Back to online school: Remote learning considerations for IT

Now is a good time to revaluate investments in networking, applications, and education IT solutions before the next digital school year.
Remote learning
Some form of remote learning will persist, IT needs to support it

School’s back – almost. Despite significant progress in testing and containment, education continues to shift dynamically from on-site to home, with no end in sight during the pandemic. Both administrators and parents are understandably cautious about sending students back to the classroom. This means online lessons – or some form of online learning – are here to stay for the time being. No doubt the last year has been a crash-course for IT pros on the needs and limitations of their hybrid or cloud networks, with some remarkable success. Moreover, IT pros have been quick to share pointers all education technologists should consider. Now is a good time to revaluate investments in networking, applications, and education IT solutions before the next digital school year.

The unseen burdens of online learning
IT pros have recently discovered many existing learning apps or platforms simply weren’t designed or optimised for cloud and home networks. Most were designed for on-campus, limited internet use before remote learning was a necessity. Rich media content, complex UI elements, and non-optimised code performed acceptably over LANs and regionally connected school networks. However, many weren’t designed for  public cloud deployments or the internet and home network variability teachers and students must work with today.

Fortunately, IT have pros discovered a raft of more modern cloud-based solutions better suited for lower-bandwidth, high-latency residential networks. The resulting school IT pro’s task is simple: work with teachers and administration to earmark learning resources – like cloud-native or software-as-a-service (SaaS) based cloud applications – optimised for more irregular link quality while delivering great digital experiences and achieving pedagogical goals.

School technology teams may go further, establishing qualification and optimization test environments to verify an application’s peak loads on slow networks before pushing into their cloud network. Testing is key. Each organisation may find there are many unknowns due to previous technology selections across the spectrum of infrastructure, apps, tools, and vendors. Investing in adequate testing can be an effort early on, but it ultimately returns measurable value in reduced outages, improved security, and lower cost down the line.

School IT professionals are encouraged to use their network and infrastructure monitoring systems as a “single source of truth” and rely on their unique, real-world operations data to facilitate planning and improve inter-department communication. Integrated real-time network monitoring, alerting, and troubleshooting are proactive and well-understood solutions, proven to maintain network stability and great in-app learning performance. 

Network Monitoring: A reflective exercise
Today, highly capable and affordable network monitoring isn’t difficult to implement, and it isn’t overly complicated. This even holds true for smaller school districts. Educational institutions, from K–12 schools to public universities, are selecting diagnostic and alerting solutions designed to create a monitoring web connecting their on-premises and hybrid cloud networks.

But before jumping headfirst into a network monitoring solution, there are considerations for IT to mull over. Reflect on what your team has learned during the pandemic-induced shift to remote learning, and consider the following questions: 

  • What is the scale of the network? The extent of your monitoring solution will depend on the future size and growing needs of your school network. While K – 12 schools can feasibly do with basic infrastructure monitoring to keep their local and limited cloud networks in check, district schools or universities might consider adding application performance monitoring (APM). APM complements traditional infrastructure monitoring to improve the visualisation of internet performance and the digital experience of students and faculty.
  • What are the right data metrics to watch? Network monitoring will give IT information – lots of it. Rather than scouring every available metric and making sense of it later, it’s crucial for IT to identify which data is most valuable to observe and act upon. Complexity is the enemy of agility and speed. Look for solutions built to make it easy to filter critical metrics from unrelated noise. For instance, cloud performance data might be crucial for schools aiming to foster closer online collaboration, while others may put a priority on the stability of learning applications or getting the most from limited budgets. These educational priorities should inform the monitoring priorities of IT.
  • What were past and prevalent network issues? In-app bottlenecks, system errors, and infrastructure misconfigurations are the bane of educational networks. IT pros have become well acquainted with these common network issues and how to spot them. However, modern network monitoring goes further, with automated discovery and traffic analysis that makes these “search and fix” tasks much easier. It’s definitely more effective than expecting busy teachers or students to describe complex performance or error issues using help desk tickets. Detail is critical for identifying root cause, making network monitoring crucial for troubleshooting.
  • What about other network needs? Think beyond network stability, performance, and application accessibility. What other aspects of the network will benefit from monitoring? For instance, it’s common for school networks to become glutted with idle or underused applications or programs over time. Keeping this sprawl in check by removing or consolidating rarely used resources will improve performance and slash monthly costs.

These considerations should help IT arrive at an effective network monitoring and management solution capable of meeting their network needs. Furthermore, these solutions help teams deliver services users engage with, even with a limited budget. Reliable monitoring and reporting also serves as a guide to other technology and facilities projects. It emphasises the pressing need to consider radically new solutions while avoiding the bleeding edges, keeping networks stable and healthy for school years to come.

Education IT pros have recently done a remarkable job of quickly adapting to “impossible” scholastic situations. Though difficult to forecast, optimising ops visibility should be the priority for any school IT for the next few months. Remote learning is becoming less an anomaly and more a norm. Particularly in this rapidly deployed hybrid environment, the ability to reliably detect and resolve network issues and bottlenecks is the foundation of flexibility. Whether your learning and administration systems reside on on-prem networks or in the public cloud, reducing guesswork is more essential than ever before. Today, there’s more at stake than students excelling in their studies versus falling behind. There’s an opportunity for education IT teams to earn straight As.

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