution unifies network administration across wireless and wired using a single, intuitive dashboard. Selecting a solution with advanced analytics and the ability to identify interference sources and rogue access points enables network fine-tuning, for maximizing performance, and drilling down to any individual device – whether a tablet or IoT door lock – for troubleshooting issues or clearing network bottlenecks.
Also, to ensure instructional needs receive the highest priority, some cloud-management solutions include app-specific analytics for defining and enforcing granular access policies. For example, you can set policies to give streaming classroom videos priority over gaming apps students use during their free periods.
Additionally, to extend connectivity to parents, temporary staff, visitors or the community at-large, a cloud-based guest access solution allows for easily creating a customized guest portal and determining who gets access to what, when and how.
Go beyond securing devices to automating connectivity. Let’s face it, mobile and IoT device proliferation makes manual wired and wireless network access control obsolete. While a multi-layered security approach is best, automating connectivity is a critical component as it denies attackers the execution time required.
Because mobile and IoT device requests will only escalate, we recommend schools begin by gathering representative individuals from across your district to hammer out device adoption guidelines. Use these guidelines to form the policy foundation for access control. Then adopt a policy management and access control solution that consolidates and streamlines wired and wireless connectivity using the latest in automation innovations.
E-Rate: Still the Best K-12 Modernization Option
Despite any uncertainty arising from the recent presidential elections, the E-rate program will continue supplying $3.9 billion in available funding annually. Although many districts were initially wary of E-rate’s application process, given the past two successful years of funding demonstrated sufficient supply to meet demand. As a result, schools are expected to apply in greater numbers in 2017.
Regardless which funding path is best for your district, one thing remains true: mobility and IoT innovations can continue empowering your learners and facilitators in exciting new ways. With funding options and technology improvements aligned, modernizing your network is a key step in supplying your district with an unprecedented range of opportunities to improve classroom experiences and operational efficiencies alike.
Dan Rivera is a product marketing manager and E-rate expert for Aruba, a Hewlett Packard Enterprise company. Dan’s career in the information technology industry spans over 25 years, during which he focused on the Primary Education Sector.