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School Districts, Colleges Identify Tech. Infrastructure Shortcomings

A new report offers advice to districts scrambling to improve outdated technology infrastructure without wasting money or causing the systems they have in place to run aground.

The need to improve connectivity is growing more urgent as districts prepare to put in place online tests aligned with the Common Core standards, and as schools deal with surging tech usage brought about by blended learning, 1-to-1 computing, and other trends.

The report, "Smart Infrastructure," released by the Center for Digital Education, a national research and advisory organization that focuses on technology in K-12 and college, also offers a snapshot of what the center sees as the tech infrastructure shortcomings currently facing districts.

According to a poll of district IT officials in K-12 and college systems conducted for the report, just 31 percent of respondents said their connectivity is sufficient for downloading digital content; 28 percent said they have the connections they needed for online assessment; and just 30 percent said they had the connections they need for video streaming.

When asked to describe where their connectivity falls short, 10 percent said their connections were too slow, 13 percent said they lacked wireless coverage, and 22 percent pointed to an overall lack of capacity to serve students and staff.

"[M]any institutions must frequently contend with aging structures that have architectural layouts featuring enclosed classrooms, long hallways, and remote and temporary buildings," the report states. "In many cases the older buildings on campus were built with construction materials that can prevent radio frequencies from smoothly passing through walls."

The authors argue that a number of strategies, which bring varying degrees of cost and commitment, can help districts and colleges bring tech infrastructure up to date. A common step, though one that can carry a significant price tag, is for schools to add new web access points, as well as controllers and management software devices that provide backup access and security.

Creating new cloud computing systems is another option that can help districts meet the tech burden. That option is already being tried in various forms by districts: 64 percent of survey respondents, in fact, said they are planning to adopt cloud computing for email.

The authors say districts should consider cloud options that allow them to add storage capacity only when they need it, a gradual approach that can ease the burden on IT staff members.

Districts also need to take into account how they will store the increasing amounts of data they're collecting and analyzing, the report argues. Their options include "storage-area networks" that share space among devices; cloud systems; or outsourcing data storage, rather than doing it in-house.

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