Across campuses, changing student behaviour and IT consumerisation is playing a pivotal role in the way in which students are choosing to learn and as a result, institutions will be forced to adapt to meet these new demands. Andy Butcher, higher education evangelist at Extreme Networks discusses how higher education establishments will need to question whether their traditional enterprise architecture is firstly agile enough in terms of performance and connectivity to handle evolving educational approaches and how the network will play a crucial role in supporting new and innovative online learning methods securely.
The traditional education model of lecture-based learning and exams is changing as more distributive approaches hit our educational institutes. With both colleges and universities requiring students to increase tuition fees in order to keep up with administration and other costs, both are now looking to new innovative ways of teaching to increase student enrolment whilst keeping costs down.
Simultaneously, new technology is also 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 increase in the use of mobile apps.
Such technology is supporting the creation of new ways of learning online and with students contributing to rising tuition fees, they now demand access to knowledge as and when they need to, anytime and anywhere, from technology that they are already familiar with. These financial and technology challenges are coming to a head as students demand more from their education, commonly termed as ‘Bring-your-own-behaviour.’
Now, educational institutes must not only keep pace with this change but find a way to 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 lecture or lesson, where the theoretical aspects of a course is taught, is inverted so that instruction is delivered outside of the campus as homework and the practical delivery of the course is saved for the lesson. Teachers can also use this time to provide one-on-one learning.
This type of online learning is scalable and can extend to include more students. Once learning material is online, the content can be accessed from all over the world, enabling newer courses such as massive online open learning to take place (MOOCs) and SPOCs. The result is more virtual seats, more students learning and thus more financial support being created for higher education establishments to reinvest into new technology and other strategic objects. The individual attention made possible with flipped and blended learning styles is helping the education sector make moves toward more personalized education. Advances in learning styles like adaptive and competency-based learning take this a step further by offering different content to learners based on an interactive assessment of where they are in their understanding of the content.
Whilst these new methods have been influenced by widespread student use mobile devices such as smartphones and tablets, it’s 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 likely to be part of next generation of students’ repertoire; according to Juniper Research shipments of wearable technology will reach 170 million per annum by 2018. All these devices will be connected via the network, making up the Internet of Things (IoT), and by planning for these devices now it will ensure that learning methods stay relevant and continue to evolve.
However with more devices being used both on and off educational grounds, higher education institutes must review their current IT infrastructure to determine how they can best support BYOB, both now and for the future – ensuring that they have enough bandwidth and scalability to grow with each smart device user. One such way could be through the network.
Using the power of the network to embrace BYOB
Current educational establishments have typically run on technology investments that were first made some 30 years ago and continue to invest in the same architectural design principles just buying newer and faster versions of the same technology. Now these same campuses are struggling to keep pace with newer technology. Today’s highly mobile users will expect ubiquitous wireless access to their learning material from anywhere and at any time. Students are not concerned if the application they’re wishing to consume is hosted on premise, in a shared datacentre or in the cloud but their expectations will remain the same.
Higher education establishments must consider how they can embrace and adapt their IT architecture, with new technology, to deliver new teaching methods that will ultimately benefit the student.
Wireless is a shared-access technology and so security planning must consider controls that include user identity as well as device location. Furthermore insight into the use of applications at what time and from where can help ensure optimum performance so that students receive the best experience.
WLAN technology offers an ideal solution for higher education organizations seeking to expand anytime, anywhere connectivity across and in and around the campus. Wireless installation alleviates the need to disrupt solid walls or expose hazardous materials. It precludes the hours of labour needed to physically run LAN cabling through building walls or underground conduit – helping the college or university to keep costs down. Additionally, with tablet devices and smartphones, end user devices no longer include Ethernet connectivity as an option.
Educational institutes can look to implement WLAN solutions that offer ‘smart enterprise network’ features that can help improve the availability, reliability and coverage, as well as manage ability and security of wired and wireless campus LANs. A high-performance, high-availability wireless architecture can offer an ideal edge solution for delivering virtualized and/or cloud-based services, including video-on-demand, e-learning apps and student portals. Students can access rich, streaming media and academic resources.
However, the WLAN solution must be capable of handling hundreds of simultaneous association requests from client devices without bogging down the network and creating unacceptable delays. This goes beyond simply providing 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.
Securing the network
Different content needs different requirements and so an intelligent WLAN solution would also be able to control upstream and downstream traffic per user, helping ensure 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 administrative staff or guests. Or certain applications such as online gaming may be limited, giving traffic priority to academic services.
It will be vital for the educational institute to be able to manage and control usage and access in this way to deliver the best experience whilst 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 trend towards BYOB can help keep students engaged in learning but must work on the premise of familiarity – that means on the 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 in which to keep students connected whilst on the move for competitive advantage and success.