GUEST COLUMN | by Dan Rivera
As predicted, mobile-first digital learning not only spread throughout K-12 districts nation-wide last year, it also generated various associated technology initiatives. These included a proliferation of IoT for everything from Apple TVs in the classroom to weather stations for the science lab; the automation of tedious tasks, such as taking attendance, via location-based technologies; and the growing use of big data to help personalize learning.
For the year ahead, we’re seeing five key technology trends with impacts in classrooms and across districts.
For the year ahead, we’re seeing five key technology trends with impacts in classrooms and across districts. Here are the developments you should know about and the strategies K-12 IT staffs are using to take advantage of their potential for boosting educational and organizational effectiveness.
IoT: No End in Sight
Whether in classrooms or throughout your facilities, IoT-enabled demands will only accelerate in 2018. For instance, learning to write computer code results in a new “thing” on your network for each student project, be it a gaming device or a robot. But that’s hardly all. From 3D printers to lawn sprinkler monitors, you’ll require segmented, secure connections for regulating traffic and keeping education safe.
Security Gets Smarter
As you’re likely aware, this past October the Department of Education warned K-12 districts about cybercriminals targeting schools with schemes such as extortion, where bad actors take sensitive student data hostage and demand compensation. This means the clock is ticking in every district, making it imperative to invest in technologies designed to help you identify threats and remediate them faster than ever before.
Digital Realities Become Classroom Reality
Like so many technologies, a year made all the difference between “novelty” and “applicability” for augmented reality/virtual reality (AR/VR). Across the curricular landscape 2018 will bring relevant applications for AR/VR, such as placing students inside of biological specimens or transporting them back in time to experience historical events. The downside? Significantly increased data traffic that you’ll need to manage effectively to keep all types of learning projects humming.
IT Goes Utility
Another trend that began emerging last year, but will rev up in 2018, is shifting away from the traditional premise-based IT model and toward “utilizing” IT by purchasing technology infrastructure from the cloud. With technology delivery advances and cost-effectiveness improvements, moving systems into operating budgets is becoming more attractive than continuing to ask taxpayers for capital funding every three to five years.
New K-12 Paradigms Arise From Regional Disasters
Just as Hurricanes Katrina and Rita of a decade ago forever changed educational paradigms when districts rebuilt from the ground up, in 2018 we’ll see a similar – but more widespread – phenomenon. Districts hit by hurricanes Harvey, Irma, Jose and Maria – or consumed by West Coast wildfires – will begin adopting new educational models and ultimately affect education nation-wide for years to come.
K-12 Blueprint for Success
Given the data, networking and security implications of the foregoing trends, K-12 schools will require a variety of technology innovations to meet dramatically increased wireless and wired network performance demands without adding management afflictions. We recommend the following strategies:
Adopt smart infrastructure. To keep IT overhead low while delivering the performance required to power IoT devices, AR/VR applications and whatever comes next, invest in more intelligent networking infrastructure.
At the wired networking layer, replace your outdated switching paradigm with a modern platform that supports the new IEEE 802.3bz standard for multi-gigabit Ethernet and is driven by an advanced software operating system.
Such solutions offer capabilities like dynamic micro segmentation for unified functionality and policy enforcement between wired and wireless networks. This enables appropriately separating the various different types of voice, video and data traffic to ensure smooth experiences for all.
In addition, the most sophisticated switching solutions provide real-time analytics and automated anomaly detection. The former provides granular visibility to detect problems in real time or analyze trends for quickly gaining insights and predicting – or avoiding – issues that lead to scale, security and performance bottlenecks.
Also, with automated anomaly detection, your infrastructure can begin collecting traffic data the moment an event starts, and correlate the data with various sources, to provide IT with immediate information, rather than requiring painstaking historical research after a user reports an issue. This capability even assists with security by showing when a traffic spike is related to normal utilization rather than an attack.
In short, smart infrastructure enables you to conduct efficient policy-based troubleshooting and administration to keep your network up and running with minimal human intervention.
Leverage security advances. Similar to your networking hardware, infusing real-time intelligence into your security layers permits detecting subtle changes that accompany modern cyber-attacks.
No matter how well you secure your wireless and wired networks, security experts now agree that today’s advanced threats will eventually get inside. In fact, the most recent studies indicate that over two-thirds of breaches actually involve internal, not external, actors.
Fortunately, you can now add sophisticated analytics and AI-based machine learning to your defenses. These solutions detect shifts in user or device behavior that often accompany a threat, whether originating from inside or out.
In other words, if a 3D printer begins masquerading as an AR/VR app, an AI-enabled access control solution can detect this nuance faster than humanly possible and immediately deny network access while simultaneously notifying appropriate individuals.
The most advanced solutions also offer clear, understandable feedback to anyone attempting to use a compromised device – such as sending a message to a 3D printer’s potential user to redirect them to an operational device.
Rev up management automation. On the wireless side, operating system innovations enable automating even more tasks for greater efficiency.
Advanced solutions include a hierarchical architecture that enables configuring your entire network from a centralized dashboard, regardless of how many separate facilities your district maintains. This not only streamlines Wi-Fi deployment but also permits applying changes quickly by automatically flowing new configurations from the top of the hierarchy throughout all locations.
Another feature to leverage is multi-tenancy for creating separate sub-networks, within the same larger network, that utilize the same access point (AP) simultaneously. For example, placing facilities management IoT devices in a separate environment from classroom IoT, using multi-tenancy technology, enables the traffic to run over the same APs but remain completely segregated. This can help reduce management complexities related to the explosion of IoT while also enhancing security.
Get it as-a-service. Regardless which wireless and wired solutions are best for your district, they no longer need to reside on your premises to meet K-12 cost and security needs.
Today’s offerings, from specific solutions to your entire networking infrastructure, can all be adopted in the same way you purchase electricity. Advantages include automatically gaining the latest features and functions, without the time-consuming process of evaluating and applying updates, while eliminating the budget spikes associated with capital projects.
What’s more, the FCC is increasing support for operating expenses within the E-rate program, making as-a-service options even more attractive to districts.
Although we anticipate many districts will move to new networking models and adopt the most advanced infrastructure in response to the latest trends, we expect those recovering from natural disasters to lead the way. With a fresh start comes the flexibility to apply new IT strategies and technologies in service of education, providing all K-12 IT departments lessons to learn and apply.
 ALERT! – CyberAdvisory – New Type of Cyber Extortion/Threat, October 17, 2017, U.S. Department of Education
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.