Sep 30 2016

Is Your School’s Network Ready for the Future of Education?

State IT leaders outline recommendations for school infrastructures over the next 10 years.

A few weeks ago, “The NMC/CoSN Horizon Report: 2016 K–12 Edition” outlined coding, online learning, robotics, artificial intelligence and virtual reality as the key education trends for the next five years.

But is the average school’s network ready for such developments?

That’s what the State Educational Technology Directors Association wants to ensure. As identified in its 2016 reported titled “The Broadband Imperative II: Equitable Access for Learning,” SETDA recommends that making sure enough high-speed internet is available is paramount to a school’s future.

“Bandwidth capacity is required to support these digital age learning opportunities, and determines which digital instructional materials and educational applications students and educators can effectively leverage in the classroom,” the report states.

In terms of bandwidth, the SETDA’s suggestions for upcoming yearly increases are broken down by the size of the school district. According to their predictions, an average school district will likely need to triple their bandwidth within the next 3 years.

SOURCE: SETDA, “The Broadband Imperative II: Equitable Access for Learning,” September 2016

Marie Bjerede, the director of Consortium for School Networking’s Smart Education Networks by Design Initiative, says that this increasing bandwidth demand is something that CoSN has seen with recent tech programs.

“We discovered that as most districts commit to one-to-one, their bandwidth needs to grow 60 percent year-over-year,” Bjerede says. “Schools need to look at their trends are and make sure they are always above the average peak performance so there’s not a bottleneck for teachers and students.”

SETDA also recommends that districts heavily monitor networks to anticipate growth and set attainable upgrading benchmarks. They suggest districts install circuits that can support 25 percent more capacity so upgrading can be a seamless process.

Bjerede says that by monitoring to anticipate needs, districts are able to cost-effectively expand and buy more bandwidth when the price point is best.

As Curriculum Goes Digital, the Homework Gap Widens

Both the Horizon Report and SETDA’s report recognize that the need for digital equity becomes paramount when curriculum focuses more on tech. The SETDA report states:

“Gone is an era when students are automatically given textbooks to support their learning. Equity of access includes ensuring access to devices and sufficient high-speed broadband in school, at home, and everywhere else in the community to utilize digital instructional materials, complete homework assignments, and to connect with students, educators, and experts throughout the world anytime/anywhere.”

Bjerede said school districts have done a number of creative things to insure that students who don’t have internet access at home are able to acquire digital resources.

“Some districts actually provide devices that are connected through LTE, so if you don’t have internet at home, LTE will serve and ultimately give students 24/7 ubiquitous access,” she says.

This past summer, EdTech: Focus on K–12 reported on Watkins Glen Central School District, where 18 school buses were outfitted with Wi-Fi to help ensure students could get their homework done.

“It’s completely seamless, so students just stay on the BYOD network when they get on the bus, and then they can do their homework during their ride home from school,” explained Melanie A. Chandler, the school district’s director of technology, in the article.

SETDA suggests that states leverage their resources to expand access and funding for broadband access, and that school districts provide outreach to families.

“Education leaders should continue to collaborate with communities to ensure that all students have broadband access anytime, anywhere,” the report states.

For more information, read the full report here.

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