Aug 23 2017

3 Key Takeaways from the Office of Ed Tech’s Infrastructure Guide

From networks and devices to professional development, the Education Department offers best practices for using ed tech.

The last time the Education Department’s Office of Education Technology (OET) published an infrastructure guide, 25 percent of school districts were reporting that no schools in their districts could meet the FCC guidelines for internet connectivity. Now, the most recent survey indicates that 80 percent of districts report at least three-quarters of their schools are meeting this goal.

With basic internet connectivity no longer the biggest concern among districts, schools need to have other infrastructure basics in place to help students achieve success with technology. This summer, OET released an updated “Building Technology Infrastructure for Learning” guide.

1. Be Mindful When Rolling Out New Devices

With internet connections in place, rolling out devices to students and teachers is the logical next step, but school leaders must have a solid plan in place.

“For systemic changes to occur, school and district leaders need to create a shared vision for how technology can best meet the needs of all learners and develop a plan that translates that vision into action,” reads the guide.

OET stresses that proper infrastructure for a tech rollout includes considerations of the people involved — students and teachers. It recommends a survey of administrators, teachers and students about current ed tech use and what they’d want out of a new tool.

Once a tool is chosen, the guide reports that districts then need to consider the professional learning that teachers will need to use it effectively.

“Because educators differ in technology expertise and pedagogical knowledge, professional learning should be designed to meet the needs of teachers at all levels, from the most traditional teachers to the earliest adopters of new technologies,” reads the guide.

Technology director Samuel Mormando recommends that leaders give educators a choice in the type of professional learning they receive — like blended learning options — and give them time to explore the new devices before they are deployed.

2. Focus on Faster Connections

With new technologies emerging every day, schools need to ensure that their networks are in tiptop shape to support these tools.

OET recommends that districts consider their needs and limitations when choosing a type of wireless or wired connection. Fiber wiring requires more expertise to install, but the end result could be more reliable and less expensive to maintain.

With different types of fiber available, schools with small IT teams or a need for scalability have a lot of options to choose from. OET reports that some rural school districts have found creative approaches to get fiber to their schools. For example, with a public-private partnership, a district in Montana was able to install a network that let it roll out videoconferencing tools and online professional development for teachers.

The guide also indicates that rural schools can boost connectivity with mobile devices and hotspots when cable or fiber connections are not available to them.

3. Prioritize Network and Device Management

So, now you’ve got a high-speed network, but district IT’s job isn’t done yet. Even with a good network in place, schools need to ensure it stays that way by monitoring traffic and managing devices.

“Planning for network configuration and management will better position technology staff to respond to issues as they arise,” reports the guide.

OET indicates that schools should monitor and consider segmenting networks as well as prioritize classroom traffic to make the most of available bandwidth.

For example, Huntley Community School District 158 uses temporary network setups to offer guest access during special events without compromising the school’s network.

When it comes to cybersecurity, OET recommends that districts keep in mind these three things:

  1. The people using the technology need adequate cybersecurity education.
  2. Policies established must be clearly communicated to all staff.
  3. Some technologies like single sign-on and multifactor authentication can boost security.

A school’s devices also can be managed at the classroom or administration level, keeping everyone confident that students are using the devices to further their education.

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