October 15, 2020

Taking the Work out of the School Network

While there’s no consensus on who coined the phrase ‘truth is stranger than fiction’, you’d be hard pressed to find any disagreement with the sentiment in 2020. The unexpected twists of 2020 have disrupted the lives of everyone, both in the workplace and in our homes. Schools and educational institutions have had to implement enormous levels of change. With the rapid move to remote and hybrid learning, the pressure on IT departments has been extraordinary.

Children in most states are returning to the classroom, but the IT challenges are far from over. Budgets are tighter than usual, and in many cases funds earmarked for learning applications have been diverted to enable remote learning. Schools are feeling the pinch, with up to 60% of families at independent schools seeking fee relief1.

There are some glimmers of opportunity that can contain costs and stretch skilled resources further: these come in the form of a new generation of technology that capitalises on artificial intelligence (AI) and cloud technology. For schools, Cisco Meraki cloud managed IT solutions designed for lean IT teams are especially interesting, created with the education sector specifically in mind.

Traditionally, the school IT environment is made up of a number of diverse elements, each managed separately. Few schools have the luxury of employing a separate specialist for each of these areas, so IT staff have had to have a broad skill range, often taking on less familiar tasks. Given that in-house IT support staff are also needed to guide school leaders in an increasingly digital classroom environment, their time is in short supply.

Meraki created IT solutions ideally suited for lean IT teams by taking disparate, diverse elements and combining management into a single cloud-based console that can be managed from any device with a browser. Wired and wireless networking access, security tools, and even security cameras are all administered simply and consistently. Uniting these elements collectively has additional advantages than mere simplicity: pervasive ‘always on’ connectivity and visibility are among the biggest advantages to the Meraki solutions.

Stronger foundations for a smarter school

Visibility is a buzzword in the IT world for good reason: it is, after all, difficult to manage or secure what you can’t see. It’s hard to consider visibility meaningful if it involves unreasonable effort; the ability to see an entire IT environment at a glance, in a meaningful way, is a leap forward for anyone accustomed to simultaneously managing disparate systems.

As they adjust through COVID-19 disruptions, schools are making heroic efforts to maximise classroom time. Whether packing more into the critical early years, or helping seniors to prepare for university and the workplace, no teacher wants to miss a single learning opportunity, so network outages are especially frustrating. This pain point is well addressed by Meraki’s cloud-managed IT solutions. Troubleshooting tools and inbuilt diagnostics mean that problems are quickly found and repaired – in fact, in most cases the system alerts the administrator before teachers or students notice anything amiss. The administrator can also obtain a real-time network coverage view across multiple campuses, easily determining where wi-fi black spots exists, enabling adjustments to deliver maximum coverage.

End-to-end security

A preoccupation with security is nothing new for school IT professionals, but with law enforcement agencies around the world reporting a sharp rise in cybercrime, the task is more difficult than ever. The advantages of online learning are immense for students exploring far more of the world than travel restrictions currently allow, and COVID-19 has prompted museums, universities, and theatres to enable virtual tours and performances. The chance to explore the Louvre in Paris or interact with a wildlife expert at the San Diego Zoo is an unexpected benefit that teachers have been quick to grasp. On the flip side, around 90% of new websites related to Coronavirus involve scams or malware2, so vigilance pays. Meraki is a Cisco company, with integration into the networking giant’s leading network security tools adding serious defensive muscle. Patch management throughout the network is automated, removing a labour-intensive task for administrators.

The security story becomes even more complex when physical elements such as cameras are added into the same management portal. IT can replay footage, monitor situations and the system can automatically count people in any given area. The new addition of IoT sensors that monitor environmental factors like temperature and humidity also have relevant education applications. Technology has certainly come a long way when an administrator on one campus is alerted to an aircon issue on another campus, before the students even break a sweat.

Does your school’s learning environment make the grade?

For a limited time Data#3 is offering risk free trials of Meraki gear, and free virtual school site surveys for schools to discover their optimal network configuration. Contact our friendly experts to learn more about the new generation of intelligent technology for schools.

1. Baker. 2020. Private schools give fee rebates to parents asking for COVID-19 relief. 
2. ZDNet September 2020 Coronavirus: Business and Technology in a Pandemic