We’re Seeing These Investment Trends In Education IT

Response by Aaron Wertman, CEO, Schoolytics

Aaron Wertman

With the shift to virtual and hybrid learning models, schools have been struggling to keep track of their students online, regularly asking themselves: “What on earth is going on with our virtual students?”

Schools are desperately trying to understand which students are engaged and which students may be falling through the cracks. This problem arose because legacy learning indicators like attendance and behavioral data are inaccessible in a digital setting and many schools lack the infrastructure to collect and analyze this new digital learning data.

Much of the guidance we give to schools focuses on which tools and indicators they should be using to rethink measuring student engagement. Variations of “butts in seats” metrics are less useful in the digital environment, and many of the schools we work with have highlighted difficult conversations in parent conferences.

In one case, a parent reported that their child was online seven hours a day doing something on their device, yet internal metrics showed their course work completion rate is just 5%. It is one thing to measure how many hours a student is on a device, but an entirely different task to quantify how engaged a student is with learning.

Further, the digital divide complicates this metric when thinking about students who may have limited times when they can access a device or the internet.

Our leading advice to schools is to focus on students completing assignments in order to measure engagement. Measuring course work completion rate is a robust indicator with evidence-based research for identifying at-risk students and showing greater nuance in learning and progression than what attendance or minutes alone can offer.

It is a metric that can be used to measure not only individual student engagement, but also to identify trends across courses, subjects, grade levels, and schools.

Schools need to rethink what their student information system should offer. Is it just a place to manually enter student data? Or should it be a platform that serves educators and students by using data to inform instruction, best practices, and ultimately to guide action?

We believe that schools should be shifting from student information systems to student data platforms that enable different stakeholders to tap into the data they need safely and securely.

Finally, we are seeing the following broad investment trends in IT:

The Pandemic Exposed Education IT Processes For Many Educational Entities

Response by Mark McGuire, vice president of sales, Scantron Technology Solutions.

Mark McGuire

One of the key things we’re seeing is that district IT departments are now involved with all tool and solution purchases, including classroom-level items. Previous to the pandemic and the immediate and ongoing push to at-home learning, IT groups and leaders would typically only be involved with back-end purchases like infrastructure and 1:1 devices.

They’re now examining all hardware and software purchases to ensure that the new solutions can fit into their back-end infrastructure seamlessly. This often leaves them in a bind with regard to day-to-day support and routine maintenance tasks as their workload has increased, but their staffing budgets have not. They are looking to managed technology services to help fill the gap. We’re working diligently with them to identify the services they need and prepare targeted service engagements to help.

Another gap that the pandemic has exposed is in 1:1 initiatives, where every student gets a device. During the spring, larger districts snapped up devices, leaving smaller districts in a bind with regard to supply. They’re still struggling with their supply chains for hardware. We’ve been able to help with device purchasing, using our broader purchasing power.

We’re also discussing device-as-a-service options to help with their hardware needs, but that’s a tough sell in K-12 because of the way K-12 budgets and funding for IT infrastructure is handled. Most districts prefer to purchase rather than lease, as their student and teacher hardware budgets can be hard-coded into a capital expense model, rather than an operational expense model and district accounting can be slow to change.

Within that framework, network infrastructure and student devices to support remote learning are the areas where we’re seeing the highest spend as districts continue to work to support remote students and teachers.

With regard to funding, districts need to consider changing the way they fund IT. As noted above, districts tend to use a capital expense model for most spending, IT included. However, many of the most effective secure, modern IT offerings (such as device-as-a-service, cloud hosting, virtual desktops, MS/Office 365.etc) are based on an operating expense model, where hardware and in some cases software, is not directly purchased but is leased.

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Responding To Education’s IT and Technology Needs

Responses from Tapan Mehta, industry solutions marketing, Nutanix.

Education (both K-12 and higher education) has been impacted significantly becuase of the COVID-19 pandemic. Educational institutions and students around the world are trying to cope with the new norm whether that be via a hybrid learning model or in a completely virtual setting. In fact, the current pandemic is forcing global experimentation with remote teaching.

There are many indicators that this crisis is going to transform many aspects of life with education being one of them. The current pandemic could potentially have a long-lasting impact on both education providers and learners to deliver and learn in the new virtual environment. For example, do students really need a four-year residential experience? What training efforts are required for faculty and students to facilitate changes in mindsets and behaviors?

How are you guiding them? 

