Nov 15 2016

Do’s and Don’ts for Optimizing Your School’s Network

Preparing for future technology starts with the network infrastructure: Tips from K–12 experts in EdTech’s latest webinar.

As schools look forward to what’s next in education, they are finding that the future holds even more technology. Education Week estimated that by the end of last year’s school year, one-to-one computing devices were available to about half of U.S. K–12 students.

During EdTech’s latest K–12 webinar, “Is Your Network Ready for 1:1 and BYOD?”, three experts offered advice on how to prepare a school’s network infrastructure (including wireless networking and other critical back-end tools) to support a variety of new devices.

The experts — Chris Budzynski, IT director for Huntley Community School District 158 in Algonquin, Ill.; Andrew Schmitt, technology director of Bloom Township District 206 in Chicago Heights, Ill.; and Mike Patterson, K–12 education strategist for CDW•G — offered this advice on what to do (and not do) to prepare for the future.

1. DO Consider Your School’s Needs

With 9,600 students, Huntley Community School District 158 has the largest fully deployed one-to-one Chromebook network in Illinois, Budzynski says, a factor the district considered when designing its infrastructure.

With 819 Cisco Meraki access points — one in each classroom and several in higher density areas — Huntley maintains a network with seamless coverage for its many students by determining where they needed it most.

“We really take a close look at [where students need access] to fine-tune our network to provide the best possible experience for our students.”

2. DO Take a Look at Your Surroundings

Both of the high schools in Schmitt’s district are housed in 100-year-old buildings, so when designing its network, Bloom Township District 206 had to consider what would work in that older facility by performing many tests.

Budzynski suggests that network administrators spend time assessing the areas surrounding the school. Though Huntley schools aren’t located in densely populated areas, admins found that the network was running into interference from nearby homes.

“We had to work pretty hard to ID some of the channels they were working on so we didn’t interfere with them and they didn’t interfere with us,” he says.

Also, with Huntley’s own robust network, Budzynski said the IT staff has to closely assign channels and place access points “so we aren’t stepping on our own toes.”

3. DO Keep a Close Eye on Your Network

With tech-savvy students at the high schools in Bloom Township, Schmitt says he’s quite likely to hear about any network issues from the students themselves.

“Students are a great sounding board when there are problems, but also when they think it could be more efficient,” he says. “It’s nice to have eyes on the ground looking for these things.”

In addition to users’ feedback, Budzynski relies on “baked in” monitoring tools in the network’s Meraki access points. If a network isn’t functioning as it should, the access points — which are always monitoring the surrounding area — will send an alert to the IT department.

This constant stream of data also allows the IT department to monitor the network constantly.

“We keep a close eye on bandwidth utilization, access points and how they are utilized,” says Budzynski. “We have to insure we are keeping up with the needs of our students.”

4. DON’T Silo Your IT and Teaching Departments

When rolling out a new tech infrastructure, CDW•G’s Patterson says it’s very important to make sure all stakeholders are involved in the discussion.

While IT departments have the most experience with networks, teachers will be using them on a daily basis.

“If you are not having collaborative conversations between your [teachers] and IT department, you are selling yourself short of a truly successful tech initiative,” he says.

5. DON’T Neglect to Look to the Future

Though designing an infrastructure for a one-to-one or BYOD network addresses needs for the immediate future, all three experts insist that stakeholders need to look even further beyond that.

With a flexible infrastructure, Budzynski says IT can roll out more access points and increase bandwidth as needed. Schmitt describes his district’s network as a “living, breathing thing” that must be always ready for what’s next, whether that’s an influx of students or a high-access device plan.

Interested in learning more? Register to watch a recording of EdTech’s latest webinar with more advice from these experts.


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