This is part three of a series titled Knowing your Technology Strategy, in which we lay out the basic factors that schools should consider when evaluating educational technology.
So your district is looking at more devices—woohoo! If your school hasn’t had a large influx of computers since the mid-2000s, it may be time to take inventory and understand the base infrastructure you’re working with. Typically, infrastructure needs break down to five areas: network, power, storage, security, and workspace.
Now more than ever, a high bandwidth connection is critical to a school technology program, and just because a network can handle several faculty on their personal computers doesn’t mean it’s equipped for a classroom of 35-50 students, all trying to upload video files and/or run apps at the same time. Here are a few rules of thumb to get started:
Strategically placed access points
WiFi strength degrades as you move farther from an access point and certain structural elements can impede signal strength – like a cement wall. Spacing them out (possibly even one per classroom) will ensure that students and teachers all have the signal strength they need.
Network access schedule
If your school doesn’t have the resources for more access points or more bandwidth, you can work around these obstacles by having classes schedule time for heavy internet use—this way the History students aren’t all watching HD videos, while the Science class uploads photos. This solution isn’t very easy, but it can be powerful. (We recommend ensuring enough access points.)
Monitoring and throttling bandwidth
Using software to monitor your network activity, like Meraki’s network topology map, you can sniff out bandwidth-hogs in your building. Throttling takes that a step further, restricting devices from hitting certain limits in their data usage.
30 devices or fewer per access point
Besides physical distance from the access point, another thing that can affect your network performance is the number of devices running through an access point all at the same time. Most school access points only support up to 30 users before you’ll start seeing serious slowdowns.
Classrooms don’t always come with 30 outlets, so keeping 30 tablets or Chromebooks in one classroom can be a bit daunting. Here are critical factors of your power strategy that you need to consider: Robust circuitry and access to an outlet. The best solution we’ve found for powering this many devices are charging carts—not only do they provide access to power for all of the devices stored within, but they monitor power usage and cycle devices to ensure your circuitry isn’t overloaded. (They also help maintain battery life.)
Tablets and Chromebooks take up a lot of space! So did those gigantic old biology textbooks, but devices call for some extra care:
- Protection from elements (cool, dry storage)
- Protection from accidental breakage
- Storage with access to charging power
Charging carts are an awesome storage option because they’re like Swiss Army-Knives of infrastructure needs—they’re spacious and secure for storage, they’re mobile, and they keep your devices charged.
Web security and filtering isn’t just about meeting compliance standards—with cloud-based filtering options like Securly, schools can take the dated, hard-line method of filtering and turning it into something productive, letting you monitor traffic and make changes from anywhere. There are many factors that go into school web security, and we’ll be diving deeper in a later article in this series, but for now, just keep in mind schools today are thinking about web filtering in terms of protection—not censorship.
Security comes in another shape, too—you’ll want to be sure devices are stored and locked in a place where they won’t be fall into unintended hands. Cables and access points should also secured or hidden so as not to be tampered with by students (accidentally or not).
One factor that doesn’t usually come up in the technology conversation is workspace for students—even with smaller devices, like tablets and 11” computers, you’ll lose a lot of desk real-estate. Do teachers expect students to have a computer on the desk, as well as a notebook or textbook? If so, small desks might not cut it!
- Smaller students might mean smaller devices
- Bigger devices might mean larger desks or tables
If your district will be making a big jump with devices, these categories are all areas you’ll want to consider first! Which of these 5 areas to you find most important? We’d love to hear your thoughts! Read on and check out 5 tactics to fund your edtech strategy.