It's hard to know the specifics of where EdTech is going, but I do see five key areas that will keep CIO’s on their toes in 2017.

 

1) Cybersecurity

During 2016, K-12 CIO’s came to the sober realization that they are prime targets for cyber hackers.  2017 will likely demonstrate just how vulnerable they are, and how damaging a breach can be.  According to the Ponemon Institute, the cost of a comprised record in education averages about $246, second only to the healthcare sector.  As the average data breach involves thousands of records, the total cost to K-12 budgets can be devastating.

The treasure trove of data available, and the easy pathway to parents’ personal information, make education very attractive to hackers.  This can include parents’ name, home address, telephone number, email address, credit card number, bank account, date of birth – even blood type.  District CIO’s with already-stretched budgets will be challenged to ensure the security of student data.  Look for virtual and cloud security vendors and network level encryption solutions to place greater emphasis on K-12 during 2017.

2) E-Rate Program

New leadership at the U.S. FCC brings a couple of potential changes to the E-Rate program.  The most immediate candidate could be the dark fiber and self-provision options for category one services.  When the commissioners voted to include dark fiber and self-provision options within the Second Modernization Order back in 2014, the vote was split along partisan lines, with two Republican commissioners voting no. 

Now that the balance of power has shifted, this question will likely be revisited when developing the Funding Year 2018 list of eligible services.  For any district considering a dark fiber or self-build option using the E-Rate program, 2017 may be your best bet before a potential 2018 change in regulation.

3) New U.S. Education Secretary

While on the subject of leadership changes, the new choice for Education Secretary may also impact a district’s E-Rate program funding.  The current nominee brings a greater emphasis on charter schools for lower income students. 

These are the same students that are so important to calculating the level of discount a district is eligible for under the E-Rate program.  Many districts depend upon the E-Rate program to fund 70% to 80% of their network communications needs. So if a charter school program siphons off NSLP-eligible students from a district, CIO’s will need to make do with less, or look elsewhere for funding. 

One could argue that the reduction in NSLP-eligible students would also decrease total district bandwidth needs.  But this argument doesn’t take into consideration the skyrocketing per-student bandwidth requirements from the next generation of video-rich, digital learning technologies.  Vendors of Software Defined Networking (SDN) solutions, especially Software-Defined Wide Area Networks (SD-WANs) that promise improved economics for network connectivity, will be targeting K-12 districts in 2017.

4) EdTech Evolution

The education sector is on an exponential pace of technology advancement.  Augmented reality, digital gaming, simulation, interactive digital textbooks and high definition video technologies are converging in an effort to improve student performance.  The growing number of adaptive digital learning apps, student focused and experiential learning models, curated digital content, remote collaboration tools, as well as the on-demand, mobile expectations of Generation Z, present significant challenges to K-12 network infrastructure.

These advancements are not only more bandwidth-intensive, their data traffic flows are increasingly erratic and unpredictable.  Vendors will likely offer more flexible, on-demand solutions that scale more easily without increasing cost, including Ethernet virtual circuits, MPLS-TP and Software Defined WAN.

5) Learning Environment Transformation

Formal and informal learning spaces are going through a fundamental redesign as educators adopt technology- enabled maker spaces inside and outside the classroom. Many districts are looking to shift away from traditional lecture spaces in favor of interactive spaces that feature collaborative technology.  This could require temporary extension of network connectivity to multiple locations that challenges traditional topologies. 

In addition, 2017 may see growing demand for “virtual schools” that provide alternatives to homeschooling and “brick and mortar” campuses.  Blended learning models like Stanford Online High School are garnering a lot of attention.  If this concept catches on, it may shift connectivity requirements to more Internet access (including broadband from home).  It will also likely force a decision on whether to cache content within a “virtual” school’s servers or outsource everything to a cloud platform.

 

While the timing and degree of these trends may differ for each district, all of them will feel the impact.  The network will play an increasingly important role in preparing for and reacting to these changes, although funding may not always reflect that importance.  Fortunately, networking technology evolutions will be deployed in 2017 that enable districts to provide “anytime, anywhere” learning to students regardless of their learning model.