The COVID pandemic created a state of near-perfect havoc in the public education system. Many schools closed and stay closed for in-person education. Others opened back up only to close again as infection rates spiked.
Some schools adopted distance learning as their default, while others are now working on hybrid learning approaches. While these tactics may defend student health, it also puts an enormous strain on school IT systems that were never meant to support mass remote learning situations.
That means that schools need meaningful IT support like never before. Before jumping into how IT support can help schools more effectively educate children, let’s take a quick look at IT support itself.
The term IT support almost always refers to a managed IT service provider. These services often provide many similar functions as an in-house IT department or provide a wide range of supplemental IT services.
They do this by assembling a staff of experts in various IT disciplines, including:
- Cloud computing
- Disaster Recovery
- Business continuity
- Data Recovery
They typically provide these services as standalone services and in bundles. Now that we’ve covered what IT support is, let’s look at how they can help schools.
Some schools in affluent areas enjoy a sophisticated IT system that could support the vastly increased demands of mass remote learning. For many schools, though, maintaining a computer lab, internal network, and a tenuous internet service maxed out their IT capacities. That means that these schools will face ongoing challenges in providing either distance or hybrid learning opportunities.
The school’s IT infrastructure wasn’t built to support remote learning at that scale. Even worse, the school may not even have a full-time IT person to advise them.
A managed service provider can offer school expert advice on exactly what kind of hardware infrastructure they need, even if it’s just to limp along. Some managed service providers also offer infrastructure-as-a-service. In essence, that means they create a digital infrastructure that runs out of the cloud.
The school essentially rents a virtual infrastructure instead of buying hardware to keep on-site.
Many managed IT service providers also offer a range of communication solutions for their clients. This can include applications like VoIP, chat systems, and support for remote learning-critical video conferencing. While any given teacher might get by with a Skype conference call, running dozens of simultaneous Skype calls will tax any network.
Schools need more efficient, less overhead-intensive video conferencing options for teaching hundreds or thousands of students at a time. The service provider can provide a list of applications they support. They can also provide recommendations based on the service package and projected needs.
Schools work with averages.
How much material can the average student process in a given day? How many lunches will the cafeteria serve on average? For that matter, they also work with the question of how many students go into the average class.
While all of these averages offer a semblance of control, education can prove unpredictable. The overall demand on the school’s IT system might average out to one thing, but spike unexpectedly for a day or a week.
Managed service providers can typically provide scalability in their services. If the demand spikes, the provider will scale up the available resources rather than locking out any additional activity.
While the extra services may incur a fee, that scalability provides a safety net that ensures the school keeps functioning even in high-demand periods. The kids, in the meantime, continue their remote educational journey without unnecessary interruption.
The issue of cost was touched on briefly with infrastructure-as-a-service above. Buying the amount of server hardware many schools now need for remote learning likely exceeds any funding available. It almost certainly exceeds most IT departments’ budget.
That assumes a school even has an IT department. IaaS offers a cheaper option in the short-term.
There is a continuing shortage of IT specialists, especially in areas like cybersecurity. That means many schools can’t hope to fill all the necessary roles in an IT department through hiring. The base salary of one IT specialist can rival that of a school superintendent in some districts.
Instead of getting the specialists they need, they settle for a couple of generalists and hope for the best. Managed service providers often play a key role in shoring up holes in IT departments.
They also typically do so at a lower price point than directly hiring specialists in all the IT areas that a public school requires. That comes as a boon for many cash-strapped school districts that already struggle to pay teachers.
Schools possess a terrifying amount of personal data on the kids who attend those schools. Schools know addresses, birthdays, and contact information for the family. While many schools now encourage kids to bring a laptop or tablet to school with them, the school also exerts a lot of control over those laptops.
Kids mainly worked on the school’s network, which could block access to malicious or inappropriate websites. That safety hinges on kids working inside the school’s network. The transition to remote learning changes the game entirely.
Millions of kids will interact with the school network from home computers and home networks. That makes the school’s network much more vulnerable. Managed IT service providers can help school boost their digital security, as well as offer monitoring services.
Schools Need IT Support Now
With the COVID pandemic in the midst of a second big surge, schools across the nation will likely stick with distance and hybrid learning. That also means their IT systems will continue to operate under pressures most of those systems weren’t meant to handle.
Schools need IT support to help now and probably for some time to come. Managed service providers can offer expert advice on systems.
They can provide services and shore up crucial security measures. Plus, they often do it cheaper than the alternatives.
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