Infrastructure

For me there are a number of foundation stones upon which successful technology use in schools are built.   Some of them are technical in nature and some less so.   In this post I want to briefly explore the technical foundations and infrastructure in particular.

One of the things I have found is that building successful use of technology isnt easy.  It takes planning, time, effort and much more.    The only thing more difficult, is trying to build technology use where your users, your students, staff and parents, are not confident in the technology’s reliability.   If while developing the use of technology, the technology proves itself to be unreliable, you will have a hard time getting users to buy back into its use.   As such the key is to try and get it right first time.

Infrastructure

Using technology now largely involves devices of some sort being connected to the internet.   Devices access the resultant bandwidth through the network infrastructure with the initial connectivity through Wi-Fi or it can be through network cabling.  This infrastructure is critically important to technology use.   In deciding on the infrastructure needed consideration needs to be given to the number and type of devices which will be in use, how technology will be used as well as the need to futureproof any solutions.    Cyber security and safeguarding are also a significant consideration to ensure users are kept safe and that users, systems and data are secure.   In my experience good infrastructure isnt cheap, but the costs of a poor infrastructure in terms of lost time, loss of user confidence and lost effort significantly outweighs the financial cost.    In relation to cost it is also worth noting that infrastructure costs are not a one-off.   Any investment to improve infrastructure requires continued investment to keep everything maintained, supported, secure and also up to date with new technology as it arises.  The above applies to both infrastructure in schools to support technology on-site but also the broader need for infrastructure at a national level to support students and teachers at home, as they have been through the recent significant period of lockdown.

I do however wonder in relation to the above whether 5G may start to change things at least inside schools.    As we currently look at BYOD and students bringing their own devices, will we eventually be looking at BYON and students bringing their own network, their own infrastructure, in the form of 5G enabled devices.    In doing so might this allow schools and other educational establishments to move the funding currently focussed on infrastructure to other areas.    On the reverse of this though, this will likely also result in new challenges such as providing support and also safeguarding where each student and teacher is effectively using their own network.     It will also be a challenge in terms of access to 5G across countries as a whole;   I note some areas in the UK which are currently lucky to get 3G or 4G never mind a 5G signal, and that’s after many years of 3G and 4G being in operation.

Pilots and trials

In developing new infrastructure, pilot projects are key.    Through smaller pilot projects you can limit potential loss of confidence, plus users involved are also more likely to accept a level of unreliability or trial and error based on the trial nature of the project.    This is all about limiting the scope to limit the risk while allowing new things to be tried, whether this is a Wi-Fi solution or new network switching, etc.   Going big from the outset may seem like the way to get things done quickly, however it also represents greater risk, and sometimes the issues that arise mean that it actually takes longer.   It also tends to be more costly unless you are lucky and everything goes exactly as is planned, which in my experience is seldom the case with IT projects above a very small scale.

The wider need

The global pandemic has proven that schools across the world were at vastly different places in terms of being ready to use technology to address the challenges which arose.   The same is true in relation to technology use in general in schools.    The foundational infrastructure is equally varied across schools, however, in my view, requires significant investment both in the short term but also continually in the longer term.    

We cannot hope to consider the pedagogy, training of teachers and students, sharing best practice, etc, in relation to technology use in education before we get basic fundamental and reliable infrastructure in place.    There is a lot to do in the immediate term to address this and ensure the basic infrastructure exists in all schools.    There will then need to be an ongoing effort to maintain this.  

The pandemic for me have clearly identified the need for the technology infrastructure to be addressed;   Now we just need to do something about it!

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Author: garyhenderson2014

Gary Henderson is currently the Director of IT in an Independent school in the UK. Prior to this he worked as the Head of Learning Technologies working with public and private schools across the Middle East. This includes leading the planning and development of IT within a number of new schools opening in the UAE. As a trained teacher with over 15 years working in education his experience includes UK state secondary schools, further education and higher education, as well as experience of various international schools teaching various curricula. This has led him to present at a number of educational conferences in the UK and Middle East.

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