The suddenness of requirements to quarantine and social distance forced rapid shifts to online/distance learning with little time to vet all the options. We continue to work very closely with our education customers by providing the right solution to support the database, application, and security needs for learning in real time.

The ease of use of the Nutanix infrastructure platform enables them to provide media-rich course offerings in a secure and responsive environment, even as the number of students greatly increased. For example, we were able to help Florida Virtual School to immediately scale to the full 2.8 million students.

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How Are You Currently Responding To School’s IT and Technology Needs?

Heather Paunet

Responses from Heather Paunet, senior vice president of product management, Untangle.

This year has brought to light so many barriers from school districts, educational entities, colleges to universities when it comes to comprehensive IT security. One of the main pieces was secure access to online learning platforms. When every school, college, and university transitioned to remote learning many administrators quickly realized that this was going to create a large scale network vulnerability issue.

Typically, schools find that their networks are just as complex as large-scale enterprise businesses. With students on campus bringing their own mobile devices, smart classrooms, teacher devices and administrator offices, a school network can quickly get almost as complex as a network for a large city. Many times, personal devices are segmented onto a secondary network, minimizing any access a hacker may have to their main network, but also as a way to increase the bandwidth shared by other school-related applications. Another aspect of school networks is the segmentation of user groups, teachers being allowed access to certain items on the Internet, while students are closely regulated, blocking access to harmful content or flagging words that could potentially lead to something else, such as “bullying” or “self-harm.”

Each school network was built, tested, and audited to maneuver through the needs of students, teachers, and administrators – however, when everyone was sent home, these policies and protocols many times did not follow them. It wasn’t until schools realized how many students needed setting up with safe and secure access to school resources that IT administrators reached out to companies like Untangle to work through remote connectivity issues. IT administrators needed solutions for getting students devices that would help them continue learning, and use virtual private networks, or VPNs, to extend those safety protocols to these devices, regardless of where they were located.

How are you guiding them?

Untangle has long worked with school districts, individual schools, colleges and universities to create safe networking solutions for their students and teachers. We understand that access to a variety of VPN connectivity options, along with a multi-layered security approach, can reinforce the network and minimize vulnerable access points that can be exploited by cyber criminals. Once the main network consists of user-defined access, advanced web filtering protocols, and credentialed-access to any platform containing student data, using a virtual private network solution helps extend these to student, teacher, and administrator devices.

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The Value of Simulated Phishing: Guidance For Doing So

By Caroline Gilchrist, writer, Skyward, Inc.

Caroline Gilchrist

The sun has set on summer. But as an orange autumn moon rises to take its place, the waters of cyberspace only become more congested. Phishing, turns out, is always in season.

Want to give it a try?

I know—you’re one of the good guys, so why would you want to go phishing? The reason is simple: to prevent employees from being hooked down the line. Simulated phishing is a sort of catch-and-release method that can be an extremely valuable asset for IT leaders. Not only do simulated attacks remind employees to be ever vigilant while going through their inboxes, but they also give IT leaders a better idea of whether employees can effectively identify phishing attacks, or if they need additional training.

So, pull on your cap and waders. We’re going phishing!

Gear up

Before you let your line fly, it’s essential that you fully formulate your plan and discuss it with the leadership at your district. How often will you send out simulated attacks? What program will you use? How will you prepare your employees?

Don’t neglect that last one; making sure employees are up for the challenge is an important part of the process. After all, how can you expect them to identify phishing emails if they don’t know what to look for? Employees can learn to recognize and evade threats through online cybersecurity training programs. (This article gives a nice overview of several programs, including KnowBe4—our favorite.) Some of these programs include simulated phishing as well; no need to phish through a separate organization!

If you haven’t already, set up an easy way for employees to report phishing, ideally both to your email provider and your IT team. If your district’s email platform doesn’t have a simple way to report to the IT team, you can set up an inbox for employees to forward suspicious messages to (for example, report@schooldistrict.com).

It’s best to keep your plan to simulate phishing under wraps in the beginning. An unannounced baseline test is a helpful way to truly gauge susceptibility to attacks. However, after your first simulation, explain the phishing drill to everyone! Open communication is vital to maintaining trust between leaders and those they lead.

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Costly COVID: How The Pandemic Is Hurting US Colleges’ Bottom Lines

By Patrick Ward, director of marketing, Rootstrap.

Patrick Ward

You don’t have to search far to find a family that’s had schooling upended by the pandemic. Stories echo in the virtual workplace meetings of hybrid schooling, anxious parents and students left baffled by a series of communication missteps. In the midst of all this chaos in the education industry, the tech side has seen an explosion in growth.

