Upgrading or creating a new IT network takes a lot of time and research. Your budget is very valuable and consideration has to be put into which technologies to invest in, the network topology, which connectivity provider to use, how to protect the network and more. Whereas getting all these aspects right is vitally important, in order to build your users an optimal solution to suit their needs and wants they should be a part of the initial process too.
Understand Your Users
Your school or trust doesn’t just cater to one type of user; you have office-based staff, permanent teachers, visiting teachers and students (part-time, full-time or boarders). Delving further within this, you will have teachers and students of different disciplines with varying dependence on technology for their teaching and learning.
Speak to each department to find out their concerns and suggestions. You may discover that the art department would love to run an interactive design course but have been unable due to constrained bandwidth. In a school with boarding pupils they may find that at certain times of year they struggle to smoothly access Netflix during their downtime (perhaps in Winter when fewer outdoor evening activities are available). This is also a prime time to lower expectations if necessary – the promise of a new network brings with it ideas of unlimited freedom, the reality for you may be significant improvements, but it’s out of budget to achieve everything you’d like in one go.
By discussing the project with your stakeholders you can start to build your plan around what would be a positive step for them.
Achieve User Buy-In
Having buy-in from the whole organisation is something you should be working on from the very start; this goes hand-in-hand with discovering needs and wants. Although your changes may be able to be made with minimal downtime, they’re likely to impact on operations in some way, shape or form. Help your users to understand why the project is essential to the future-proofing of the school or trust and how you’re planning in a way to reduce disruption.
It may help to build a panel of different types of users, they can then act as ambassadors for the project, sharing the benefits that will be realised and offering peer-to-peer advice on how to stay connected during implementation.
Filtering Fit for Purpose
An obvious crucial aspect of the network in a school is security and filtering. Safeguarding is incredibly important to meet obligations set out under Ofsted. While this requires illegal content to be blocked and inappropriate content to be managed, further guidance from the Department for Education advises on appropriate filtering.
Your filtering can serve a dual purpose: to upkeep productivity throughout your school or trust. Applying monitoring and filtering to the application layer (Layer 7), gives much more granular control. Your users can have access to the sites they need, but videos and games within these for example can be blocked. This can be set to time based filters, so students stay on track during teaching hours, but have more freedom at other times.
Having a solution and provider with specialist knowledge of this in the education sector is a must – it isn’t an area that can be scrimped on. It is also a topic you should be conversing with your stakeholders on. It will be relevant from time to time for teachers to educate on grittier subjects, or for more mature students to research topics unsuitable for younger age groups. Only by speaking to your teachers and students will you understand any current hindrances and how they’d like to be able to manage this to improve productivity.
Find a Provider to Work With You
There isn’t always an abundance of personnel in an IT department with either the time or knowledge to intricately plan every detail of a new network. Having outside support you can really count on can be invaluable. Look for a connectivity or managed service provider who is interested in building a strong working relationship with your school or trust. If you pick one with previous experience in education they should be able to draw on this to help you ask the right questions, work with your users and achieve an end result to satisfy everyone.