Contemporary practice will be more likely to occur if your school has solid technical infrastructure in place. In fact, you could have little in terms of an agreed pedagogical framework and exemplar practice would still emerge given appropriate access to devices and connectivity. This is because there are already educators in your ranks who understand how to best leverage technology to support learning. They simply need to be enabled so their ideas can spark.
It's important that school leaders and educators have a basic understanding of their network infrastructure so they can positively influence its growth and future proof it against all learning scenarios.
Below are 5 discussion starters you can have with your IT manager so that you're better informed about your school's current infrastructure.
1. How many devices connect to our network?
Here we're chasing the number of devices that connect to your school network on a daily basis. These are good data points to know:
1. What are the maximum number of devices that connect over the course of a day?
2. What are the maximum number of devices that connect concurrently (at the same time)?
3. What percentage of the devices are school owned? User owned?
4. What areas in the school have the most number of connected devices? (E.g building or floor)
2. What is our bandwidth?
Essentially we’re talking about the speed at which your school can access the internet. Typically you’ll hear figures like 40 Mbps, 100 Mbps, 500 Mbps or even 1 Gbps in schools.
Run Speedtest while you’re at work to get a handle on your current speed. Try it at different times of day and it different places to see how it fluctuates (before school, during the day). Confirm the official speed with your IT manager.
So how can you check if your bandwidth is sufficient? Here's a simple way to check if you're even in the ballpark. Take that official speed your IT manager gave, divide it by 0.2 (Mbps) and that will give you a rough idea of the number of devices that can be supported.
100 Mbps / 0.2 = 500 devices
160 Mbps / 0.2 = 800 devices
This is not a hard and fast formula but will at least tell you if you’re bandwidth is close to being appropriate for your number of devices. You’ll see articles that suggest a lower bar and also estimation tools for businesses that would put you on a faster connection. This is a solid middle ground.
So if your bandwidth appears ok and you're still experiencing issues it may be related to your wireless network.
3. What type of wireless network do we use?
First, you need assurances your wireless is ‘client agnostic’ meaning it works well with a range of different devices. You may be an Apple school today but who knows what technologies lie around the corner and BYOD is an absolute inevitability. You want to know your investment will be future proofed against all learning decisions. Popular client agnostic brands in schools include Aerohive, Cisco and Ruckus.
You also need to know the network is ‘dense’ enough, that is, there are enough wifi access points in the correct locations to cover all of your users. Your IT department should be able to share a wifi map like the one above, that shows areas of coverage. This doesn't mean all bases are covered, and users may still experience black-spots (based on wall thickness, other wifi networks, etc). If a teacher complains about poor connectivity in their room, I’d generally believe them over a wifi map. Always investigate further.
4. Where does our internet traffic go?
You should have some level of visibility over your network traffic and be able to discern the most popular uses of your school’s connection. At a basic level you should be able to get a top 10 list like the one above.
It’s worth checking this on a monthly basis to see if there are changes occurring in your school. Practices and ways of working are often reflected here and it can be a nice litmus test for positive change. For example, when our students started layering documentary video over their artwork we saw a huge spike in Aurasma traffic. We see similar regular spikes with Goodreads and Educreations as well. Access to this data can help you optimise popular services and restrict access to others.
5. What tools do we use to control or optimise network traffic?
There are many free and paid tools available to IT teams to ensure your internet connection runs at an optimal speed. These tools can:
- Speed up or slow down internet access to important websites, services or users
- Restrict access to content
- Hold large downloads locally so they’re faster to access for other users to access
- Give you diagnostics on how your connection is being used
While these questions are certainly only the tip of the iceberg in regards to your network infrastructure they make for a good discussion starter. And remember it's easy to use your IT manager or team as a scapegoat for all technical issues. Ensure you’re giving them the financial and HR support they need to do the job well.