How to create a university network for BYOD

Today's students demand the same learning experience from any device

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The traditional education model of lecture-based learning and exams is changing. This is due to more distributive approaches of learning entering our educational institutes, both at the college and university level. These disruptive approaches are being fuelled by new mobile devices and mobile app growth. As a result, analyst firm Gartner predicts that mobile data traffic will grow 59% in 2015.

Having paid increasing tuition fees, students now wish to see this monetary value reflected through improved access to learning material and one approach is through the devices that they are familiar with, anytime, anywhere.

> See also: Top ten strategic technologies impacting education – Gartner

This demand to provide a learning environment that suits student behaviour, also known as ‘Bring-your-own-Behaviour’ is placing universities under pressure to assess their existing technology infrastructure to determine if it is up to scratch to handle the increase in devices on campus.

New methods of learning

The rise of mobile technology in colleges and universities doesn’t just benefit the student. It can also help to increase student capacity – in the classroom and online, helping to secure investment in education.

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. This type of online learning is scalable.

Once learning material is uploaded, the content can be accessed from anywhere in the world, enabling newer courses such as massive online open learning to take place (MOOCs) and small private online courses such as SPOCs. This results in more virtual seats and more students learning thus more financial support for higher education institutions to reinvest into newer technology and other strategic objectives. 

The individual attention made possible with flipped and blended learning styles is helping the education sector make moves toward more personalised education. Advances in learning styles like adaptive and competency-based learning goes one step further by offering different content to students 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 of mobile devices 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 the next generation of students’ class rooms.

In order to accommodate this influx of mobile devices, higher education institutes must review their current IT infrastructure to determine how they can best support BYOB, not just now, but in the future too. This ensures they have enough bandwidth and scalability to evolve with each smart device user. One such way could be through the network.

Using the power of the network to embrace BYOB

Most current educational institutions typically run on IT and technology that was first created over 30 years ago. The institution then continues to invest in the same architectural design principle, yet buying newer models that slot into this technology. It is then now, many decades down the road that the campuses struggle to handle the influx of newer devices.

Thus, today’s highly mobile users will expect ubiquitous wireless access to their learning material from anywhere and at any time.

WLAN technology offers an ideal solution for higher education organisations seeking to expand anytime, anywhere connectivity across the campus. First of all, wireless installation means that no solid walls must be disrupted and means hours of hard labour running LAN cables inside and below the buildings can be avoided – helping keep costs low too.

Also, WLAN solutions 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 virtualised and/or cloud-based services, including video-on-demand, e-learning apps and student portals.

It must not be forgotten however that the WLAN solution must be able to handle hundreds of simultaneous association requests from differing client devices, without clogging up the network and creating unacceptable delays. Accounting for 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, when students are attending a lecture, to ensure each receives the maximum bandwidth, a grid of access points can help balance the network load. Dual-band channels also help to reduce interference in crowded wireless zones, such as lecture halls, teaching labs, library study rooms and dormitories.

Controlling usage

Different groups will require different access so in creating the WLAN solution there must be control of upstream and downstream traffic per user, helping ensure fair usage. These rate limits can be tailored to prevent a user group, session or application from hogging the bandwidth. This can also be implemented to limit online gaming, giving traffic priority over academic services.

> See also: Top ten strategic technologies impacting education – Gartner

 

It will be vital for educational institutions to be able to manage and control usage and access in this way so that they can deliver the best experience whilst limiting operational costs and resources.

Keeping up with the modern pace of technology is no easy feat, regardless of what technology may already be in place. However, it can be achieved with the help of 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.

Andy Butcher, higher education evangelist at Extreme Networks

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