Education, like medicine and finance, requires network management a step ahead of other fields. Unlike IT in medicine or finance, however, the money and manpower available to a system administrator for an educational facility rarely allows for extensive redundancies and fallback plans - and thus the network administrator’s challenges become far greater.
Let’s look at the specific challenges seen in modern educational IT, and what system administrators and their IT staff should do to manage them.
Many schools are making a hard push to minimize paper, for a variety of reasons. In some cases, there’s an ideological component; the school wants to become greener. In others, it’s for research purposes, to study environmental impacts or productivity changes. And of course, others do it simply to save money.
The underlying reason is not particularly important to a system admin, but the end result is as paper disappears, digital mediums become increasingly important. Lost lesson plans, notes, grades, and documentation become an IT problem with IT solutions and IT department responsibility. Of course, certain notorious problem areas become less important with the shift and printer and scanner issues vanish as their usage becomes a rarity.
The growing importance of IT within educational facilities means the proper installation, upkeep, and versatility of infrastructure has become more important and more difficult to manage. System administrators need to make sure they communicate the realities of infrastructure clearly to key decision-makers within their organizations, lest they be trapped trying to do too much with too little.
Offering the opportunity for students to learn from anywhere 24 hours, 7 days a week, means you need a digital environment that never sleeps. Schools which advertise the ability to learn at any time of day as a key feature of online degree programs can not then turn around and have extensive unplanned downtime. Even planned downtime can become a major impediment for a school and headache for its students - and the blame for those problems will come down upon the system administrator and their team.
In many ways, the state of IT for any school which utilises online education extensively will become a major factor in its public perception. Good IT becomes fuel for good marketing and engenders positive word of mouth. In educational facilities like this, network problems aren’t a minor headache and a short delay they can and will have direct impacts upon the grades of students. That’s not a responsibility any IT team should want to shoulder.
Knowing the challenges of information technology in an educational environment, what then should system administrators be doing? There are two key areas to focus on: obtaining the proper resources to maintain adequate network quality and utilising those resources efficiently.
To achieve the former, clear, concise communication of your needs to the general administration of the school is imperative. Decision-makers within the school need to understand the realities of IT and its role in the school’s overall success. As a bonus, developing a good system for communicating needs and improving tech buy-in can minimise the actual need for IT team intervention, by encouraging a more thoughtful use of technology across the board.
As for allocation of resources, a network monitoring solution becomes a system admin’s best friend. Not only does it help to identify problems quickly, before they become a challenge for end users, it helps pin them down while they’re still relatively easy to identify and resolve. It’s an investment that more than pays for itself on multiple fronts.
Not only does effective network monitoring help IT achieve better results with less, it means a minimisation of negative experiences for end-users - students and faculty go about their business uninterrupted because problems vanished before they were more than a minor annoyance. That helps the school maintain its good standing with its students, which means fewer refunds and dropped credit hours.
Of course, network failures as observed by network monitoring solutions only cover some of your bases. Combining network monitoring with a robust system for communicating problems can help your IT department spot problems which are more difficult to track down and observe. You want to eliminate as many problems as possible before they’re experienced by end-users, but when end-users do begin to see trouble, it should be as simple as possible for their difficulties to be reported.
Beyond these areas, your best return for educational investment may be in minimising the problems which make it to the IT department in the first place. A good education program and outreach to students and teachers to help them use technology effectively can work wonders for keeping your IT team working on serious network issues instead of helping people to find the ‘Any’ key.