In many ways, managing your school network is like managing any other network. You need to make sure all of your services are performing efficiently so that users can perform their day-to-day tasks without disruption. You also need to make sure the school complies with relevant standards and can effectively prioritise short-term fire-fighting with long-term strategic planning. Let’s look at some ways you can deliver more value to your school network while reducing costs.
Web filtering is often seen as an obstacle to learning. This is mainly due to legacy products that are not up to the task of how students and teachers use the internet today. Legacy products tend to over-block learning resources.
When choosing an education web filter, think about whether it is designed for education. An education web filter will allow granular policy control depending on who you are, where you are, and what time it is.
Ask yourself if it is easy to maintain and administer. You don’t have the resources or time for complex products with steep learning curves and high maintenance. Also, does it provide education level monitoring? Schools need to monitor for behavioural issues such as searching for age inappropriate material cyber-bullying.
Students are becoming more adept at bypassing internet control systems. The easiest way for a threat or predator to enter your network is for a student to be fooled into “inviting them in”. This mostly happens when a student bypasses network security using a “proxy” or “anonymizer”. Proxies and similar technology accounts for many performance and stability problems, and closing the gaps can free up time and resources for other things. Most importantly, blocking proxies means students are much safer online.
Are all known proxies blocked on your system, including “SSL proxies”? Your security should block all known proxies worldwide with updates in real time and your security product should be able to block encrypted proxies including Ultrasurf.
Also, are unknown URLs and IPs blocked? Your security should be comprehensive and current enough to let you block requests to unknown internet servers. Without this students can use their home PC as a private proxy.
The collaborative, social and technological skills that students embrace in their out-of-school activities are precisely the skills they will need to thrive in a 21st century world and workplace. Web 2.0 allows students to better learn the information and skills they need, making them self-directed, globally aware and collaborative. Consider the following when looking at Web 2.0 for your school:
Is the content they’re accessing safe? By using closed networks like walled gardens you can have full control over your Web 2.0 media and who will be able to access it.
Is the content appropriate for them? By authenticating user access, you will know exactly who is on your network and where they are, this will also allow you to customise different user’s policies based on their age, location or subjects.
Also, how easy is it to report on inappropriate behaviour? Schools with a good monitoring and reporting system can drill-down on user activity and deal with any unsuitable contributions or comments.
Mobile learning provides an exciting opportunity for schools to make learning an on-going, anytime, anyplace activity for students. But in order for it to be a success, mobile devices must be filtered to ensure compliance, student safety, policy enforcement and resource security. Consider the following: can you control and monitor users who bring in their own devices, are your devices filtered when they leave the network, and are your devices protected?
The software, utilities, programs and documents that were once accessed only from a local network or desktop are now increasingly available on the web. Is cloud computing integrated with your network security? Whether you are accessing programs or saving documents in the cloud, you still need to ensure student safety, data protection compliance and network security. Does it provide unlimited file storage and can it be accessed from anywhere – and from any browser on any device. Does it have native apps for iPad, Android, Windows etc?
One of the top challenges IT teams in schools face is difficulty communicating with other groups. Administrators and curriculum teams may not understand your IT goals and challenges and you may not relate to theirs.
Are you bringing ideas together? Incorporating key curricular and administrative goals into your technology plans will mean you are all working together for the same end goal. Are you speaking a language everyone will understand? In meetings and reports, turn technical jargon into simple language.
Are you doing your homework? Read, research and discuss to get a better idea of what headteachers are thinking. Talk to staff in other departments and work with them to evangelise your technology plans.
Doing more with less
If your IT staff has been cut, you are likely to need to wear more hats and do more than ever. But how can you get more done with a smaller team? Start by considering solutions that allow you to delegate tasks to other members of staff. The more automated processes you have in place, the more time your team will have to focus on other issues.
Is there a solution that covers all the bases? You can save time by logging into a single solution that controls everything on your network, instead of working in multiple interfaces. This also saves training, time and makes troubleshooting easier.
Finally, how can you deliver more services with less money? You can save money by purchasing green solutions and by inventorying your resources so you can more cost-effectively manage your assets.
Earnie Kramer is a director of Lightspeed Systems.