Jan Wielenga, Daisy's Product Manager for Data Networks, discusses why connectivity is essential to embracing technology that enhances the learning experience.
Over the past decade, there has been a dramatic change in the way children are educated. Gone are the days when technology was seen a threat to the role of an educator; instead teachers today combine traditional methods with “rich media”, such as video and online resources, to deliver enhanced learning experiences.
I was recently speaking to a student who informed me that after each lecture, he would receive an email from his tutor that contained a PDF version of everything that had been written on the working wall (the electronic version of the old blackboard). This allowed him to cross-reference the resource with his own notes, ensuring he had all the required information to study. It seems the days of plastering a textbook with sticky notes may have run their course.
Universities, in particular, regularly invite subject specialists to deliver guest lectures, but unfortunately, the logistics of securing these experts can sometimes be either too impractical or too expensive. The advent of video conferencing, however, has helped break down geographical barriers and now enables students to learn from professionals all over the world. High-bandwidth solutions are necessary to ensure a good experience for all involved as burdensome technologies can often be a major distractor for those that deliver and receive content.
Higher education also needs to work flexibly. Historically, large sums of money have been invested in changing the purpose of classrooms, and in some cases even complete campuses. As this was often done on an “as-and-when” basis, a lot of money has ultimately been wasted and solutions are probably not fit for purpose in the intermediate term.
The majority of educational institutions are actually better off stopping making piecemeal upgrades and instead take a holistic view across the whole estate, sometimes in conjunction with other educational institutions. By creating a universal on-campus data infrastructure, which is supported by the right connectivity to the outside world, institutions will find that this is a far less disruptive and a more cost-effective approach.
Data and network security
When considering data access for staff and students on the premises, it is important that a school, college or university is careful about what it does and doesn’t allow to traverse the internet. The bring-your-own-device (BYOD) trend has swept across the education sector and allows staff and students to access a network through their personal laptop, tablet and smartphone. Although this has obvious benefits, it can also be a security nightmare.
How can an educational network, which may be used for research and private data, be safeguarded against intellectual property theft, viruses or an online disaster when a student accesses it when under the influence for example?
Historically, data networks have always been the domain of the IT department. As the requirements for educational data networks become so highly specialised and sensitive, however, it is now debatable whether this should be solely their responsibility.
The importance of having sufficient bandwidth cannot be overstated, particularly to facilitate the adoption of technology within the classroom. However, at a time when budgets are having to be managed extremely diligently, schools are often making the mistake of opting for low-cost solutions, thus sacrificing quality. On the flip side, investing in a connectivity solution that is over specified can eat into vital budget that could be spent in more important areas.
It is imperative for educational institutions to realise that when it comes to connectivity – there is no one-size-fits-all solution. While broadband may suit the requirements of a small primary school, large campuses are better off investing in a carrier Ethernet solutions that can meet its large bandwidth demands.
If an educational institution has multiple campuses that are spread out across a geographical area, it is also worth exploring the option of a Wide Area Network, also known as MPLS. This solution will help simplify infrastructure and make sharing equipment such as storage servers, printers and IP voice networks as easy as it would be if everyone was working within the same building.
Given that the build and design of a data and connectivity infrastructure is so important, it is probably wise for schools, colleges and universities to utilise the expertise of a reputable industry provider.
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