More than 50 million students will soon return to school, and school districts have been spending the summer upgrading classroom technology in preparation for their return. For all the work done this summer, IT administrators will look for ways to continually improve throughout the school year as well.
As another academic year prepares to kick off, here are five technology priorities that districts will want to invest in to improve the student experience.
LANs and WANs
The latest digital tools promise to transform education, but innovation won’t be fully realized without a reliable network foundation. To get the most out of today’s digital devices and learning software, students and staff need support: for instance, high-performance network switches for local area networks (LANs) that can handle growing traffic volumes coming from a multitude of mobile devices, or from resource-sensitive video and audio transmissions. Not sure where to start? Use the latest site survey and network-management tools to spot existing traffic bottlenecks and help plan for future growth.
Take a fresh look at wide area networks too. Federal Department of Education guidelines today call for minimum internet access speeds of 100 megabits per second for every 1,000 students, and 1 gigabit per second by 2018.
Whether for 1:1 computing initiatives or bring-your-own-device (BYOD) programs, mobile devices are mainstays on today’s campuses. Schools that provision devices gain high levels of flexibility from new notebooks and all-in-one tablets with detachable covers that include keyboards for either laptop or tablet functionality.
Stylus support is another plus. When evaluating devices, judge how well they support flipped learning models and their ability to run important school applications. As BYOD becomes widespread, IT managers must also assess — and invest accordingly — how well their mobile management applications support a richer mix of devices and locations where students and staff will be using the hardware.
Security and Student Privacy
Flipped learning models have turned the traditional classroom into one without walls — 78 percent of teachers use a flipped model of some kind, according to a survey from Sophia.org. IT managers need to make strategic investments in new security capabilities. Security-as-a-Service solutions from a variety of vendors offer a practical way to access the latest security applications and expertise, all for a predictable monthly fee.
Some options provide central management consoles for monitoring the latest threats and for mobile device management. Other evaluation criteria include how easily the solution lets administrators set up virtual LANs or encrypt sensitive data.
Digital Interactive Projectors
These valuable devices foster front-of-classroom interactivity for students and teachers as schools move away from traditional lecture-oriented models. After connecting to a personal computer, the projectors can display content on any suitable surface, such as a whiteboard or wall.
Users can control what’s being displayed using finger-touch inputs or a stylus. Thus, users can work through math problems or create illustrations on the fly without being tied to the computer. When shopping, look for projectors that support interactive software that is integral to the school. Some models also offer adaptors for microscopes and other learning equipment.
Whether in selected classrooms, dedicated science labs or makerspace groups, 3D printing helps students turn ideas into fully formed objects. The devices themselves continue to fall in price, with some models dipping below $1,000.
When investing in 3D printers, price isn’t the only consideration. Keep a close watch on developments in the types of printing materials individual models use.
Traditionally, desktop models supported polylactic acid plastic, a relatively inexpensive material that nevertheless offered limited choices in the look and characteristics of the output. Emerging now are new composite PLA plastics that are infused with metal, stone or wood particles for a wider range of finishes.