IDFs Don’t Belong in Classrooms

Posted on Oct 10, 2018 7:20:00 AM

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Many technologies (i.e. BYOD devices, video, and digital curriculumbelong in the classroom. When implemented correctly, they all contribute to the educational experience, provide direct benefits to students, and have logistical and business-related reasons to be inside the classroom. Something that has historically been placed in the classroom that could (and should) be moved immediately is the IDF. Whether your network hardware is lying on a table, sitting on the floor, or locked in a cabinet, classroom IDFs have overstayed their welcome, and it’s time to move them elsewhere.

They’re Disrupting the Classroom
Teaching is already a challenge. Imagine working in a classroom environment that has the equivalent of an F-18 taking off every few hours (okay, maybe not that bad, but close). That goes directly against the objective of providing the best educational environment for students. We’ve mentioned it before, but school network environments are becoming increasingly harsh. The exponential growth of technology-related requirements has placed more burden on the network than ever before. The increased Power-over-Ethernet requirements mean that the vast majority of IDFs in classrooms have turned the sound up way past 11. Many technology professionals won’t think about the noise from a concentration or disruption perspective, and that’s completely normal, but teachers have to be aware of how the classroom environment influences their students’ ability to function and focus. It’s gotten to the point where teachers are unplugging the equipment and/or schools are scheduling classes around classrooms with IDFs in them. This is insane.

They’re in the Way
In addition to being louder, IDFs are also getting much, much bigger. A 48-port switch is exactly as high and wide as it has been for the last 10 years, but manufacturers are building them deeper to accommodate the expanding needs of the equipment. This can lead to a couple of issues. For schools that don’t have cabinets or racks to hold the switches, this means more classroom space lost to technology that's necessary to sustain the educational environment but doesn't require student or teacher interaction. Schools that have locked cabinets or racks are forced to replace them because the hardware doesn’t fit as it should. This means higher expenditures and the loss of valuable classroom real estate. The problem is that most schools use one IDF per wing, and usually the only space available is divided into classrooms or bathrooms. This contributes to the issue that we need to resolve. 

They’re Unreachable
If you think noisy hardware is disruptive to the classroom, imagine what kind of disruptions are necessary to service the IDFs during the school day. This puts you and your teaching staff between a rock and a hard place. On one hand, it’s disruptive to have an IT professional in the room while class is in session (especially for students and teachers who are already hard pressed to get through the year’s curriculum), but on the other hand, the hardware in your IDFs keeps mission-critical applications up and running. A down IDF or network could affect some or all of the following:

  • Campus safety
  • Facilities management (such as air conditioning or lights)
  • Access control
  • Data backup
  • Network security

Sometimes the situation feels lose-lose. You either allow the IT team to fix the issues but disrupt the classroom, or you hold off until the end of the day and risk continued (or worsened) network issues.

This is Crazy
We’re having a real conversation about schools arranging classrooms and lesson plans to accommodate networking equipment and IDFs. That sounds really silly when you consider that the entire reason for leveraging most of your technology is to (hopefully) enhance the student experience. Here’s what we propose: move those IDFs outside. Get them on the roof, in closets, or somewhere else on the property. It’s relatively easy to store them securely in inexpensive cabinets equipped with environmental controls. They'll work whether you’re in the desert or the mountains or in between. Sure, you could buy a switch that’s quieter, you could build shelves, or you could schedule maintenance around class schedules, but you won’t be solving the real problem(s). It just makes more sense to rethink your model and get your IDFs out of the classroom.

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