Five tech trends and strategies for successfully navigating primary education needs.
GUEST COLUMN | by Chris Tingley
In an increasingly digital world, K-12 educators are now using the online lessons learned during the COVID-19 pandemic to navigate a new course that integrates technology into classroom settings, with an emphasis on providing students with easy, seamless access to tools that encourage digital interactions that prepare them for success.
‘…an emphasis on providing students with easy, seamless access to tools that encourage digital interactions that prepare them for success.’
To understand how district IT departments are responding, we surveyed leaders at school systems large and small. As a result of our conversations, we’ve determined the following five trends are top of mind for 2023.
1 Evolving Cybersecurity
Fresh off the recent LAUSD ransomware attack(1), K-12 IT departments are considering what’s needed to evolve their technology deployments. As today’s threats include not only criminal actors, but also unintentional sharing of user credentials internally, mischievous students, and inadequate security practices by school suppliers, districts require appropriately advanced cybersecurity solutions to meet current realities.
2 Supporting Digital Equity
With the pandemic, and other societal forces, spotlighting disparities in digital literacy, school districts are working to address digital equity in various ways. Unsurprisingly, wired and wireless networking infrastructure plays a critical role in closing digital divides and district IT departments are considering solutions for answering the call.
3 Facilitating Classroom Innovation
As educators map out long-term strategies for modern learning innovations, research proves that better technology produces better outcomes(2). This makes it imperative for IT departments to adopt networking infrastructure that can flexibly and cost-effectively support the advances in mobile and IoT technologies that prepare students for an increasingly digital future.
4 Improving Student Safety and Wellbeing
Whether it’s mitigating physical intruder risk, adding precision and automation to HVAC systems, or addressing bullying – physical and cyber – primary schools are considering new ways to utilize the intelligence offered by networking infrastructure. From making facilities more comfortable and healthful with IoT-enabled air quality monitoring to tracking and reporting on suspicious human behaviors, schools are turning to AI-powered, cloud-managed solutions for collecting, analyzing, and acting upon the data that people and facilities generate.
5 Maximizing Federal Funding Resources
Although school districts are familiar with E-Rate as a technology funding source, another current option is the $190 billion Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund (ESSER), which includes provisions for investing in networking infrastructure.
As ESSER was established in three phases, the deadline for obligating the $54.3 billion of ESSER II funds lies just ahead – September 30, 2023 – with the deadline for obligating the final $122 billion is September 30, 2024(3). This makes planning and executing funds obligation a near-term concern.
2023 IT Strategies for Success
Unsurprisingly, districts have a number of strategic options they can pursue for successfully navigating 2023 technology trends. Building on our suggestions of last year, such as adopting Wi-Fi 6E and remote access points (RAPs) for completing homework projects(4), we also recommend the following for your wired and wireless infrastructure:
Ditch Bolt-on Security for Built-In. Ensuring seamless device connections and enabling rapid responses to suspicious activities requires evolving your cybersecurity model beyond perimeter-based firewalls. Instead, districts are now deploying networking solutions with security engineered into every aspect of their wired and wireless infrastructure.
The best solutions apply Zero Trust security and secure access service edge (SASE) frameworks, providing you with stronger threat defense across your entire IT stack. Further, to support learning innovation and digital equity, it’s critical to consolidate onto a single, centralized network and security management platform. This provides visibility across the network and automates application of edge-to-cloud quality of service (QoS) while simultaneously streamlining and simplifying network and security complexity.
Take a User-Centric Approach to Optimizing Classroom Experiences. In the past, primary school IT departments used a network-focused lens for optimizing connectivity. Although this remains important, ensuring you can support classroom innovations requires also taking a client- and user-based view.
To do so, deploy a technology solution that monitors application response times and related performance metrics from the perspective of a client device. In addition, look for a tool that supplies proactive, remote, cloud-based troubleshooting insights for rapidly identifying and remediating issues before they impact teachers and learners.
Obtain Actionable Insights using Cloud-Managed Location Awareness. To quickly gain the information necessary for addressing safety and wellbeing, as well as achieving other classroom and administrative objectives, you need to solve several related data challenges: Collecting, storing and accessing data, obtaining actionable insights, and maintaining data privacy.
Advanced networking solutions can help. They not only gather utilization data, but also include location awareness to collect situational information. Then, data is retained and analyzed in the cloud for fast on-demand access to mitigate challenging circumstances.
In addition, the best platforms provide technical and non-technical dashboards, which present consumable insights for business users as well as IT, while adhering to compliance regulations such as the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) or the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR).
Leverage AIOps for AI-powered Networking. Another critical strategy for efficiently addressing today’s demands is embracing artificial intelligence for IT operations (AIOps). Utilizing AIOps provides AI-powered insights for network troubleshooting and optimization, workflow automation with self-healing configuration changes, and advanced endpoint profiling for enhanced security across the networking landscape.
In addition, deploying AIOps helps reduce IT overhead by freeing up skilled networking engineers pursue higher-value tasks.
Evaluate Managed Services for Flexible, Cost-Effective NaaS Infrastructure. To deliver the connectivity required for addressing all of the forgoing trends, consider moving to a managed services model powered by networking-as-a-service (NaaS). With the implementation of the FCC’s fixed 5-year funding cycle for Category 2 E-Rate expenditures(5), schools that leverage E-Rate can now rest assured the typical five-year managed services contract will be fully covered.
When you’re reviewing the options, look for a solution that permits a trial period. This enables determining which technologies and services are the best fit, such as outdoor APs that students can use after hours. You can also evaluate whether a NaaS provider can seamlessly integrate with any other networking solution and ascertain a vendor’s familiarity with leveraging E-Rate funding.
As moving infrastructure from a capital expense to an operating expense is an increasingly attractive option, we estimate that 20 percent of enterprises in all industries will have a NaaS-enabled strategy by the end of 2023.(6)
Get a Robust Ecosystem to Address Emerging Demands. Regardless of whether you deploy an on-site or managed services infrastructure, look for a solution that includes tight integrations with a comprehensive partner ecosystem to keep IT overhead low and capabilities high. This ensures you can smoothly, flexibly, and cost-effectively extend your infrastructure to align with current and future priorities, such as gunshot monitoring or real-time cybersecurity enhancements.
Innovate, Safeguard, and Support
No matter which priorities top your 2023 list, modern networking infrastructure serves as the foundation. With the right solutions and ecosystem partners, you can provide your teachers, learners, administrators, staff, and even community members with secure, powerful, always-on, connectivity that’s as simple to use as powering up a tablet.
1 What to Know About the LAUSD Ransomware Attack, NBC4 Los Angeles – KNBC, October 3, 2022
2 Better Technology Produced Better Learning Outcomes During Pandemic, Gallup, February 3, 2022
3 Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund, U.S. Department of Education, Office of Elementary & Secondary Education
5 FCC Acts to Speed the Deployment of Wi-Fi in Schools and Libraries, FCC Report and Order, December 3, 2019
6 Top 6 Networking Predictions for 2023, David Hughes, Aruba, a Hewlett Packard Enterprise company, January 5, 2023
Chris Tingley 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, Chris 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. Chris has nearly 15 years’ experience in education, having taught in K-12 classrooms and as a tenure-awarded higher education professor. He holds an MBA from PennWest Clarion and a BA from Gannon University. Connect with him on LinkedIn.