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New Guidelines Offered for Helping Schools Create Reliable Internet Networks

The Consortium for School Networking rolled out new guidelines this week meant to help school district leaders understand how their Web networks work, what their technology needs are, and how they can implement change to improve connectivity and student learning.

The guidelines are being released as part of the Smart Education Networks by Design, an ongoing effort to evaluate the state of networks in schools— everything from internal connections and wireless capacity to broadband strength.

The document was unveiled the same week as the South by Southwest education conference, a major gathering of tech companies, entrepreneurs, and educators in Austin, Texas.

"We found out that school districts are in dire need of investment," said Keith Krueger, the CEO of the consortium, a Washington-based organization representing school tech leaders. "Forty percent of classrooms don't have wireless access, most school districts don't get broadband, and there is an internal connection problem."

The consortium's document includes recommendations for school technology officials meant to help them create "durable" education networks. Among those recommendations, it says that schools should:

  • Ensure that they have enough bandwidth capacity to meet the needs of 1-to-1 student-to-device efforts, or "1-to-many" efforts;
  • Consult with teachers and administrators when beginning the process of improving education networks; 
  • Plan for training teachers and staff while setting in motion ambitious tech efforts;
  • Take steps to make sure that students can access Internet content and resources outside of classrooms (see Education Week's recent coverage of efforts by schools to improve students' connectivity away from their K-12 campuses, such as through the use of moble hotspots); and
  • Ensure that security is in place in the network design to prevent unauthorized access to content and resources, and comply with state and federal law.

The consortium's resources are being released as concerns about school districts' lack of reliable, up-to-date connections comes into greater focus. President Obama has called for increasing schools' access to high-speed broadband, and the chairman of the Federal Communications Commission has pledged to accomplish that goal by rechanneling E-rate funding to improve connectivity.

Krueger said the his organization hope to bring in other partners to support the Smart Education by Design initiative as it expands in the coming years.

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