From smartboards to Chromebooks and from iPads to iPhones, school districts have found new and exciting ways to classroom technology into their curricula. In fact, 48% of students currently use a computer in school, while 42% use a smartphone, according to a recent report by Cambridge International. These technologies provide students with the ability to interact and engage with content both inside and outside of the classroom, and teachers with a means to provide personalized instruction.
Yet technology poses significant challenges for school IT administrators, particularly with regard to managing network performance, bandwidth, and cybersecurity requirements. Many educational applications are bandwidth-intensive and can lead to network slowdowns, potentially affecting students’ abilities to learn. And when myriad devices are tapping into a school’s network, it can pose security challenges and open the doors to potential hackers.
Technology also takes time to manage correctly, especially in larger school districts with a lot of different devices and complex networks. As they say, however, time is money, and every dollar counts.
School IT administrators must ensure their networks are optimized and able to accommodate increasing user demands driven by more connected devices. Simultaneously, they must take steps to lock down network security without compromising the use of technology for education. And they must do it all as efficiently as possible.
Here are a few strategies they can adopt to make their networks both speedy and safe.
Analyze Network Performance
Finding the root cause of performance issues can be difficult. Is it the application or the network itself?
Answering this question correctly requires the ability to visualize all the applications, networks, devices, and other factors that could be affecting network performance. Each of these components can have a direct impact upon the others. Administrators should be able to view all the critical network paths connecting these items so they can pinpoint and immediately target potential issues whenever they arise.
Unfortunately, cloud applications like Google Classroom or Office 365 Education can make identifying errors even more challenging because they aren’t on the school’s network. Administrators should be able to monitor the performance of hosted applications just as they would on-premises apps. They can then have the confidence to contact their cloud provider and work with them to resolve the issue.
Rely on Alerts
Automated network performance monitoring can save huge amounts of time because it takes the act of manually scouring the network out of the hands of school IT administrators. This can be done through alerts to quickly and accurately notify administrators of points of failure. They don’t have to spend time hunting and pecking to discover where the fault lies; the system can direct them to the issue. Alerts can be configured so only truly critical items are flagged.
Alerts serve other functions beyond network performance monitoring. For example, administrators can receive an alert when a suspicious device connects to the network or when a device poses a potential security threat. This can be particularly useful in schools reliant on BYOD policies, as personal devices can be susceptible to malware or easily compromised if misplaced.
Plan for Capacity
A recent report by The Consortium for School Networking indicates that within the next few years, 38% of students will use, on average, two devices. Those devices, combined with the tools that teachers are using, can heavily tax network bandwidth, which is already in demand thanks to broadband growth in K-12 classrooms.
It’s important for administrators to monitor application usage to determine which apps are consuming the most bandwidth and address problem areas accordingly. This can be done in real-time so issues can be rectified before they have an adverse impact on everyone using the network.
They should also prepare for and optimize their networks to accommodate spikes in usage. These could occur during planned testing periods, for example, but they also may happen at random, as when multiple teachers might be downloading video content simultaneously on a given day. Administrators should build in bandwidth to accommodate all the students, teachers, and faculty who could potentially be using the internet on a daily basis—and then add a small percentage to account for any unexpected peaks.
Tracking bandwidth usage over time can help administrators accurately plan their bandwidth needs. Past data can help indicate when to expect bandwidth spikes. Patterns showing consistent increases at specific points during the school year can help administrators focus their attentions on those times.
Indeed, time itself is a common thread among these strategies. Automating the performance and optimization of a school network can save administrators from having to do all the maintenance themselves, thereby freeing them up to focus on more value-added tasks. It can also save schools from having to hire additional technical staff, which may not fit in their budgets. Instead, they can put their money toward facilities, supplies, salaries, and other line items with a direct and positive impact on students’ education.