3 K-12 trends plus the strategies and technologies for meeting new demands.
GUEST COLUMN | by Dan Rivera
As expected, cybersecurity became a dominant concern nation-wide in K-12 last year. In the wake of cyber incidents and studies naming education as the most vulnerable business vertical, districts made it clear that data security is an urgent priority.
However security wasn’t the only matter high on district technology lists. IT leaders also tackled accessing, managing and leveraging data as well as keeping it secure.
During the year ahead, we foresee three key technology trends extending from last year’s developments.
Here’s what you need to know, along with technology strategies you can use to improve your district’s educational and organizational effectiveness overall.
1) Cybersecurity Remains Top-of-Mind
Education departments, law enforcement agencies and industry experts all anticipate a rise in cyber threats targeting schools in 2019. As a case in point, the FBI recently posted a public service announcement warning families about the safety implications of potential data breaches and recommending that parents discuss data security practices with their districts. This makes it imperative to deploy technologies that can identify and remediate threats within nanoseconds, rather than hours or days as before.
2) Instructional Technologies Will Demand Wireless Everywhere
With student enrollment expected to rise in a majority of the states across the US, requirements also rise for rapidly connecting new students, classrooms and buildings. As teaching and learning increasingly rely on new and innovative technologies, the demand for advanced wireless networks will become more prevalent, including across temporary and modular classroom structures used by districts nationwide.
3) AI-enabled Technologies Go Mainstream Across Your IT Landscape
Limited staff and stagnant budgets are forcing IT to implement smarter networking infrastructures that can streamline network management and troubleshooting. Fortunately, new solutions incorporating machine-based learning and artificial intelligence are increasingly available that can improve threat response while reducing manual tasks and saving on overhead. The coming year will see an expansion of these technologies throughout district environments nationwide, impacting not just IT, but also Instructional Technology and Operational Technology as well.
2019 Blueprint for Success
To tackle these trends, K-12 districts now have a variety of intelligent and budget-conscious strategies they can pursue. We recommend the following for supporting your digital learning needs, while simultaneously simplifying the infrastructure your team manages:
Detect threats in real time. Speedy detection is the new mantra for protecting people and their data. For example, an accidental click on a phishing scam gives you only 16 minutes to respond, yet even a savvy user who makes a mistake will take an average of 28 minutes to report the incident.
To fight back, information security experts now recommend that all types of enterprises, including school districts, include AI-enabled threat detection in their security stack. In fact, some project that machine learning will handle 50 percent of all data security alerts in less than three years.
One proven type of machine learning-based tool is called user and entity behavior analytics (UEBA). UEBA solutions can identify patterns in typical user behavior and automatically alert IT teams when they notice changes. This provides real-time, actionable intelligence that permits rapid remediation before an attack can achieve its goal or even before users recognize any negative impacts on the network.
What’s more, innovative UEBA solutions can be seamlessly combined with an access control solution for even more complete threat responses. For example, if a user’s device exhibits suspicious behavior, you may elect to quarantine it until a human can investigate. If this happens, a user can receive an automated message to contact the appropriate IT team member, alleviating the frustration associated with a device that becomes unresponsive without explanation.
Regardless how you deploy, quickly detecting anomalous behavior and applying remedies fast are the hallmarks of UEBA. This provides your district with a protection layer that traditional systems miss.
Boost bandwidth cost-effectively. Let’s face it, most districts struggle with owning portable, temporary or prefabricated buildings, where running fiber cable doesn’t make sense from a budget or cost perspective. Districts in some regions operate out of such structures for decades.
While these buildings are perfectly adequate for teaching children, the move to digital and wireless dependence for curriculum has created a significant pain point.
For many districts, the solution is point-to-point wireless that enables you to beam your existing high-performance Wi-Fi from permanent buildings out to all types of structures cost-effectively. Districts can use this technology for everything from modular classrooms to stadiums and other sports facilities.
Based on the 802.11ad standard, sturdy and ruggedize access points sit outside your buildings and provide bandwidth rates of more than 3Gbps, a significant increase over other solutions that provide only 1Gbps. Most importantly, this type of AP provides high-speed connectivity at a fraction of the cost of running fiber to your modular or sporting locations.
Given the combination of smart classroom demands, user experience expectations and the savings advantages, we’re already seeing strong adoption of 802.11ad solutions. During 2019, we expect to them to be game changers for many K-12 districts.
Use AI ubiquitously. As AI-enabled technologies mature, you’ll find options that enable your district to apply intelligent automation to everything from improved learning outcomes to energy savings.
In classrooms, adaptive learning software is automating the assessment of student strengths and weaknesses, freeing teachers to focus precious classroom time on the skills their students actually need.
In IT, AI-powered analytics and assurance solutions are proactively uncovering networking issues before they impact users, in much the same way as machine learning is quickly identifying security threats. With your teachers and learners depending upon utility-grade Wi-Fi, AI-enabled analytics and assurance not only help IT stay ahead of impending bottlenecks, they also can ease burdensome overhead.
Further, the most innovative tools are simple to learn, as they deliver information using visually rich graphics that permit drilling down with a click, tap or swipe. Such tools are enabling IT departments to move from reacting to user reports to resolving bottlenecks well in advance, eliminating the historical crisis-mode paradigm.
Operationally, some advanced solutions now also address sustainability challenges by turning your Wi-Fi into a green infrastructure solution. By “learning” when individual spaces are occupied, and when they are not, so-called green access points and switches automatically reduce the power utilization by idling APs as demand evaporates and restoring them when demand is detected.
No matter which of these technologies are the highest priorities on your list, the bottom line is improving the security, performance and cost-effectiveness of your networking infrastructure. With so much intelligence available that lowers risks and boosts digital learning options, while also offering significant savings, it’s an exciting time for K-12 school districts.
Dan Rivera is a product marketing manager and E-rate expert for Aruba, a Hewlett Packard Enterprise company. Dan’s career in the information technology industry spans nearly three decades, during which he focused on the education sector. Connect with him through LinkedIn.
 Education Technologies: Data Collection and Unsecured Systems Could Pose Risks to Students, September 13, 2018, Federal Bureau of Investigation.