Digital Learning Environments 2020

3 Tech Trends and the Strategies for Successfully Meeting K-12 Needs

GUEST COLUMN | by Johann Zimmern

As predicted a year ago,[1] cybersecurity continued to be a top concern in K-12 last year. In fact, research by the Consortium for School Networking (CoSN) and others, suggests bad actors have shifted to K-12 as a softer target.[2]

Unsurprisingly, this means personally identifiable information (PII) protection and general data privacy will continue to be a top hurdle for K-12 in the coming year,[3] but it won’t be the only technology item requiring attention. For 2020, we foresee three trends impacting district IT departments. Fortunately, you can leverage your networking investments to address each.

1) Hardening Cybersecurity Defenses

Given the more than 400 reported K-12 cybersecurity incidents since 2016, districts are squarely in the cybercrime crosshairs. Of the actor motivations, the latest Verizon Data Breach Investigations Report (DBIR) says cyber criminals most often target districts for financial benefit.[4] This is due to schools collecting, generating, processing and storing a wealth of monetizable data, including an abundance of personally identifiable information (PII) on faculty, staff, students and parents such as academic records, health information, insurance data and financial transactions.

What’s more, the DBIR analysis reveals the two most exploited K-12 perils are human error and compromised cloud productivity platforms. The takeaway: district IT departments need to shift their network access control efforts into hyperdrive.

2) Plugging Gaps in Physical Safety

Despite nationwide focus on strengthening physical safety, significant gaps clearly remain. Real-time, split-second incident detail collection and transmission to first responders is frequently lacking, as is pinpoint accuracy of where people are within your facilities, who is accounted for and the movements of a threat during an incident. All of these features are available by adding physical security capabilities to your existing Wi-Fi network.

3) Scaling, and Sustaining, Innovation on a Budget

In what has become the norm, stagnant budgets and limited staff continue challenging K-12 IT departments, making scaling and sustaining classroom innovation another hurdle CoSN identified for 2020.[5] A chronic networking black hole has been manually configuring wired switches during deployment and whenever application settings change. As we’ve entered an era of continuous application updates, automating configuration tasks is critical to doing more with less.

2020 Game Plan for Success

For each of these trends, you can put your wired and wireless infrastructure to work addressing the specific needs of your district. We recommend adding the following strategies to your 2020 game plan.

Enhance Your Zero Trust Approach. Today’s connected classrooms are leading many in K-12 IT departments to embrace a Zero Trust approach, which assumes that technology and users within a district are no more trustworthy than those outside. As the DBIR point out, that’s because humans make mistakes and it’s those mistakes that frequently enable bad actors to establish a foothold.[6]

Unsurprisingly, the challenge for lean K-12 IT departments is constrained resources for building out a Zero Trust framework, such as conducting granular device discovery, registering devices in a database, and efficiently applying policies based on least-access to each user and device. For IoT, the trick is separating devices from other network traffic to prevent a threat from infiltrating an HVAC sensor, for example, and then quickly jumping to your accounting system. Here are cost-effective options to assist you with getting the job done.

  • Gain Full-Spectrum Visibility – For automating and streamlining device onboarding tasks, a network access control (NAC) solution with innovations like advanced machine learning can give you full-spectrum visibility into what’s connecting to the network. The most sophisticated solutions collect rich contextual information – such as device type, vendor and hardware version – as well as behavioral attributes, like traffic destination and communication frequency. Gathering such information enables you to generate fine-grained access policies, which can reduce security risks and help meet compliance requirements.


  • Segregate Traffic Dynamically – Take security a step further by combining best-of-breed intelligent switches with an advanced NAC. This enables separating device traffic via smart automation capabilities that dynamically segregate switch ports and assign role-based access control. For example, if you’re deploying IoT door locks or security cameras, they can be automatically discovered, classified, registered and assigned to specific VLANs, restricting access to related subsystems, thus significantly minimizing cybercrime risks.


Make Physical Security Smarter. Districts in the process of upgrading to the latest Wi-Fi technology, or those who already have, can leverage these systems’ built-in location based services (LBS) capabilities. At a basic level, LBS enables mapping and digitizing campuses to aid first responders and staff by helping guide them to key locations, such as fire extinguishers and shut-offs for water and electricity.

Enhanced LBS implementations can add panic buttons and other location-aware technologies such as mobile apps, which in turn can simultaneously feed incident data to a 4-D emergency response solution. Such tools can provide situational awareness for entire buildings and campuses to first responders and staff, enabling split-second updating of affected areas, threat entry and exit points, and incident management. This enables responders and staff to drill down to see a detailed visual representation of a location, along with other relevant data.

“Regardless of what’s highest on your 2020 priorities list, or how you finance projects, the technologies we’ve discussed can help you get the most out of your networking investments.”

Many 4-D tools also supply real-time verbal communication and provide visual representations of relevant individuals’ locations, along with their basic identification details. Overall, these solutions help give first responders and staff highly accurate insights when seconds count.

Do More with Less. To help you continue scaling sustainably, deploy a leading cloud-native wired networking platform, with a services-rich operating system, and accompanying smart switches at the edge, core and data center. Self-tuning and self-validating, such platforms are modular, elastic and resilient. They’re also easily programmed for intelligently automating manual tasks, like planning and deploying tens, hundreds or thousands of application changes, to help you stay ahead of the curve.

To enable your IT staff to concentrate on more value-added tasks, look for a platform that simplifies management and infuses proactivity. A hallmark of this type of solution is embedded AI-powered analytics that not only interrogate and analyze any event that impacts a network’s health, but also supplies granular visibility into an issue and guides you through troubleshooting for fast resolution.

Brief 2020 E-Rate Update: Use it or Lose it 

If you’re planning to tap E-Rate this year, take note: For 2020, Category 2 funds, which include wireless and wired networking infrastructure, will expire if not used in within the funding year. In 2021, a new five-year budgeting cycle begins.

Regardless of what’s highest on your 2020 priorities list, or how you finance projects, the technologies we’ve discussed can help you get the most out of your networking investments. Whether it’s providing next-generation tools for thwarting cyber threats, reducing physical risks or boosting IT staff productivity, robust solutions can enhance network reliability and performance while addressing your district’s most critical needs.


[1] Digital Learning Environments 2019, EdTech Digest, January 28, 2019

[2] 2019 K-12 IT Leadership Survey Report, Consortium for School Networking (CoSN)

[3] Driving K-12 Innovation: Hurdles + Accelerators 2020, CoSN

[4] 2019 Data Breach Investigations Report, 12th Edition, Verizon, May 21st 2019

[5] Driving K-12 Innovation: Hurdles + Accelerators 2020, CoSN

[6] 2019 Data Breach Investigations Report, 12th Edition, Verizon, May 21st 2019

Johann Zimmern is a senior solutions marketing manager for K-12 and higher education with the global marketing team for Aruba, a Hewlett Packard Enterprise company. In this capacity, Johann manages Aruba’s education customer advisory councils and focuses on the realization of advanced network infrastructures, wireless, security, and access management – all in support of student success. Johann has nearly 20 years’ experience in the edtech space, having worked for innovative tech companies such as Electronics for Imaging, Macromedia, Adobe and others. Connect with him on LinkedIn.



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