According to a recently released report from education development agency Rootstrap, the ed tech and online learning space has grown 335% in terms of revenue because of COVID-19, when compared with the previous year. This growth, however, is not being evenly distributed across the entire space.

Most notably, the majority of the increase (a staggering 559% revenue growth) was on education IT services that are used by universities to conduct and manage online coursework. Revenue increases for courses and e-learning alternatives to traditional college education was only up by 130%. These ed tech services include secure web conferencing licenses, ebooks, learning management systems, and a whole host of IT services specifically enabling universities to transition from an in-person model to a digital-first student experience.

The issue?

Universities are caught between a rock and a hard place. As much as universities have been spending big on Education IT services, they are taking a financial loss in declining revenue from income streams such as athletics, housing, and dining. Take UC Berkeley as one example: $10 million was spent on upgrading their technology to support online learning, while simultaneously anticipating a $340 million fiscal hit because of COVID-19. In summary: they’re spending more, and earning less.

As Aaron Rasmussen, founder of Outlier.org and MasterClass, states, “Traditional, in-person, higher education experience is suffering, since colleges are unable to deliver on much of their value proposition.”

For those colleges without the large endowment funds or brand name credentials, the situation is even more dire. New York University professor Scott Galloway predicts that as many as 10% to 20% of US universities could permanently close as a result of COVID-19.

So what’s causing this crisis in higher ed? At a casual glance, it boils down to two factors: structural and perceptive.

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Reimagining Campus IT Support Through Contactless Automated Solutions

By Michael Pitts, president, IVM, Inc.

Even before the COVID-19 pandemic forced many higher education institutions into a virtual learning setting, many campus IT managers were already working at maximum capacity. Whether it was setting up new computers for teachers using equipment to facilitate lessons, distributing and servicing laptops purchased by students through the university, or fixing minor repairs, delays in getting essential technology into the hands of faculty and students caused frustration and reduced productivity on campuses across the country.

And now, as universities think through virtual course offerings and assess what the future of in-person education looks like, getting students back to campus safely while reducing unnecessary IT tasks and costs should be a key priority.

University IT departments need a seamless and contact-free distribution system to ensure faculty, staff, and students have access to technology when they need it. Automating technology distribution and IT support through smart lockers and kiosks is one solution that can provide flexible, contactless IT support as staff and students return to campus:

Revamping break/fix support

Today’s campus community relies on technology for both the instructor’s facilitation of lessons and a student’s completion of a course. A laptop waiting for repair can upend course progress and fall into a backlog of requests for IT staff. Automated smart lockers can facilitate frictionless break/fix support on campus by allowing 24/7 secure drop-off and pick-up times for device repair. Students and staff can video chat with an IT team member through a kiosk and receive face-to-face IT help without being person-to-person. Campus IT staff can remote into a device to make the necessary repairs, so students and staff quickly move on with their days.

If an issue is more complex and requires additional repairs, a user can place their device into a smart locker for the IT team to pick up for servicing. The technology also allows quick configuration of loaner devices, so a user who needs a device for temporary use can continue on with their studies until IT has repaired the original laptop.

Streamlining device distribution

Automating the IT support process allows IT staff to work more efficiently and better monitor the cost and use of IT help desk support. Smart lockers and kiosks provide valuable back-end data that guide IT departments in their inventory management. Device usage is automatically tracked and notifies IT when a laptop is taken or returned, allowing school administrators to gain an instant picture of IT support utilization.

Smart lockers also eliminate most administrative steps needed for device distribution. They allow campus IT staff who previously travelled across campus to deliver devices the ability to set up laptops in advance and have one team member drop them off to a designated locker. This helps save time on scheduling and delivering so IT can focus on more pressing projects.

For example, the University of Indianapolis recently piloted a program to distribute laptops to teachers automatically through smart lockers. The year-long program allowed the university to reduce the IT team’s time spent on scheduling, delivering and setting up laptops needed for teachers facilitating instruction by approximately 45 hours per week. In addition to saving irreplaceable time for the already busy IT staff, the university realized an overall help desk annual net savings of $20,744.

As university leaders and IT administrators plan for a safe transition back to campus, innovative thinking and new processes to equip a campus community with effective technology support is essential. Automated solutions such as smart lockers and kiosks ensure staff and students can safely educate and learn while having access to the IT support they need in order to be productive.

