There is always pressure from some to use the school IT budget for new laptops, tablets, interactive whiteboards or other ‘visible’ infrastructure. This is understandable—new hardware can help motivate pupils and impress parents, and offers immediate impact.
In an increasingly competitive education market schools are keen to make a statement that they provide up to date learning technologies for pupils.
But no matter how shiny your hardware, if users don’t get a consistent experience, then you will never get a full return on your investment. Below I run through the main reasons for targeting a proportion of your IT spend on upgrading your network.
1. You can implement wireless—or make it faster
Expectations in this area have increased hugely. Wi-Fi is moving from being an ‘impressive bonus’ to being a basic requirement. With more and more teaching materials available online, the trend is moving increasingly toward to making use of these resources.
You will no doubt already know how users respond if the service is not as fast as they expect. There can easily be a perception that the school’s IT set up has fallen behind the times and is ‘not good enough’.
It was therefore unsurprising that 68% of respondents, in our 2016 report on The State of Networking in Education, stated that improvements to wireless access were their top priority over the next three years.
2. A more effective and reliable network delivers a consistent user experience
Users also expect reliable internet access these days. Internet service disruptions break pupils’ concentration in the classroom and reduce productivity. A highly effective and reliable network means that users will not think twice about making the most of internet-based learning options, whereas the opposite is also true—if using them is frustrating, their potential will not be fulfilled.
3. Cloud computing and other innovations require a strong foundation
More and more schools are using cloud-hosted services, in order to boost the accessibility and reliability of learning materials. This is logical, but cloud computing is only effective when the underlying infrastructure is fast and stable. Any noticeable lag in accessing anything in the cloud gives users the impression that the school’s IT set up has gone backwards, not forwards.
Similarly, Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) arrangements are becoming increasingly normal as pupil’s ownership of smartphones, tablets and other devices continues to rise. But although BYOD brings definite advantages in terms of increasing access to cloud based educational apps and internet-based research resources, your network also needs to be set up in a way that handles the challenges associated with BYOD and Proxy Servers, switches and so on.
4. Upgrading provides an opportunity to review security
1. Planning a network upgrade involves asking lots of questions about what your school’s needs and priorities are. These questions should include:
2. Does our current network setup meet our current needs?
3. Will our current network setup continue to meet our needs over the coming two to three years?
4. Do we already have a plan in place for BYOD?
5. Can we address these challenges by ourselves?
Asking these kind of questions also gives you a chance to revisit your cyber security arrangements. Schools don’t often see themselves a likely targets for cyber attacks. The reality, though, is that they are very much at risk. In fact, according to a report by Symantec, nearly 10 per cent of all IT security breaches in 2015 were in the education sector.
The backbone of any school’s IT provision must be a reliable and effective network. With technology playing an ever-increasing role in the classroom, neglecting this backbone will only store up problems for the future. Investment in your network will be repaid by enabling your pupils and staff to make the most of everything digital.