Why schools must build a virtualized ecosystem
Keeping your school’s infrastructure up to date is about more than investing in powerful computers: now that the global health crisis has forced schools to rely more and more on technology in order to implement first distance learning and then blended learning, teachers and students in many countries are being faced with the flaws in their ecosystems.
Not all schools were prepared for this sudden transition, and many have learnt by experience that even equipping the campus with the latest devices is not enough to claim that your institution can boast state-of-the-art educational technology—what if the campus itself becomes inaccessible?
A perfect synergy
Just like a natural ecosystem is made up of all living creatures in a given environment interacting with one another, a school’s technological ecosystem is a combination of hardware and software designed to provide the services the institution needs, with all of its components working together to become more than the sum of their parts. If one part fails to meet its goal, all other parts will also suffer when tested by unusual circumstances: investing in high-performance machines means very little when the devices do not come with software the students can use to complete their tasks, but purchasing licenses to allow students the use of top-of-the-line professional software is a waste of resources if the school computers are not powerful enough to run it, and of course, the COVID-19 crisis has shown that a contingency plan must always be in place to provide for the eventuality that access to the hardware portion of the system is barred.
That is why designing an ecosystem comes down to striking a balance not only between hardware and software, but also between the students’ and teaching staff’s needs and the administration’s budgeting concerns. Ensuring that the provider of your school’s computers has forged partnerships with ISVs (Independent Software Vendors) and run rigorous tests to ascertain that the hardware’s capabilities match the software’s demands is a smart first step to take to be certain that the two aspects of your ecosystem will mesh well.
Schools that already had an efficient ecosystem in place suffered less from the forced shift to distance learning and were able to provide continuity to their students; schools that were not as well equipped had to learn from the difficulties they met in these extraordinary times and will hopefully come out on the other side of the emergency with the means to do better next time.
Get your head in the cloud
Virtualization and cloud are the hottest keywords on the current IT scene for K-12 schools, and with good reason. While some teachers may still be mistrustful of a system that does not store sensitive student data on the school premises, practical experience has shown that, if implemented correctly, desktop virtualization and shifting to the cloud may actually be safer options in case of malicious attacks to a single terminal or natural disasters that may damage the physical infrastructure carrying the information or – as is the case with COVID-19 – simply restrict student and staff access to it. If your data, from personal student information to educational material, is stored in the cloud, you can tap into it anywhere, anytime, and if you are experiencing issues with a particular device, you can just move to another one, which makes the transition to learning from home smooth and not at all traumatic.
Shifting to the cloud can be a significant investment for a school district, but the savings in terms of money and time efficiency can more than cover the initial cost. Desktop virtualization can reduce the budget needed for purchase and maintenance of machines that can store the not insignificant amount of data a school routinely produces; the few daily minutes saved can easily add up to hours of actual teaching time per year; being able to work from home can not only prepare students and staff for an emergency, but also increase their overall productivity in ordinary circumstances.
In short, the educational community is facing unprecedented challenges, but administrations, IT staff and teachers can all welcome the crisis as a learning opportunity that will make their institutions’ ecosystems stronger and more efficient in the future.