The surge in smart devices, new data-intensive styles of teaching, changing student behaviors, and IT consumerization are all driving the demand for better campus Wi-Fi. Schools must rise to meet this demand or they risk losing out to better-equipped campuses. Only the most robust and agile campus and district network infrastructure will be capable of delivering the performance, connectivity, and security needed to handle the new and innovative emerging styles of digital learning. Students demand access to information and knowledge at all times and all places on and off campus, through their personal smart devices.
The traditional education model of lecture-based learning and written exams is changing as more distributive approaches hit educational institutes. With tuition up and enrollment continuing to decline, colleges and universities are implementing innovative ways of teaching to increase learning while keeping costs down.
Simultaneously, new technology is disrupting the traditional model. As new smart device technology is developed, its adoption rate continues to grow and fuel the proliferation of devices being brought into the learning environment. Research from Gartner predicts that mobile data traffic will grow 59 percent in 2015, driven mainly by an increased use of mobile apps. Educational institutes must not only keep pace with the technology, but embrace it to keep students engaged in an affordable way.
New methods of learning
The rise of mobile technology has enabled colleges and universities to reconsider how they can increase student capacity and keep students learning with the technology that best suits them. One way is through flipped and blended learning. This is where the traditional learning method of a classroom lecture or lesson is inverted so that instruction is delivered outside of the classroom as homework, and practice exercises that would normally be considered homework or problem sets are done during class time. Teachers can use this campus classroom time to provide one-on-one coaching and personal instruction.
This type of learning with online videos and digital content is scalable and can be extended to include more students. Once learning material is online, the content can be accessed from all over the world, enabling newer types of courses such as massive open online classes (MOOCs) and small private online classes (SPOCs) to take place. The result is more virtual seats, more students learning, and thus more financial support being created for schools to reinvest into new technology and other strategic objectives. The individualized attention enabled by flipped and blended learning is helping the education sector move toward more personalized education. Advances in learning styles like adaptive and competency-based learning take this a step further by offering different content to individuals based on an interactive assessment of exactly where they are in their understanding of the content.
These new methods have been influenced by the widespread student use of mobile devices such as smartphones and tablets. It is important for the higher education sector to be aware of upcoming trends, too. Newer innovations such as smartwatches, health-tracking devices such as Fitbits, and even virtual reality headsets are becoming a part of the next generation of students’ repertoire. According to Juniper Research shipments of wearable technology will reach 170 million per annum by 2018. All these devices must be connected via the network, making up the Internet of Things (IoT). By planning for these devices now, the campus Wi-Fi infrastructure will be able to accommodate both the growing range of new personal devices and the emerging styles of teaching as they evolve.
Using the power of the network to embrace BYOB
Current educational establishments have typically run on core technology investments made up to 20 years ago; but these campuses are now struggling to catch up with newer technology. Today’s highly mobile students and faculty expect ubiquitous wireless access to learning content from anywhere and at any time. Wireless is a shared-access technology and so security planning must consider controls including user identity as well as device location. Furthermore, insight into which applications are being used and at what times and from where helps ensure optimum performance so that students receive the best experience.
WLAN technology offers an ideal solution for educational organizations seeking to expand anytime, anywhere connectivity across and around the campus. Wireless installation alleviates the need to disrupt solid walls or expose hazardous materials. It precludes the hours of labor needed to physically run LAN cabling through building walls or underground conduit – helping to keep costs down. Additionally, tablet devices and smartphones no longer even include Ethernet connectivity as an option.
Educational institutes can look to implement WLAN solutions that offer simple, fast, and smart enterprise network features that improve the availability, reliability and coverage, as well as manage security of wired and wireless campus LANs. A high-performance, high-availability wireless architecture can offer an ideal edge solution for delivering virtualized or cloud-based services, including video-on-demand, e-learning apps and student portals. Students can smoothly access rich, streaming media and academic resources.
However, the WLAN solution must be capable of handling hundreds or even thousands of simultaneous association requests from client devices without bogging down the network and creating unacceptable delays. This goes beyond simple network access; it is providing each user with the optimal bandwidth for their e-learning experience. Therefore, the WLAN technology must be high-speed and include features designed to boost signal transmissions across roaming zones and within dense deployments. For example, in a lecture setting, a grid of access points can help balance client loads based on client count or bandwidth. Dual-band channels help to reduce interference in crowded wireless zones, such as lecture halls, teaching labs, library study rooms and dormitories.
The trend of students, faculty, administration, and all employees bringing their own wireless devices onto campus is variously called bring your own device, bring your own behavior, bring your own technology or bring your own cloud. Whatever you call it, it requires excellent Wi-Fi, network management, network access control, and well thought-out policies.
Securing the network
Different content has different requirements and so an intelligent WLAN solution must also be able to control upstream and downstream traffic per user, ensuring fair access to shared bandwidth. These rate limits can be tailored to prevent a user group, session or application from hogging a disproportionate amount of shared bandwidth. Using role-based access control, designated users such as graduate students and research faculty can be allotted a greater proportion of bandwidth over guests and administrative staff. Or certain applications such as online gaming may be limited, giving traffic priority to academic services.
It is vital for the educational institute to be able to manage and control usage and access in this way to deliver the best experience while limiting operational costs and resources.
Keeping pace with modern technology, regardless of what technology may have already been implemented, can be achieved by adding a high-speed and high performing WLAN solution that enables control and management of bandwidth so that students can learn at a time that suits them best.
The surging proliferation of smart devices helps keep students engaged in learning but must work on the premise of familiarity. That means with the personal devices of their choice with anywhere-access to learning material. Understanding student usage through a smart network application analytics tool can further better inform higher education of the best ways to keep students connected while on the move for competitive advantage and success.
This blog was co-authored by Andy Butcher, higher education evangelist, and Bob Nilsson, director of vertical solutions.