Schools are priority users for the Ultra Fast Broadband and Rural Broadband Initiative projects, but are their boards of trustees ready to take full advantage of faster connectivity?
Not according to IT consultant John Holley, whose previous roles include general manager for ICT at Auckland Regional Council, and who is this year retiring as board chair at Liston College, a decile five Auckland secondary school for 800 boys.
“Schools aren’t technology experts. Often you’ll have teachers in charge of IT, and they’re pretty good but it’s the enterprise stuff, understanding the opportunities, where the gap exists,” he says.
Some schools have parents who understand technology and can help, but Holley says that approach is hit and miss.
“In the end the boards are the ones responsible for capital expenditure, and this should be part of their long term strategic thinking,” says Holley.
Often before a school can connect to UFB, it must first be eligible for the School Network Upgrade Project (SNUP), which provides a subsidy to upgrade the school’s infrastructure in order for it to make the most of the new fibre connection. There is a waiting list, with generally the lower decile schools first in the queue.
Before that funding comes through, schools need to be thinking about how to best utilise the fast fibre connection. Computerworld asked Holley to suggest six questions which might help boards in forming a digital strategy.
1. Are your IT plans about supporting teaching and learning in the school?
It’s not about technology for technology’s sake. How does the money you’re going to spend on new infrastructure support and enhance teaching and learning? If you’re not going to get improvements in national standards or NCEA then why would you spend the money? That’s the Return On Investment question.
2. Are you replicating existing practices or are you looking to go to new stuff?
Will you replace the phone system and move to Voice over IP? Have you considered moving to Google – it’s free for schools and can provide collaborative tools such as Google Docs, which enable several people to work on one document in different locations, at the same time. And what about data storage – with a fast reliable broadband connection it might be time to move your data to the cloud.
3. What professional development is in place for staff?
That’s the key thing. You need to find the budget to train staff in how to best use this technology, in order to utilise what is a significant investment for the school (even with the SNUP subsidy).
4. What are the ongoing operational costs to the school?
If you have software licensing, support costs and support arrangements – it’s a good time to look at these. Schools typically go boom and bust – they’ll save up and spend a whole lot of capex and then run it out. This is about moving from capex spending to opex spending.
5. Is it student-centric?
This is about giving students an environment they expect and demand. It’s the world that they live in and it’s no good saying you don’t want them to access stuff. Are you deploying a wireless cloud? Are you supporting Bring Your Own Device? That is, tablets, smartphones. Students are turning up with their own internet-enabled devices and they expect to connect to the school’s wi-fi network.
6. How do you manage security and data integrity?
One of the things about faster connections is that it makes it easier for attackers. It’s not enough to just have a firewall, to be fully protected schools should have an intrusion detection system and an intrusion prevention system.