Why Technology is Fundamental to Education
School is back in session – but for many districts, that means a return to kitchen counters and living room coffee tables rather than being back in the classroom. The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has forced educational institutions to take a hard look at their technological capabilities, not just for the short term, but as a long-term necessity. Essentially, in today’s world, educational institutions must meet many of the same demands as commercial companies, but typically they lack the same budgets and IT staff.
To keep pace, schools need to ensure they have robust, reliable network infrastructure in place capable of supporting students and staff whether they are in school or remote. This network should include high-speed Internet access and fast in-building Wi-Fi, as well as cloud storage options. Voice remains critically important, for communication both within the school and the outside community, as is video, for access to various televised resources. And of course, it all must be secure, both to ensure students have access only to appropriate content and to protect the network from outside threats.
Building (or Enhancing) a Strong Technology Foundation
It all starts with a wide-area network (WAN) that connects the various schools in the district to each other. This is important to support communications among administrators, to support collaborative efforts between schools, and for reporting on attendance and other mandatory regulatory requirements.
A fast, reliable Internet connection is another must-have, even for smaller schools. It’s fundamental to online learning and for accessing various educational resources. Similarly, a fast, reliable Wi-Fi network needs to be easily accessible across each K-12 school building and grounds. For higher-ed institutions, the Wi-Fi network should blanket the entire campus.
Cloud capabilities are equally important. Whether students are learning remotely or in the classroom, increasingly teachers are putting their lessons, syllabi, and other useful resources for students online where they can be regularly accessed and referenced. Similarly, students are submitting their assignments through online portals and teachers are providing feedback there directly.
Schools also require access to cable television, and streaming services to bring news and other programming into the classroom. Meanwhile, voice services are important for administrators to communicate with community members, most notably students’ families.
To top it off, schools need a heavy dose of security, to mitigate instances like distributed denial of service (DDOS) attacks that can take down their networks, as well as multi-level security protocols for accessing the network remotely.
Challenges in Technology Adoption – and a Solution
Like all organizations, educational institutions are challenged to attract and retain talented IT staff, complicated by understanding the layers of need. These days, IT personnel need to not only understand educational requirements for technology in the classroom (virtual or otherwise), they need to troubleshoot problems and implement updates remotely.
One challenge in education is that roughly 75% to 80% of school budgets go to paying teacher and other staff salaries. Add in other mandatory costs, such as utilities, supplies and maintenance, and there’s little left over for discretionary spending. That’s why software-defined WAN (SD-WAN) services are becoming more prevalent in education as a budget-friendly solution.
Like other software-defined network applications, SD-WAN decouples network hardware from control functions, placing traffic management functions in a centralized controller. And only a single physical or virtual appliance is required at each school to support SD-WANs, rather than the traditional switch/router. SD-WAN is scalable as needs expand, and there are no additional incremental capital expenses associated with that scalability.
That helps school districts get out of the hardware business and focus more on software-defined services and how they’re applied. Schools can invest in virtualized services on as-needed bases. For example, a single SD-WAN appliance can support a wide variety of functions including security services, network performance monitoring, and control and routing among schools.
SD-WAN centralized control over the network makes rolling out updates, security upgrades simultaneously, and identifying problem areas on the network very efficient.
The Road Forward is Paved with Technology
Despite the ongoing challenges that educational institutions face due to COVID-19 and other advancements in learning, it’s an exciting time full of opportunity. Some educational institutions have found outsourcing IT is a cost-effective and efficient way to address the IT staffing shortage. Comcast Business can address WAN, Internet, Wi-Fi, video, voice and security services, as well as offer managed services and technology best practices to further ease the IT burden.
Regardless of what the future of learning will become, technology advances have the power to impact both teacher and student, offering opportunities to learn and interact in ways that enhance the educational experience for all.