Four tech trends and strategies for successfully meeting K-12 needs.
GUEST COLUMN | by Dan Rivera
Despite all the uncertainties arising from COVID-19, K-12 districts can count on one thing: teaching and learning will continue shifting dynamically among in person, remote, and hybrid learning environments for the balance of the pandemic and even beyond.
For your IT department, this means it’s time to pivot toward adopting wired and wireless infrastructure that proactively, flexibly, and securely supports multiple learning models for the long term.
‘…it’s time to pivot toward adopting wired and wireless infrastructure that proactively, flexibly, and securely supports multiple learning models…’
As a result, we foresee four technology trends that K-12 IT staff will be tackling throughout the balance of 2022. Let’s review each one, along with strategies for addressing all.
1) Plugging Online Security Gaps
It’s no secret the pandemic-related transition to remote learning led to a spike in cybercrimes targeting K-12 school districts. With students, teachers, and staff spending long hours accessing district resources via systems and technologies outside of IT’s control, bad actors quickly zeroed in on education according to security research such as the latest The State of K-12 Cybersecurity: Year in Review report.
Contributing to security woes was the scramble to provide K-12 populations with connectivity at home, frequently causing districts to settle for consumer Wi-Fi options that lacked enterprise security features. With remote learning now taking permanent root, district IT departments need to replace early fixes with appropriate long-term solutions.
2) Advancing Health and Wellbeing
After deploying solutions to mitigate risks from physical intruders, primary schools are now interested in utilizing technology for adding precision and automation to ensuring the health and wellbeing of district communities. Air quality monitoring, ventilation controls, room occupancy, and more, can all be assisted by adding IoT sensors and their accompanying AI-powered, cloud-enabled management solutions for collecting, analyzing, and acting on data generated by people and facilities.
3) Enabling HyFlex Environments
Beyond the pandemic, many educators expect that HyFlex (Hybrid-Flexible) learning models are here to stay. The ability to provide remote learning rapidly and effectively can keep schools open during typical flu seasons, adverse weather events, and other crisis situations. Additionally, some districts may choose a hybrid approach to reduce the amount of time and cost associated with student transportation. Further, some families discovered their students thrived outside the physical classroom and will choose remote learning for some, or even all, of the time. This will require ongoing capacity for virtually integrating remote individuals into physical classroom activities.
Consequently, districts need to refocus on long-term strategies for providing high-quality remote instruction and learning by adopting solutions that can scale rapidly, securely, and reliably as needs change overnight.
4) Embracing Managed Services
With the implementation of the FCC’s fixed 5-year funding cycle for Category 2 E-Rate expenditures, which aims to speed networking deployments in K-12 schools while providing a more predictable and reliable funding source, districts are now considering more efficient and effective ways to deploy high-performance infrastructure. A top consideration is moving to a managed services networking model, as schools can be assured the typical five-year contract will be fully covered by their E-Rate funds.
In a nutshell, a managed services model alleviates network planning, budgeting, and administration burdens by enabling hardware, software, and management services to be purchased as a monthly subscription, with no upfront capital investments required. This frees IT departments to concentrate on initiatives that enhance teaching and learning by off-loading the time-consuming tasks related to deploying, managing, and troubleshooting wired and wireless networks. Managed service delivery can also expand, and contract, fluidly as on campus needs evolve.
2022 Roadmap for Success
Unsurprisingly, the path to successfully navigating today’s trends starts with understanding what to look for in wired and wireless solutions. We suggest making the following a priority.
Invest in a Holistic Networking Ecosystem. Although obtaining sufficient wired and wireless infrastructure is always critical for securing every type of user and IoT device you need to support, it’s no longer enough.
Addressing cybersecurity, physical security, and health needs, while simultaneously delivering high quality educational experiences, takes a comprehensive networking ecosystem that brings together an array of partners from which to choose the services that best fit your district’s situation. Most importantly, a partner ecosystem with a proven record for integrating tightly and seamlessly among all of the participants is necessary for keeping learning experiences high and IT overhead low.
Step Up to Wi-Fi 6E. To address accelerating user and IoT bandwidth demands, such as remote learning video streaming and real-time on-campus student movement orchestration, while also providing better security natively, include Wi-Fi 6E access points within your holistic networking ecosystem. Because Wi-Fi 6E delivers an additional 1200 MHz of new spectrum in the 6 GHz band, while retaining backwards compatibility for 5 GHz and 2.4 GHz, districts can devise plans for moving lower-data rate IoT devices to the 2.4 GHz spectrum, which frees up bandwidth for educational devices with high-data rate needs.
Key to gaining the most from Wi-Fi 6E is preventing interference and performance degradation between the lower end of new 6 GHz band and the upper end of 5 GHz. To resolve this issue and maximize the number of available channels, look for Wi-Fi 6E solutions with dynamic hardware-based filtering, which is also known as ultra tri-band filtering.
Boost Remote Learning with Enterprise RAPs. To eliminate the performance bottlenecks, dropped connections, degraded web conferencing, and security gaps that resulted from adopting consumer-grade Wi-Fi hotspots, upgrade to enterprise-grade remote access points (RAPs) that will appropriately support your new HyFlex reality.
The most innovative RAPs deliver plug-and-play connectivity to your teachers and learners, enabling them to easily connect wireless and wired devices. Another critical feature is secure wired and wireless connections that include encryption and user authentication. In addition, insist on seamless application access, where RAPs extend the classroom experience anywhere that has an Internet or cellular connection. In combination, these features ensure laptops and VoIP phones work just like they do on campus — including four-digit dialing — while keeping users and district resources protected.
Get the Right NaaS Partnership. As you consider moving from owning your infrastructure to consuming it elastically via a Network-as-a-Service (NaaS) managed care model, this is another networking area that’s all about quality partnerships.
The most advanced NaaS options take flexibility to the next level, providing districts with a “try before you buy” option to see which technologies and service levels are the best fit. Also, an innovative NaaS solution easily and seamlessly integrates with any other networking solution you choose, rather than restricting you to only a specific set of providers and technologies. Finally, consider a NaaS partner’s financing options, including its familiarity with leveraging E-Rate funding.
Critical Foundation for Learning Innovation
Whether your 2022 priorities focus on improving data security and personal safety or taking the next steps in HyFlex education, network infrastructure will continue to serve as the foundation for educational innovation. The technologies we’ve discussed can help you with reaching your district’s teaching and learning goals.
The State of K-12 Cybersecurity: 2020 Year in Review, Douglas A. Levin, K-12 Cybersecurity Resource Center and the K12 Security Information Exchange, March 10, 2020
 FCC Acts to Speed the Deployment of Wi-Fi in Schools and Libraries, FCC Report and Order, December 3, 2019
Dan Rivera is an Education Manager and E-rate expert for Aruba, a Hewlett Packard Enterprise company. Dan’s career in the public sector information technology industry spans over 30 years, during which he has concentrated on the Primary Education Sector. Recognized as an industry thought leader, Dan has been featured in many education-focused publications and has served on numerous advisory boards creating strategies for working with Government/Education agencies. Connect with him on LinkedIn.