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Insights on the Challenges with the Educational Network: Q&A with Extreme K-12 Networking Experts

Deidra Peterson Specialist, Vertical Solutions Marketing Published 7 May 2019

Extreme Connect 2019 is right around the corner, and we are pretty excited to feature our education demo kiosk. For a sneak peek, we sat down with two of our K-12 network experts, Director of Systems Engineering Paul Brandy and Systems Engineer Robin Duffy, to talk about how technology is changing curriculum delivery, challenges in EdTech, and what the future holds for students, teachers, and staff. We also touched on some of the network technology innovations we’ve cooked up here at Extreme to stay ahead of the education curve.

Question 1: Can you tell us about your background in K-12 education and IT?

Robin:

I’ve spent 15 years as a network administrator for Pulaski County Schools in Kentucky where I designed, installed, and managed the network for the district. In other network admin roles, I developed new technology strategies for curriculum delivery. I also crafted new administrative and acceptable use policies for staff and students when new technologies were adopted. At that time, I was responsible for managing a five-person team for network maintenance and upkeep, as well. Presently, it’s my tenth year at Extreme Networks as a Solutions Engineer in the K-12 space.

Paul:

I have held various enterprise and education technical leadership roles within the past 22 years. Starting back in 1997 as a network consultant for a small networking company. In 1999 I started working for a managed service provider in Nashville, Tennessee where I designed, implemented and supported very large disperse networks in the Education space throughout the US. I have been with Extreme Networks for eight years, starting as a systems engineer and advancing through the ranks to eventually managing the Southeast System Engineering Region. Currently, I am responsible for the US K-12 Education Systems Engineering Team.

Question 2: What kinds of network capabilities do we feature at EdTech conferences such as ISTE and KySTE? Tell me about the feedback from users.

Robin:

When we participate at KySTE, we feature a lot of advanced capabilities, including what a full fabric architecture looks like in a K12 environment, along with leveraging Extreme Policy for manual and dynamic topology assignment. We also show attendees how to use policy to enhance school security at the edge.

Customers are in complete disbelief at the simplicity of the approach when it comes to using policy to drive Automated Campus. The team also demos BYOD guest onboarding and system management. We’ll walk them through network management and analytics, too.

Question 3: Do your customers use GSuite, iBoss, or Lightspeed frequently? Give me a breakdown of the benefits of Extreme integrations. Are they complex to execute?

Robin:

Almost all of my customers use LightSpeed or iBoss web filters integrated with Extreme Management Center, as well as Active Directory. A benefit of integration with content filters, besides tracking BYOD devices by username, is allowing the filter to provide differentiated Internet access for users based on their Active Directory account status. For example, teachers versus studentsstaff, guests, etc., all automated through Extreme Management Center.

Customers have started the GSuite integration, but it’s not a widespread trend yet. In cases where customers have done this, weve vastly simplified the onboarding of new devices such that when they remove them from the box and turn them on, they are already provisioned on the network. Integration with content filters can be accomplished very easily by using a point-and-click style configuration inside Extreme Management Center.

Question 4: What are some of the trends in EdTech you’re seeing in Tennessee and other locations?

Paul:

Digitalization is certainly taking over education. It’s extended into AI, digital textbooks, digital assessment, and online testing. Unfortunately, Tennessee had experienced massive failures with online testing due to their test provider, so this year they reverted to pencil and paper. They’ll need better tools in order to identify the issues. Extreme Analytics can identify any issues that come up whether they be with the test provider, or are internal to the school district. Our camera APs help significantly with the monitoring of online testing, especially when it comes to facial recognition, which can help with verification for online testing.

Robin:

In Kentucky, school districts are focused on 1:1 district-provided device programs, primarily Chromebook-based. They’re using these student devices for curriculum delivery, as well as online testing and assessment.

A lot of school districts are looking for wireless-driven ways to integrate virtual reality and robotics into the curriculum. I’m noticing wireless being used more frequently outdoors as well. Classes are moving outside and using devices to help deliver the lessons.

Beyond curriculum delivery itself, there’s a definite move toward automation in facilities management, physical access control, bus security monitoring, and other non-traditional uses of technology in education, which is great to see. So much is possible, and a lot of amazing changes are taking place.

Question 5:  Speaking of online testing, are there any challenges or successes that stick out to you from a state-wide perspective?

Robin:

We worked with a legacy Avaya district that had very old equipment and practices in place during their first experience with online testing last fall. Because of the age of the equipment and lack of network visibility and control, the testing session was marred by poor performance and lost test data. After this incident, the Kentucky Department of Education knew something had to change, so the district engaged with us to help improve their testing experience.