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Investment Is Critical To Overcoming the Digital Divide for K-12 Schools, Survey Finds

Promethean - NETbuilder Education

The impact of COVID-19 reached almost every district and classroom throughout the country, with nearly all educators turning to online strategies for student lessons and working remotely. However, according to Promethean’s 2020 “U.S. State of Technology” survey and report, only 20% of teachers and administrators considered their schools “very prepared to implement remote learning in response to COVID-19.” A much larger percentage of respondents, 41%, said they were only somewhat prepared, having the right IT, but not the processes in place.

The survey of nearly 1,200 American administrators and teachers explored the role technology currently plays in today’s K-12 schools, especially considering the new education realities stemming from the COVID-19 pandemic.

For many districts, remote learning brought the digital divide to the foreground, presenting significant professional challenges due to the inequality in access to technology that exists in communities today. Teachers ranked “students lack access to technology” and “engaging students” as their biggest professional challenges in a remote teaching scenario.

At the same time, all respondents stated the digital divide will be their biggest barrier to maximize student success in the 2020/21 school year.

“Technology continues to play a critical part in helping educators streamline learning and improve student outcomes,” said Cheryl Miller, chief marketing officer for Promethean. “As K-12 districts face a school year like none other, our 2020 State of Technology survey further demonstrates the need to make technology available to all districts and students to bridge learning gaps and help teachers create impactful learning experiences regardless of wherever those classrooms are taking place.”

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Education IT Was Booted To The Outfield

Response from Spencer Dunford, general manager, SmartDeploy.

While K-12 and higher education have been affected differently, they’ve both seen significant impact in their daily tasks and overall IT strategy due to changes in workplace and IT workload. IT for education was generally well-defined and entailed tasks that could often be scheduled weeks, if not months in advance.

Just as most every school year followed a predictable start, end, and vacation days between, so too did IT projects within that environment. In many cases even the emergency project was limited in scope in this “old” model of IT in education. IT could plan on summer lab refreshes, on-premise devices, and projects planned out with weeks or months to prepare, for example. COVID-19 changed this.

IT had to make an immediate shift to support remote learning for students, training for teachers, and in many cases, coaching up parents too. Many of the initial changes were quick reactions to the changed requirements. Now a new year has begun with these new rules.

All the while, budgets have not changed. IT teams are being stretched and challenged. This has created incredible opportunities to adopt new technologies at a speed that would have been unthinkable in the past. But it also has pushed generalists into new specialties, and even the rare EDU IT specialist into unfamiliar realms of new technology.

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Education, Virtual Learning and Cybersecurity: Managing The Trifecta Mid-Pandemic

By Wes Hutcherson, director of competitive intelligence, eSentire.

Wes Hutcherson

Educational institutions are being dealt a one-two-punch these days. If it’s not the financial crisis spawned by the global pandemic and the subsequent economic crisis, it’s schools and institutions of higher learning’s growing attractiveness as targets for cybercriminals. Over the past three years, educational institutions around the globe have seen an increase in incidents bypassing traditional prevention technologies, causing expensive remediation efforts. And it’s only getting worse.

The writing on the Blackbaud

In 2018, more than 300 universities worldwide and 144 U.S. universities were part of a cyberattack by Iranian hackers that stole more than 30 terabytes of data costing universities more than $3.4 billion dollars. A year later, the Georgia Institute of Technology reported they had been breached, exposing the personally identifiable information (PII) data of 1.3 million students, teachers, staff and student applicants.

More recently, the University of Utah paid out more than $457,000 to mitigate a ransomware attack on its computer servers. Earlier this summer, Blackbaud, a cloud computing company, was hit with ransomware. The company ultimately paid to protect its data, but the net result was that dozens of universities in the United States, Canada and Great Britain were impacted. And now, with increasing numbers of U.S. public schools opting for virtual classrooms for the foreseeable future, out comes a report that found security issues with Google Classroom.

All told, since 2005, the Privacy Right Clearinghouse reported that 780 data breaches have occurred in K-12 schools and institutions of higher education, so despite what you might have learned in school sometimes 780 multiplied by 15 (years) does equal 14,871,122, at least if you’re talking about numbers of compromised records.

The three “R”s: Reading, writing and regulation

The risk associated with student data is increasing, and compounding the problem is the unexpected shift to virtual learning environments that has only served to increase the pressure on already constrained cybersecurity resources. The education sector has a unique set of cybersecurity risks to factor in, including  a broad array of personal devices used to access information and learning platforms, as well as the adherence to governmental requirements that protect students’ sensitive data.

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