Aug 02 2018

K–12 Districts Prepare Their Infrastructures for the Internet of Things

The push for a modern classroom environment has K–12 districts restructuring their networks to accommodate the surge in connected devices.

The surge of devices used by K–12 students is putting a strain on school district networks, causing IT teams to consider adopting the Internet of Things

Bringing IoT into schools maintains connectivity for students and teachers during the day, through both personal devices and classroom tools like smartboards, Kellie Wilks, chief technology officer of Ector County Independent School District, TX, told EdTech magazine at the ISTE 2018 conference

“If we can provide the Wi-Fi and the connectivity to any device it becomes more personalized learning,” Wilks said.

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IoT Implementation Requires a Strong Network Infrastructure

As administrators at many K–12 schools become more interested in IoT, it’s important that their IT teams go into the integration process informed about the infrastructure they will need.

“The access points and those things that are in the classrooms or are in the buildings, we have to look at that as ‘how many devices can they handle?’ Mike Ribble, Manhattan-Ogden Unified School District 383’s district director of technology, told EdTech

A recent study from Alcatel Lucent Enterprise found that school districts looking to incorporate IoT should first take a hard look at their current networks, then establish what needs to be improved to handle IoT-connected devices.

“The first step in building a next-generation K-12 network is to analyze and evaluate the capabilities of the existing network infrastructure,” according to study’s authors. “The core network itself may be outdated and unreliable. It may be too complex and structured with too many layers to efficiently support multimedia applications.”

At the Paulding County School District in Georgia, teachers and students were frustrated with bandwidth shortages and limited wireless capabilities in the classroom. After taking stock, administrators realized their network infrastructure was seriously lacking. They began to implement dedicated switches in each classroom, new access points in the hallways and a central suite to manage the networks. The school district is now able to handle the wireless connections on its network, which can range from 8,000 to 10,000 per day.

“We’re progressively putting the solution in place at each of our schools and we’ve been getting a lot of great feedback,” Julie Ackerman, executive director of technology, told Alcatel Lucent. “The infrastructure is simple to implement and its benefits are immediate.”

Security Is Key for IoT Integration

While increased connectivity is crucial for modern classrooms, putting so many devices onto a network creates more openings for malicious users to infiltrate the system.

“There have been some major headline hacks that have happened because of Internet of Things devices that weren’t properly segmented or weren’t properly patched,” says Michael Lane, CDW-G senior field solutions architect. 

Luckily, current IoT security practices are not much different than what IT teams are used to dealing with when securing workstations, like user verification and limiting bandwidth access, Lane explains.

IoT containment, which uses virtualization techniques to separate IoT devices while allowing them to remain on the same physical network, also limits how exposed your network is, according to Alcatel Lucent.

“This is beneficial as it minimizes any potential damage resulting from a malicious attack, by limiting the number of devices accessible within the same profile,” they study’s authors write. “If a breach occurs, the rest of the network is not exposed, as other devices are contained in other parts of the network.”

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