Here’s what we put into place to resolve the problem:

  • Deployed Extreme Management Center as a proof of concept to enable the management of network elements, some of which the customer wasn’t aware.
  • Deployed ExtremeControl with Avaya 9100 access points to establish control over which devices could connect to wireless.
  • Installed ExtremeAnalytics to allow visibility into network traffic and monitor online testing application performance.
  • Performed wireless configuration adjustments and loop control at the edge.

This district went through their second testing window last week. Their results were significantly better than the previous testing window in that all students were tested wirelessly without incident. We now have a large order from this customer for our software solution and will soon be refreshing their legacy Avaya equipment with VSP, XOS, and WiNG7.

Question 6: What are some of the new network challenges customers and prospects in education are most-commonly grappling with?

Paul:

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Security of information on the network is a huge concern. Technology professionals in education are worried about ways to give the right type of access when it comes to BYOD. For example, some instructors like to use Twitter for surveys in classrooms, but that kind of activity requires devices to be secure.

Robin:

Network security didn’t become a major concern in education until recently, so implementation had been slow. It’s not because of difficulties in the implementation itself—it’s more that K-12 network administrators are struggling to figure out how to best secure the network while maintaining a balance between security and curriculum delivery.

Some decision makers at the state level are advocating for more open access for students and teachers to promote self-learning and discoveryOthers are putting heavy emphasis on locking the network down because they feel it’s the only way to ensure network resources are available for activities like online testing. As a former K12 network manager, I understand both sides of the argumentRight now, there isn’t a consensus as to what will achieve the perfect balance.

Question 7: Do you foresee changes coming regarding AV equipment? Can consumers expect AV equipment to become more digitalized and IP-controlled?

Paul:

Chromecast and Apple TVs are certainly becoming the norm across the board. Teachers are bringing new workloads to the IT staff increasingly, so admins must deal with rogue APs to some degree. We’re seeing this with sports coaches, too, and they end up creating a loop in their offices.

Robin:

In terms of AV equipment, the age of TVs, VCRs, cable TV, etc. in the classroom is over. Almost all my customers utilize some type of video streaming for television—usually via Vbrick, or similar technologies. They’ll stream their own graduations and sporting events. Most K12s have their own student-run news shows today and stream those, as well. These alternatives bring a lot more opportunities for students to be hands on.

Question 8: Extreme Connect is right around the corner. What will you be featuring for attendees at the education demo kiosk? What can they get excited about?

Paul:

I think education-focused attendees will be very excited to observe Wi-Fi 6 in action. We’ll be demonstrating how easy it is to bring new APs and devices onto the network.

Robin:

      • Automated Campus: making support and configuration of the school network incredibly easy
      • ExtremeControl: fully automating the wired edge
      • Extreme Policy: using Extreme Policy on the edge as a simple, easy path toward securing the education network against threats and abuse
      • Extreme Fabric Connect: simplicity of connecting network sites with Extreme Fabric Connect
      • FabricAttach: IDF onboarding and integration with Active Directory

Question 9: What do you see in the future of education? How will technology continue to play a role?

Paul:

Intelligent learning apps come to mind. Every student learns differently, and this kind of technology allows educators to determine which media and styles work with different students. AI has the potential to help in this area, too.

VR coupled with the digital assessment will be making waves. Advancements in education technology are getting to the point where it’s becoming possible to do things like join classrooms around the world.

 Robin:

Technology in the classroom isn’t anything new or different. That being said, I think it will continue to expand. Personally, I believe that the greatest potential for technology in schools isn’t necessarily in curriculum delivery exclusively, but rather, with building management and physical security. Other than security cameras, I’m noticing a significant interest in using the network for facilities management, security access, etc. Some of the technologies districts are exploring with increasing frequency include those related to facilities management and security access, like:

      • Automation of lighting
      • Control of heating
      • Environmental automation
      • Networked door keypad systems
      • IP-based multicast public address systems
      • Tracking of student physical location using RFID

Our challenge at Extreme will be finding ways to support new network hardware that wasn’t originally designed with safety in mind. Extreme Policy, in conjunction with ExtremeControl, Extreme Fabric Connect/Fabric Attach, and our other technologies can go a long way toward making this happen.

On the curriculum side, I think VR is quickly making headway as an immersive means of delivering content. The most significant innovation I can imagine is group VR, where all students in a class use a shared virtual space to explore topics, landscapes, and interact together. This requires robust, high-speed wireless access for the classroom to function. Fortunately, we have that solution today!

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