Looking back on CoSN 2017 – ABCDE approach to digital transformation
I am just back from a couple of weeks in the US. The early part of my trip revolved around the 2017 CoSN event in Chicago. CoSN (the Consortium for School Networking) is a professional association for school system technology leaders. We have a number of K12 school district customers in the US so having a presence at events like this is important.
One thing that struck me on this trip is the way everything has gone cloud\app based. You can now book everything online and travel around without ever speaking to anyone. All the airlines have good mobile apps now which include electronic boarding passes, Airbnb delivers excellent value when it comes to accommodation and you may never meet your host, as I normally collect the keys through a lockbox. Uber gets you where you need to go when you arrive and because your destination is preset you don’t need to go through the hassle of explaining exactly where you want to go. Even the restaurants have iPads instead of menus where you can pick exactly what you want without ever needing to speak to a waiter. Convenient yes, but it’s a bit robotic and cold sometimes.
One would have to question where is this technology leading us. Both Mark Zuckerburg and Elon Musk have announced plans to develop technology to bridge the gap between humans and machines. Musk’s project is called Neuralink which is aimed at helping humans keep pace with the rapid advances in AI. This would be achieved by basically integrating AI with human consciousness.
It may seem like something from the movies, but you can see the drivers of this in today’s world. Last week, as I was waiting for someone just outside Penn station in New York, I observed hundreds of people going about their business and a significant percentage were using their phones. The problem is that phones are fast and our brains are fast but the bits in between like our fingers or even speech is slow to transmit our thoughts\data. We need something to increase the bandwidth between our brains and cloud-based AI computing.
CoSN 2017 was held in the Sheraton Grand Chicago in Chicago. In my opinion, the main theme of this years conference was the ABCDE approach to digital transformation.
- A: Applications
- B: Bandwidth
- C: Connectivity
- D: Device
- E: Educate the educator
Many of the speakers at this year’s CoSN event, spoke about how technology within schools is more about selecting the right applications and ensuring that students and teachers had access to a robust network to access these.
The opening session at CoSN 2017 was delivered by Alberto Carvalho, Superintendent of Miami-Dade County Public Schools, the fourth-largest district in the country. He also spoke about how some school districts put too much focus on trying to get to a 1:1 ratio of students to devices. Instead, he recommended that districts focus on delivering robust digital tools by looking at what applications need to be rolled out, is their network bandwidth available and is there connectivity, not just to schools, but also to homes and libraries when students need to work outside of school hours. When it came to connectivity some schools even parked up buses at the weekend with WiFi access so that students had somewhere to go to complete their assignments.
Alberto definitely has a point, I work with a lot of school districts in the US and in a lot of cases, we are trying to get to the root cause of bandwidth congestion problems. Staff and student devices can easily fill up bandwidth capacity on school WAN links if they pull down Windows\Apple updates or watch YouTube videos in HD. Assigning a device to every student is like giving every student a car. In most cases, the school infrastructure cannot deal with this, car parks will fill up and roads to the school will be congested. What you need to do is, monitor how these electronic devices use resources on the network and make changes if necessary. In some cases, this may mean upgraded links but for others it may mean putting cache servers at schools so that devices can download Apple\Windows updates locally.
Another interesting topic that seemed to come up at multiple sessions was the diversity of devices that are brought into schools. Some years ago, all the talk was about iPads. Now you have anything from Android based tablets, Windows devices and Chromebooks. Chromebooks appear to get a mixed reception from K12 technology leaders. They are cheap, but they have a proper keyboard as well as providing for the touchscreen tablet experience. However, they are reliant on cloud services and are difficult to integrate with authentication systems like Active Directory. I am not sure if it was a sign of the times, but I called into two Walmarts and both stores were sold out of Chromebooks, but had any amount of tablets available.
If you want to learn more about how K12 school districts are using network traffic analysis to address operational issues and security issues, you can download a case study from this link which looks at how Aiken County Public Schools used LANGuardian to get to the root of its bandwidth problems.