Infrastructure Requirements for Schools

Article excerpt

There has been a big emphasis on enabling access to the Internet for kindergarten to high school level education -- from the local school teacher up to the President's Office. The emphasis on this effort has focused on cabling the campuses and building computer network infrastructures to distribute information to the classrooms. This effort should not be oversimplified as it covers several network technological areas and educational issues.

Need

In general, K-12 education did not keep up with the computer and Internet revolution. Two reports by the U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics ("Advanced Telecommunications in U.S. Public Elementary and Secondary Schools," NCES 95-854, and "Survey on Advanced Telecommunications in U.S. Public Schools", NCES FRSS 64, 1997) indicate that Internet access to public schools increased from 35% in 1994 to 78% in 1997. However, the 1997 report also indicated that only 27% of instructional rooms actually had access to the Internet.

The need for educated staff with computer technology background became evident as businesses and government upgraded their computer and network systems and required knowledgeable personnel to staff the offices. Additionally, the growth of the Internet and the World Wide Web (WWW) has provided a mechanism for accessing information on various topics and from various sources that could help in the education of students in the classroom. Educators intend to use these resources to address the following requirements:

* Expose students, early in their education, to computer technology in general.

* Provide continent and up to date information to students by accessing data through the Internet and WWW.

* Develop curricula based on access to the Internet and computer applications in general.

* Use computers and the Internet as tools to facilitate teaching and increase interest within the classrooms.

Schools need to have an infrastructure to support these objectives.

Project Planning

As in any project, schools should begin by developing a campus or even district wide plan for their computer infrastructure. Without this initial planning, schools may find -- as did business and government -- that their initial investments and efforts either will fall short of the objectives or will turn out to be a case of throwing money at a problem and not addressing the issue. Without trying to address all project management requirements, the following areas need to be addressed early in the project:

* Project management and administration Schools should have someone to take the lead in planning and following through in the infrastructure development. In many cases, lack of central management will lead to disparate efforts being established within the district that may or may not ultimately meet the school's requirements.

* Determine the school's unique requirements Each school may have different requirements based on local support, funding, or student and teacher requirements. Even a quick review of the requirements may be beneficial in planning the actual infrastructure implementation. User requirements should be paramount in deciding the technology to be used.

* Strategic Plan Schools should develop a strategic plan that will address the long-term goals of the area. The plan should have a clear mission and address the goals and objectives of the school. The plan must have buy-in from the user community and school and community leadership. Once developed, the school and administrators should have a blueprint of the direction the infrastructure should be headed.

* Standardization The school needs to standardize on certain products, technology, or other requirements in order to facilitate the implementation, training, and long term support of the infrastructure. Standardization can address questions such as whether the Macintosh or PC platform is best for the school, or address the server software to be used throughout the campus (Novell or Windows NT). …