In today’s learn-from-anywhere world, IT modernization is essential to driving K-12 classroom instruction, school operations, and cyber and physical security, experts say.
While almost all K-12 IT decision makers confirm that say modernizing IT is vital to their organization’s future, just 15 percent gave their current efforts an “A” grade, according to new research.
Education experts attributed the disconnect to challenges that include funding shortfalls and technical skill shortages, along with the time required to implement change. “Do we have the resources and expertise in-house to know what we need? Or are we relying on partners? … How are we going to pay for these needed upgrades and updates and replacement of equipment?” asked Chris Woehl, executive director of technology and information services at Lake Travis Independent School District in Texas, in a recent webinar.
Woehl added that Lake Travis is fortunate in that it can pay for IT modernization with bond funding because of growth that fuels continued capital needs, but many districts are forced to rely on grants.
Hernan Londono, chief technology and innovation strategist for education at Dell Technologies, suggested that school officials envision the broader technology landscape in K-12, which encapsulates everything from online learning platforms, digital textbooks, and computing devices to emerging technology applications such as virtual reality.
“All of these things create an ecosystem,” Londono said, noting that it’s important for district leaders to “make sure that teaching and learning processes support it.”
“Access is also super important,” he said.
In Wilson County Schools, a district of about 20,000 students in Tennessee, Dell Technologies helped deploy Google Chromebooks last year. Londono said the Chromebooks seemed like a “very simple thing” but are a critical access point to the technology ecosystem and an essential support for teaching and learning.
“It’s all interactive, it’s all inter-connected,” Londono said of the ecosystem.
In Lake Travis schools, Woehl said, modernization has extended from classrooms deep into district operations, with IT leaders using the Internet of Things to automate building climate controls, create schedules, and monitor for safety and security.
“Even our buses today have cameras, RFID badges, and GPS systems,” he said, adding that technology has “crept into every aspect of K-12 school districts.”
Beyond classroom learning and operations, Woehl said IT modernization has proven vital to maintaining security in an age where many K-12 schools have suffered data breaches and costly ransomware attacks, along with other security problems
“It wasn’t long ago where K-12 was considered a sacred place, and no threat actor would try to impact our student learning or attack our school systems. Times have changed,” he said. Lake Travis is responding by collecting telemetry data, performing regular cybersecurity audits, and conducting internal threat hunting.
“It’s now imperative that we survey and manage, detect, and respond to cyber threats internally,” Woehl said. “Whether it’s an appliance, a piece of software, or software-as-a service, we really need to be collecting and logging our telemetry data … we really need to be looking at ways that we can 24-7 monitor our environment.”
To help with all aspects of IT modernization, Londono recommended that K-12 districts aggressively pursue Federal funding. The Federal government has allocated billions in funding for K-12 public schools over the past three years.
Because “accessing grants, writing grants, understanding grants is not necessarily the easiest thing to do,” Londono said, schools can use outside organizations such as the Grants Office to help find relevant grants for IT projects.
“A lot of money is still available,” he said.
For more insight, view the webinar on demand.