Especially as Internet-only devices have gained in popularity, a robust and reliable IT network has become essential infrastructure in schools. These networks connect students and teachers to data, information, and interaction within the local community and across the Internet. Whereas educators once deferred to IT professionals in the design and deployment of IT networks, they can no longer avoid knowledge of and input into how these systems, which are vital to teaching and learning, function.
Computers were originally designed to accept input (especially mathematical information), manipulate it according to rules programmed into the device, then create output (typically on paper, video monitors, or magnetic tapes). Once the capacity for computers to send output to other computers emerged, the first networks were created. As the number of computer systems increased (and the amount of digital data increased), there was increased value in connecting them so that information could be shared between them and users could operate the machines from remote locations.
Despite being used by academic researchers and the military for decades, networked computers did not become widely used in the consumer and education markets until the mid-1990’s when hypertext transfer protocol (the origin of the http:// that begins web addresses) was added to the Internet protocols. The World Wide Web (built using hypertext markup language or html) was developed which opened the Internet to vast numbers of users, and both the hardware and software for connecting desktop and laptop computers to the Internet became a standard part of almost every computer system.
Since the turn of the century, computing and networking have become almost synonymous. Many devices are of limited usefulness without a connection to a network, personal data and files are stored on web servers, and applications are increasingly accessed via web browsers. For the first generation of school IT managers, much attention was placed on obtaining computers for students to use, and only after they had large fleets of devices did they turn attention to developing robust local area networks for instructional purposes. Increasingly, local area network (LAN) resources are being replaced with services provided via web browsers (which are described in “Chapter 5: Web Services”), and access to those depends on reliable and robust networks. All of these changes, and the deep dependence on networks for teachers and students to access educational materials, make an information technology network an essential part of school infrastructure.