In 2014, Comcast Business teamed up with the Center for Digital Education (CDE) to perform a survey to understand the role of high-performance networks in K-12 schools. Insights gleaned from the survey were combined with guidelines based on industry best practices to lay out a framework for planning and implementing high-performance networks. In addition to explaining why now’s the time to plan network upgrades, this paper answers one of the fundamental questions asked by IT managers at schools everywhere: “How much network capacity will we actually need?”
Today’s K-12 schools are hungry for bandwidth. The reason is clear: high-performing, reliable and easily expanded network services support the latest classroom innovations, including videoconferencing, 1:1 computing, distance learning and modern learning management systems. It’s no surprise then that progressive educators now see a direct link between the overall success of their school districts and access to high-capacity networks. This emerged as a clear trend in the research – a commanding 98 percent of administrators and IT representatives said the future of K-12 education hinges on ubiquitous connectivity.
But without a comprehensive strategy for high-performance networks, supplying enough capacity can turn into a planning and budgeting nightmare. The answer is to develop a multi-year roadmap that accurately predicts ongoing capacity requirements and then addresses them with modern but cost-effective services.
Digital Schools Come of Age
The rise of digital classrooms is compelling school administrators and their IT staffs to redouble efforts to give their schools a solid technology foundation. In particular, this group sees networks as a win or lose resource. For example, an overwhelming majority – nearly 93 percent of the respondents in the CDE survey – said there’s a direct link between their school district’s success and a modern network infrastructure.
This focus on networks isn’t a case of being smitten with technology for technology’s sake. School officials understand how important digital teaching resources depend on reliable, high-speed communications. Eighty percent of the schools represented in the survey use online learning tools, while 73 percent take advantage of streaming video in their classrooms. Sixty-two percent offer bring-your-own-device (BYOD) or 1:1 computing initiatives.
The ability to communicate effectively with outside resources is another important component for learning. Marietta’s high school offers the International Baccalaureate curriculum, which relies on efficient Internet connections. Some students in the program use the latest 3D computer-aided dispatch (CAD) software to design prototypes and then bring them to life with 3D printers. “Students need access to sophisticated resources while they’re in school instead of learning how to use them once they’re in a work environment,” Digiovanni says.
But digital classrooms aren’t the only reason to look more closely at underlying network resources. Eighty-seven percent of the schools represented in the survey conduct online testing and assessments, such as those from the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SMARTER Balanced) and the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC). These tests require high-performance, reliable network services to support examination processes. Otherwise, transmission delays between a student and the test server may produce frustration among students and educators and even negatively skew the results. For example, some online tests stipulate that any interruption during testing aborts the exam and students must start from the beginning. Students who prepped to be in top form on the original test day may not be in the same mindset at a later date when the network is ready to support the increased traffic.
Taking all of the instructional and administrative considerations into account, 86 percent of respondents said they are making the modernization of their network infrastructures a top priority.
Turn Priorities into Realities
Savvy educators may appreciate the importance of modern networks, but many administrators don’t know how to reach their goals. Only about 46 percent of respondents have a plan that maps out long-term network capacity needs. Without this benchmark, network modernization strategies lack vital information required for shaping investment decisions over the next 18 months, 36 months and beyond.
Clearly, now’s the time to modernize network foundations. The reason: Gaps are already materializing in the form of network performance problems that threaten further advancements in digital education and online assessments. Forty-two percent of school officials said their network services are too slow, while a similar percentage said they lack network capacity to accommodate growing digital needs. Network reliability is also suffering – nearly 40 percent of the executives said downtime and interruptions challenge their organizations, and they found it difficult to quickly increase capacity.
To overcome these challenges, school administrators and IT managers need a solid strategy for creating and maintaining modern network infrastructures that can support digital schools now and in the future.
In addition to explaining why now’s the time to plan network upgrades, this paper answers one of the fundamental questions asked by IT managers at schools everywhere: “How much network capacity will we actually need?”