You don’t want your blended learning program to fail. No one does. However, just like you can’t have a car without an engine, don’t even think of having a blended learning program without the right infrastructure. An otherwise wonderfully planned blended learning program will crash and burn if you don’t have the proper set-up. Over the last seven months I've toured dozens of blended schools and grilled their leaders for lessons learned during the launch process. All of them emphasize the importance of a strong infrastructure to ensure a smooth rollout. That boils down to getting three things right:
If our internet is constantly crashing, our printers aren’t connecting, and our computers are outrageously slow, the only thing we stand to achieve is loads of lost time and frustrated educators and children. Meraki, Ruckus, and Cisco are all companies that have experience in wiring schools for fast internet, allocation of services, and security procedures.
A good rule of thumb: set up your internet service provider first (preferably Comcast), followed up with your equipment purchases and installation with one of these companies. Whether you’re starting from scratch or reworking what exists, fast, reliable internet is absolutely essential, and these companies can get you just that!
Management of student passwords and profiles for hundreds of students can seem like a migraine waiting to happen, especially if you use a variety of different educational programs. To best choose out of these programs, ask yourself: how do I want to store student data and push out information to my students?
Thankfully, there are lots of different options out there that can make your life a lot easier. Single-sign on providers like Clever and EduTone can combine program log-on information so that students only have to remember one log-in and one password. Education Elements has single sign-on power, and they also pull all data from all programs into one singular place. Several learning management systems like Canvas and Schoology sync with different gradebooks like PowerSchool, so your teachers don’t have to input information twice. Best of all, all this stored information can be done in the cloud; say good-bye to clunky servers that take up space, cost a pretty penny, and are difficult to manage and update!
Filters are a point of contention: some schools feel their school culture should be one that welcomes students to make mistakes and learn from them, while others want to lock down their computers until they allow access to just a few websites and apps. As stated before, the infrastructure providers offer security options, such as Barracuda filters, that allow you to block apps, websites, and anything else on different networks: what is blocked for students doesn’t have to be blocked for teachers or for guests.
Securly is an excellent option if you want a separate security provider; they’re easy, cost-effective, and allow teachers to unblock sites for their class session with a simple drag-and-drop menu. Teachers can also add key words or phrases that Securly will look for and lock down: think of it as eyes in the back of your technological head! The only trick is that they’re only compatible if you are using Google Apps for Education.
Whether you decide to go with security or not is a school culture decision, but it's a good idea to be aware of the options and provide for flexibility as you roll out your program.
Carefully planning infrastructure is the crucial first step of any thriving school. In the Bible, there is a parable about a wise man who builds his house upon solid rock, and another foolish man who builds his upon loose sand. Make sure you choose the right foundation for your school and students.