Most of the nation’s school systems do not have a dependable, scaleable infrastructure to support high-quality, technology-centered school management, instruction, and assessment.
Another significant barrier, not immediately obvious or as politically charged as the “digital divide,” is an unreliable or unstable network infrastructure. Without a robust and scaleable infrastructure, a K-12 school will not be able to support the kind of technology-centered teaching and learning that should be occurring in today’s schools if we are to effectively prepare students to “be all that they can be” in today’s technology-rich society. The quality of the Internet connection to a school is important, but irrelevant if the network is not reliable. The teacher who is attempting to incorporate Internet resources into her daily instruction is not impressed that the school has a T1 connection if the workstations in her classroom cannot access it. The recent landmark study by the United States Department of Labor indicated that approximately 90% of all future careers will require a range of technology skills that can only be well developed through extensive use of the new technologies in both K-12 and higher education. A world-class education in the millennium will require that students and faculty at all levels become expert in the use of the tools and processes that have been the energizer in making the United States the most powerful and influential nation in the world.
Solution: Raise the awareness of school policy-makers nationwide to the critical nature of this need if the National Technology Goals are to be realized; highly publicize and share outcomes from those few school districts, schools, and colleges that have quality infrastructures.
Sophisticated, 24/7 network management is not yet seen as a mission-critical function by school boards and administrators.
Properly installed, standards-based networks require support. Even a high-quality WAN-LAN network must be closely and expertly monitored and managed to ensure the kind of dependability that is essential to widespread and effective use in school management and instruction. Just imagine the maintenance and support required for networks that may have design flaws or that have grown unevenly over the years under pressure of demands for increased access. Unless problems are anticipated and rapid responses are available, students and teachers lose valuable learning and research time; the emotional excitement and support for technology then diminishes. Further, networks are constantly growing and changing, and without the ability to monitor and predict network performance, educators will continue to address any technology-related problems in a crisis mode. This problem is even more troublesome when we realize that network management, maintenance, and support are not available in most schools and districts.
Solution: As with barrier #1, we must raise the awareness of school policy-makers to this critical need, and highly publicize those few places that are developing network operating centers (NOCS) or already have them in place. There is also the need to continue to develop new instruments for technically monitoring and measuring all key components of school networks. “Network operations support” sounds like a big solution costing big money and affordable only to big districts. The systems required for effective monitoring and maintenance of networks can be shared among school districts—which means that the costs can also be shared.