Your organization depends on technology to run —but states of emergency, like the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, are clearly testing how districts can maintain operational continuity in times of crisis. Whether or not your district was prepared for the immediate remote environmental change, there are lessons to be learned on the importance of building and sustaining a reliable and secure network infrastructure. For school districts of any size, critical access to administrative and instructional content relies on the internet, applications (cloud and local server-based), building networking and wireless, computers, data storage and back up, security layers, policies, resources, and training. All of these elements help shape the nature of your IT infrastructure. Secure, reliable network access and connectivity is a utility, like electricity and water. Network access is required for reliable school operations and effective learning environments. Without consistent and secure access to the internet and the network, students and staff can’t leverage use of vital applications, personal computers, phone systems, HVAC, paging, access control, and security systems, to learn or function safely within the school environment or remotely. Administration and key education decision-makers are beginning to embrace the utility model, which centers around network infrastructure as a foundation for learning and business continuity.
Key to maintaining this foundation is ensuring that it’s supported by strong security. Right now, many schools are attempting to implement at least a partial learning environment that exposes school administration to potential security risks. Although there were schools that were prepared for this remote learning environment, the sense of urgency has forced many other schools to react rather than respond to providing remote learning opportunities needed to continue instruction. Reactive deployment of learning tools has resulted in inadvertent exposure of Personal Identifiable Information (PII). Many of us are familiar with privacy issues surrounding the rapid deployment of a video collaboration application, however, it is unfair to single out that application and is just one of many collaboration tools that teachers are using to try to get in touch with students. The tools themselves are not necessarily at fault. The real problem is proper training and configuration. Due to the lack of proper instruction, districts are exposing themselves to potential privacy and security risks. This security threat leaves school administration exposed and requires them to review their infrastructure compliance and whether it has the capacity, stability, and security to support remote operations at scale.
Based on the COVID-19 pandemic, many districts face challenges with curriculum and instructional delivery. So how can you plan to mitigate future risks? Was your technology infrastructure capable of preparing students to be successful in the future? Does it provide universal access to the technology tools that allow students to create, collaborate, and thrive? Now is the time to consider these questions and respond promptly by planning your future steps. Leadership must respond rather than react to critical technology infrastructure value and needs. This process begins with a thorough examination of your core infrastructure which will empower district leadership with valuable data to consider in your strategic plan.
We are interested in hearing from you. Please take our brief survey to lend your thoughts on your district’s readiness and future needs during this state of emergency. This information will be applied to create future professional development in conjunction with OASBO to support your district’s technology planning needs.
Karl Seiler also contributed to this article and is the President of DataServ.
Joe Prchlik is the Director of Operations and Technology at Northern Buckeye Education Council (NBEC). DataServ and NBEC are the founding alliance members of the ShareOhio partnership.