6 Network Essentials in Education

Education IT

Mobility, CIPA Compliance Among Major Considerations for Schools When Selecting WAN Solutions

While all industries have their specific technological needs, education faces its own unique set of challenges. Districts and schools must balance budgetary concerns and legal requirements with student, family, teacher, and staff demands. Amid these often-changing dynamics, several network essentials have emerged in education. How is your district measuring up?

Essential #1: Reliable Connectivity

Dependable, consistent network connectivity has irreversibly shifted from luxury to necessity for districts and schools. The increased use and requirements of online testing and assessments, the incorporation of personalized learning services, and the prevalence of school-issued devices have combined with more traditional requirements — such as the need to do research and homework assignments — to create an environment where network downtime is simply not an option. Schools can lose substantial funding if mandated testing cannot take place because the network is down. Similarly, students and teachers can lose valuable instruction time when online resources cannot be accessed.

The North Kansas City School District created a smart solution for students who did not have WiFi during off-campus, school-related activities (such as sports competitions, speech and debate tournaments, and field trips). The district added WiFi to its activity buses to ensure that students could still have access to instructional materials and online resources while in transit.

Additionally, students and teachers can use connectivity from the bus as a resource during field trips. For example, students are able to look up information about animals or plants while visiting a nature center or watch videos about the history behind an important monument they are touring. In essence, the bus becomes a mobile classroom.

Essential #2: Beyond School Walls

Although districts can provide connectivity while students are at school or school-related events, many students still lack access to the Internet once they arrive home. Current research estimates that more than 5 million households with school-age children do not have high-speed Internet access. That’s a problem, considering the ever-rising reliance on the Internet to complete homework assignments.

For students needing to complete homework assignments, engage in research, and even begin the college application process, the lack of Internet at home can be a significant roadblock to their educational success.

Coachella Valley Unified School District implemented a creative solution for providing Internet access. With 100 percent of Coachella’s student body on free or reduced lunch, the economic challenges of the community prevented home Internet access for many students. Similar to North Kansas City, Coachella put its school buses to work. As part of a “WiFi on Wheels” initiative, the district’s 100 school buses are equipped with WiFi and parked in strategic locations each night, bringing high-speed Internet access to students in poor communities.

As a result, the buses provide coverage for the district’s 1,250 square miles, including in the most rural and disadvantaged areas. Even during the evening, these students still have access to their school’s connectivity and can ensure their educational studies continue without interruption.

Essential #3: Cloud-Based Services

With increased connectivity and reliability on school networks comes the challenge — and benefit — of cloud-based resources. Students needing to access and complete homework assignments, parents needing access to grades and learning systems, and teachers needing to complete administrative tasks and share resources are increasingly doing so in the cloud.

Cloud-based applications and services can reduce costs, ensuring students, families, teachers, and administrators are using their time efficiently and effectively. This allows IT departments to remotely manage, repair, and update software, networks, and devices as needed.

Essential #4: Security & CIPA Compliance

Districts and schools are constantly facing challenges to — and new requirements for — security and privacy. Combined with the need for compliance with the Children’s Internet Protection Act (CIPA), districts must constantly work to ensure their data remain safe.

Threat management, content filtering, system attacks, and data breaches are constant and ever-evolving concerns. Fortunately, IT personnel can implement solutions — such as Parallel Networks, which keep sensitive data segregated on physically separate networks — to ensure that all school and district systems are secure and compliant. Doing so helps prevent not only security breaches, but also heavy fines and legal expenses were a breach to occur.

Essential #5: Financial Responsibility

Many districts are still operating on funding that is lower than prerecession levels, according to U.S. News & World Report. These financial challenges bring increased scrutiny on how district monies are spent, as well as increased need for creativity in how funds are used. Implementing technological solutions that reduce costs is paramount. Having wireless failover systems in place, for example, can save districts substantial money by avoiding the traditional expenses of line repair, on-site staff visits, and truck rolls to repair equipment.

Cloud-based management systems that allow for remote management, top-notch security, and consistent network performance across the district also ensure that funds are spent as efficiently and effectively as possible.

Essential #6: Adaptability

Having a cost-effective, secure, reliable cloud-based system that works for today, but does not provide investment protection for tomorrow, is no longer a reasonable option in education. As security threats, legal requirements, student and family expectations, educational resources, and administrative challenges continue to rapidly develop, districts must have networks that grow and scale equally fast. Networks, hardware, and software all need to be future ready so teachers and staff can remain focused on student learning and achievement.

More About Wireless Networking for Education at ISTE 2016

For more information on how Cradlepoint is empowering school districts to meet today’s educational network needs, come see us during the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) conference June 26-29, 2016 in Denver. If you're visiting ISTE 2016, also register for Cocktails + Connectivity, our ISTE reception on Tuesday, June 28. Register below!