Nothing is perhaps more important to the U.S.'s future than maximizing the potential of education. It is through mass schooling that children learn the essential social and learning skills that will prepare them for adult life and professional work. While education is a complex process with many different factors affecting outcomes, access to technology clearly plays a role in children's learning.
It is unfortunate then to learn that 6.5 million students in the U.S. still lack broadband, according to Education Superhighway. Broadband is an essential communication medium for educational facilities with large student and teacher populations, as it allows for messages and online actions to be completed simultaneously.
However, broadband is only one crucial aspect of improving online infrastructure in schools and other educational facilities. Further complicating the matter are tight budgets that many of these institutions must operate within. As the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities reported, state and local funding is still recovering and is well below what it was in 2008.
With this in mind, schools may have to focus on the most essential upgrades first, spreading out the investments in a way that maximizes learning potential.
The advantages of a fiber connection
Sites like Education Superhighway are big on the advent of fiber in the classroom. According to Techno FAQ, one of fiber's biggest advantages is its reliability. Fiber functions on symmetrical connections, allowing downloads and uploads to happen at the same time without impacting connection speed. The system also tends to be more passive and separated from power lines, meaning that it will likely remain operational during a storm.
Time is precious in schools and fiber is designed for high-speed connections, typically over 1Gbps. This allows educators to stream video content in seconds, without having to pause constantly for buffering videos.
Planning for increased bandwidth usage
Think of bandwidth like a highway: the more lanes there are, the more easily traffic can flow. In a school situation, every student and teacher is a car on that highway – meaning that things will slow down very quickly with only a couple of lanes. Without proper bandwidth, hardware investments will not work the way they should. Even the most up-to-date tablet cannot magically conjure efficient internet connection on its own.
Bandwidth management can keep everything flowing smoothly. While schools can (and should, up to a point) purchase more bandwidth, management will help reduce the amount of spending while maximizing efficiency. Techsoup for Libraries recommended bandwidth management to help prioritize which programs get access to the connection speed first.
For instance, a student wrongly downloading a new mobile game should never receive the same bandwidth as a teacher trying to stream a news program for a class. Student devices can even be put on a separate, slower network, freeing up room for the educators to use on lessons.
While schools can have their own servers – many universities do – a cloud services provider can help alleviate this investment. Just be sure that any contracted third party has the proper security certification to be a trusted partner.
"Wearable technology like smartwatches are starting to enter the educational space."
Factoring in IoT and BYOD
Whatever the plan, make sure spending accounts for more than just the computers in the classroom. Everyone, student and teacher, has a smartphone. Numerous other wearable technology like smartwatches and similar products are also starting to enter the educational space. As the internet of things continues to grow, each one of these devices could sap bandwidth away from where it is needed.
This represents a cybersecurity issue, especially as most faculty and students are bringing their own devices. School online infrastructure should carry a layered password system to ensure that access is restricted to authorized users. In addition, the principle of least privilege should be applied.
This will ensure that students on have as many permissions as they need, keeping them away from confidential teacher data. Ideally, the IT team will have oversight and the only administrator privileges on the network. This way if there is a breach, the potential damage will be contained.
Remote monitoring programs are useful tools for school systems that cannot afford to keep a dedicated IT staff in every building. While this software is convenient, schools should be wary of investing in any solution without doing the proper research. A report from Schneider Electric analyzed a possible danger in certain solutions as, if compromised, they provide an open window for cyber criminals to inflict damage.
Preparing for 5G
Any education institution investing in wireless internet infrastructure needs to consider 5G. While not readily available now, 5G has already begun limited rollout and is expected to start becoming widespread in 2020, according to IEEE 5G. This will serve as not only the next telecommunication standard but will also empower higher capacity, massive machine communications.
Essentially, the bandwidth concerns of today may be outdated and a whole new set of possibilities and problems will open up. While it is still too soon to definitively say with certainty what kind of wireless internet infrastructure 5G will bring, schools that need to design systems between now and 2020 should incorporate easy scalability into the infrastructure. It makes no sense to optimize exclusively for platforms that may soon be obsolete.
As schools and other education establishments begin improving online infrastructure, a solid IT solutions provider can help smooth the transition and reduce cost spending. ISG Technology stands ready to do its part in ensuring that the U.S. education system empowers the most complete learning experience in the world. Contact us today to learn how we can help update your infrastructure.