This year’s mad back-to-school dash sees another party joining the fray: the beleaguered IT pro. It was only recently that school IT pros struggled with the stress of remotely managing and troubleshooting the digital infrastructure required for online learning. Now they get to do the exact opposite. As educators and students begin their return to physical classrooms and school hallways across Australia, education IT pros once again face the dreaded task of every new school year: user onboarding.
Like most social mannerisms, the pandemic has changed the realities of school onboarding yet again. New technical and external challenges await IT, many of which can spiral out of control without quick intervention. So how much of onboarding has been turned on its head, and what strategies can IT pros adopt to ensure a seamless and painless transition for all?
Old pandemic habits die hard
The first lesson for school IT pros: the education landscape has changed in the past year. Online learning, once thought impossible at scale, is now the expected norm. Educators have grown used to planning lessons around a slew of pedagogical apps or software. Students have taken to learning on all manner of devices, using private home connections better than the ones schools have. And parents have enjoyed the automated ease of assignment verification and grade tracking offered by the e-learning platforms used during the pandemic.
Expect these changes to percolate down to school onboarding priorities in the new semester. Educators and students used to the digital experience will expect things to stay the same, which means IT pros must contend with establishing access and permissions to the myriad of new apps, cloud services, and systems on which their lessons now rely. Obviously, this stretches everything from IT budgets and school networks to the patience of IT pros.
What can be done? For starters, IT pros must make network and infrastructure optimisation a key priority. It could be time to retire those creaking on-premises bare metals and shift fully to the public cloud – or even multi-cloud if necessary. Consider consolidating IT resources into a single vendor-provided solution, if possible. And think about providing educators with a list of IT-sanctioned pedagogical tools and resources rather than onboarding every random app and tool they ask for. This gives control back to IT and makes onboarding a much more manageable and predictable process.
The cure? Network Performance Monitoring
But how will IT pros judge the success of their onboarding and optimisation efforts? Nothing but round-the-clock performance monitoring of networks and systems will do. In fact, I would be surprised if school IT pros haven’t learned from their pandemic experience and established best practice network monitoring by now. By closely mapping, logging, monitoring, and analysing specific performance metrics for every pedagogical app and platform—or even the school network at large—IT pros can proactively detect potential errors. Then they can take corrective action before a problem affects the quality of lessons and disrupts the onboarding journeys of educators and students.
Indeed, the idea of performance monitoring should be the most natural thing for school IT pros at this point. Most have, after all, established some form of application performance monitoring, more out of necessity than anything else. It was the only way to ensure the stability and serviceability of the apps and software educators needed for their lessons. There’s nothing more to it; IT pros should take these existing monitoring processes and systems and adapt them for on-site use. Here’s the caveat: any troubleshooting can be done physically, sans the tyranny of distance, which should mean a more pleasant onboarding experience for IT pros and everyone else.
Prepare for the present, plan for the worst
Most importantly, IT pros would do well to remember we’re not out of the woods yet. Surprise stay-home orders, caused by a sudden spike in cases, are still a possibility. Even as they acclimatise to the motions of on-site onboarding, IT pros should also remain mindful they could easily be forced to return to remote troubleshooting this time next month. This means optimising their remote digital infrastructure and – budgets allowing – keeping key systems in place should lockdowns return at full force.
It may be helpful for IT pros to identify parts of their digital infrastructure or network capable of being scaled down now but immediately spun up whenever additional capacity is needed. For instance, selecting public cloud options offering flexible pay-when-you-use pricing or network monitoring solutions capable of being scaled according to the number of apps, systems, or software needing to be monitored. Budget-conscious school systems always appreciate easy scalability.
Most important of all, however, is that IT pros continue to reiterate the need for constant communication and clear expectations between school leadership, educators, and IT teams themselves. The demolition of traditional siloes between these parties made the shift to online learning possible – albeit sometimes shaky at first – and they’ll continue to be essential in ensuring learning continues in the coming months, whether it’s on campus or online. It’s a great opportunity to turn the learnings of 2020 into new successes in 2021 and beyond.
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