Why back to school shouldn’t mean a return to poor connectivity

Child typing on laptop - digital connectivity in education
(Image credit: Photo Agency)

With mass home learning firmly in the rear view mirror, schools, colleges and universities are getting back to ‘normal’, or should we be saying a ‘new normal’ with the implementation of hybrid working schemes? The global pandemic will be remembered for many reasons and the rapid transition to online learning is just one of them. No stranger to the benefits of online content to enrich the learning experience and support multiple styles of learning, the Education sector knows the importance of high speed, reliable campus wide networks.

About the author

Will Liu is Managing Director of TP-Link UK.

The right networking infrastructure is of course essential in supporting a school’s smooth day to day activities from pupil registration and setting homework to internal communications and finance. Unified networking is also an essential feature where schools and colleges span multiple buildings and sites. Many essential staff will need access to the same core applications and files no matter where they are within the organization's campus. In fact, when you get the infrastructure right, it becomes invisible to employees and pupils alike.

Accessing digital learning is inadvertently putting more strain on the infrastructure. While schools and colleges have provisioned for all the laptops and tablets they have purchased, pupils' personal devices add an additional load to the network. Adopting the latest WiFi standards such as 802.11ax or WiFi6 not only revolutionizes the wireless speeds available, it is packed full of performance-enhancing features to support more devices per access point plus seamless wireless roaming comes as standard.

Building for blended practices

In many cases necessity has fast-tracked the roll out of digital platforms like Google Classroom forcing change for teachers, pupils and network administrators alike. Networks need sufficient capacity and administrators require the tools to manage the network in real time to prevent bottlenecks and unnecessary disruption in the classroom.

Like an F1 pit crew, the infrastructure team are the technical wizards enabling teachers and pupils to reach and maintain peak performance. Without cloud managed networks, administrators are left waiting for the metaphorical wheel to fall off before they know there’s a problem. Smart schools provide the networking team with the tools to prepare, predict and plan therefore minimizing catastrophic network outages. Software Defined Networking or cloud managed networking gives them the tools to monitor and manage the network in real time without leaving the office. In other words, the network team spends less time fighting fires so students can consume knowledge.

The role of a digital platform for schools and educational institutions to base their hybrid learning through is both integral and inevitable as schools merge back into in-school learning. Remote management via a specialist cloud controller enables the infrastructure team to manage each individual network, and avoids unnecessary visits to each site. Heat map data from the site survey can be uploaded into the cloud controller to help resolve any issues with individual or groups of access points. Adding the heat data to the cloud platform adds an extra dimension to the data from each access point, resulting in an accurate diagnosis. Using the same configuration across multiple sites ensures that subject specialists and digital leaders who need to move from one site to another, have a seamless experience by using the same login details to access the same resources no matter where they are on campus.

As Heraclitus said, “The only constant in life is change,” and this is also true for networking. To stay ahead of the curve and maximize the value from your budget, we recommend you follow these simple rules:

  • Take advantage of a free network site survey to make sure you have the right hardware to power your learning establishment today and in the future
  • Integrate software defined networking to empower the Infrastructure team
  • Check what’s covered in the manufacturer’s warranty in the event a mission critical access point or switch should fail
  • Look for license free solutions so there a one-time fixed budget to your projects
  • Embrace WiFi 6 to maximize performance and load density

Will Liu is the Managing Director of TP-Link UK.