May 19 2020

CoSN2020: How K–12 Schools Can Build a Virtualized Ecosystem

Migrating to the cloud can help school districts prepare for business continuity in times of crisis.

Cloud has become a popular buzzword in K–12 education, especially as school districts have shifted to remote learning due to the coronavirus pandemic.

But cloud computing also has the potential to help school leaders make smarter decisions about instruction, operations and business continuity and to create future-ready schools, said Kenneth Thompson, chief information technology officer for San Antonio (Texas) Independent School District, at the Consortium for School Networking’s 2020 virtual conference on Tuesday.

“[The pandemic] has brought about renewed opportunities,” he said. “It has opened the eyes of many CIOs across the country to how we work, how we do things better and how we make our decisions.”

Thompson also said that his school district’s migration to the hybrid cloud almost two years ago is what helped it deploy and survive remote learning over the past few months.

In a session titled “How to Cloud Like an IT Boss: Building a Virtualized Ecosystem,” Thompson and Rod Houpe, director of business development for Education Networks of America, broke down how IT leaders can develop cloud-first strategies that meet their districts’ operational and instructional goals post-COVID-19.

3 Steps to Building a Resilient Cloud Strategy

Before embarking on a cloud journey, school districts must keep the following three key considerations in mind.

  1. Find the best fit for your organization. There is no one-size-fits-all approach when it comes to the cloud. “It is essential, as leaders in IT across K–12, for us to look at the needs of the organization and decide what that fit is,” Thompson said. For example, when SAISD started its transition to the cloud, one of the first things the district did was to determine what the primary business and instructional needs were and how it could best deliver cloud services to faculty, staff and students. Thompson also said that budget cuts and staffing resources are even more crucial in that decision-making process because he envisions school leaders will be increasingly mindful of saving time, money and resources moving forward after the pandemic. It’s also important for school leaders to understand that while district requirements for cloud solutions — such as security, reliability and accessibility — and the types of services they’re looking for may be the same, district resources are not, Thompson said. Meanwhile, Houpe said that the worst thing organizations can do is to rush to the end without understanding where they’re going with their cloud strategies, evaluating them and finding making sure they have the right solutions. He encouraged IT leaders to take time to reflect on what they’re trying to achieve by moving to the cloud and to document it.
  2. Shift the paradigm. Transitioning to the cloud is also a paradigm shift, Thompson said. For instance, when cloud computing was first introduced to the K–12 space, the initial input was that it was extremely expensive. But today, leaders across all industries see the opportunities the cloud brings for enhancing the level of the services they provide, he said. Still, others still hold on to their on-premises data centers because they feel they’ll lose control over their infrastructure and data if they move to the cloud. “There’s this culture of ‘I’ve got to touch it,’” Thompson said. “But we have to let those things go because in a post-COVID-19 world, things are going to be much different — the way we do business, the way we instruct our students, the way we deliver our services or the way we budget.” And to make that shift really work, IT leaders must obtain buy-in from school boards, district leaders and their own IT staff to have a smoother integration and investment support.
  3. Ask the right questions. In their session, Thompson and Houpe touched on critical questions school districts should be asking when devising a cloud strategy, such as what can position them for success or how it will align to their academic and operation goals. But it’s also imperative for IT leaders to ask who is responsible for cloud data and what security measures are in place — especially times of crisis, Houpe said. For example, as students and teachers continue to work remotely and help desks have expanded their reach beyond school walls, data privacy and security are more important than ever before. “The personally identifiable information is so vulnerable right now,” he said. Therefore, IT leaders must think about the needs and concerns around it and build that into any work-from-home policies or remote learning opportunities in the near future.

Overall, the shift to remote learning has given IT leaders the opportunity to reflect on their current operations and what they can do moving forward. “It’s about creating a vision and a culture of success — not only in IT, but in the rest of the organization,” Houpe said.

EdTech is covering CoSN2020: A Breakthrough Virtual Experience, so keep this page bookmarked for our ongoing coverage. Follow @EdTech_K12 on Twitter for live updates and join the conversation using #CoSN2020.

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