An estimated 50.4 million K–12 students will attend school this fall, reports the National Center for Education Statistics. As students return to classes, district IT professionals need to make sure networks are ready to handle them — and their devices.
Marie Bjerede, the principal for mobile learning and infrastructure at the Consortium for School Networking (CoSN), says that schools that haven’t instituted any new policies, such as a one-to-one computing initiative, shouldn’t need to do much with their network. But she does recommend the following best practices:
1. Test the Network’s Functionality
“The biggest thing schools can do is test their networks before students come back,” says Bjerede.
She recommends that IT professionals connect a device to the network to ensure that websites will open and downloads aren’t too slow.
2. Check the Network’s Capacity
After ensuring that the network is functioning, Bjerede says, network admins should check capacity. One method is to go into a classroom and connect the same number of devices (or more) that will be used there on a regular basis, she says.
“You want to make sure each access point can cover as much capacity as is needed,” says Bjerede. “Make sure nobody will get kicked off.”
3. Look at Wi-Fi Bandwidth in High-Traffic Areas
Testing for capacity is also important in areas where a lot of students will be using devices, Bjerede says. She recommends testing Wi-Fi coverage in the cafeteria, auditorium or wherever a large number of students might gather.
4. Consider the Impact of Any New Tech Programs
If rolling out, say, a new one-to-one program, Bjerede recommends that administrators fully flesh out their plans before students arrive. In addition to planning for processes, like handing out the devices and deciding whether students can take devices home, Bjerede says districts should have a network plan in place.
“One of the biggest things in terms of the network is to make sure it’s designed to be scalable,” she says.
Schools should also make sure they can buy more bandwidth when they need it, because once one-to-one computers are rolled out, growth occurs gradually over a few years.
“You’re going to need to add a lot of capacity over time, and you’re going to need to do that in a thoughtful way so it’s as cost-efficient as possible,” she says.
5. Plan for Network Monitoring
Last, Bjerede says, schools need to make sure they have plans to monitor their networks regularly. By doing so, IT departments can identify security problems and other issues, but also make sure the capacity of the network is a perfect fit — neither too much nor too little.
“By monitoring, you are making sure you are always staying ahead of the needs of the students and teachers,” Bjerede says.