Q&A: Removing the technology barriers in schools

We spoke to Paul Hennin, ‎Senior Director of International Marketing at Aerohive Networks, to discuss how the company is assisting in removing technology barriers in schools.

Why has Aerohive put such a focus on schools?

The internet and connected devices are playing a big part in engaging and educating students, helping to improve both the teaching and learning experience. For example, Exeter College in the University of Oxford now has improved Internet reliability and bandwidth. This enables staff and students to conduct, share and download research at all times. It also provides users with seamless connectivity across multiple different sites, so that the students and lecturers can access key learning materials, wherever they are.

In recent years, there has been an influx of new technologies entering all Primary and Secondary schools as well as Colleges and Universities. Each different educational institution has its own challenges when it comes to these technologies. Having the right Wi-Fi in place can help solve many of these challenges and enable schools of all sizes to increase efficiency and improve the experience they provide to their students.

Why is Wi-Fi so important for education institutions?

The Internet has become an indispensable platform for education. Continually evolving academic programmes and tools are putting teachers in a better position than ever before to adapt to the different needs of their students.

Technological development will continue to create new educational opportunities for students and teachers alike. This means schools’ IT decisions and network-management strategies will become ever more central to academic success.

But, this new world brings a whole host of challenges. The future will bring a greater proliferation of computing devices, applications and Wi-Fi needs. The network challenges raised by the fragmentation of devices, applications and users are here to stay. Since Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) will continue to become more prevalent, the current trend of poor network visibility is simply unsustainable. To cope with the demands of the next generation of technology, schools need secure Wi-Fi solutions that enable IT managers and teachers to have full visibility of what devices are being used for.

Can you delve deeper into the technology challenges schools are facing?

The increased number of devices entering schools are making successful digital-experience management impossible for most. Many have poor visibility over the portfolio of devices being used, and what they’re being used for, which can impact the performance of the network, hinder learning and compromise security.

We recently conducted research into the challenges that IT managers in schools are facing which found that three in four schools actively encourage students to bring in and use their own devices, creating yet more complexity to manage. Few schools have the IT resources to check and alter program settings on every device used on the network.

The research also highlighted that schools are unsure of what students are accessing on their devices. For almost two-thirds of IT managers, a lack of visibility of users, devices and applications is a significant frustration and barrier to achieving learning outcomes.

Schools have a duty of care to fulfil to students when providing Internet connectivity but many are failing on this as school networks are being used inappropriately. It is no surprise that 57 per cent worry that access to Wi-Fi will result in pupils being distracted and using devices inappropriately. Many (60 per cent) also face the challenge of students using too much bandwidth with personal devices.

What about security, how much of a concern is that for schools?

The increased usage of Wi-Fi by multiple users, on multiple devices, has created a ‘network of the unknown’ in many schools.

Only half of schools have full visibility of the school-owned devices that are accessing the network. And beyond this, the majority do not have full visibility of application usage, devices accessing the network or the files that are being uploaded.

Most schools encourage students to use their own devices but just 42 per cent have controls in place to manage this influx. And the situation doesn’t look set to improve much in the next three years. By 2018, still less than half are expecting to have the necessary controls in place.

How can they overcome this?

In a climate that requires educational establishments to do more with limited budgets, unlocking network visibility is the key to maximising the potential of school Wi-Fi networks.

Having greater network intelligence helps schools mitigate security and duty of care concerns, reduces improper use of bandwidth, and ensures their Wi-Fi provision is focused on supporting and prioritising those activities that directly support learning improvements, results and experiences.

Our research found that most schools will be looking to upgrade their Wi-Fi networks in the next 12 months. With this in mind, now is the time for IT managers to consider how to invest in the future connectivity needs of their schools. They need to take the security and visibility issues into account and do more than just upgrade to the latest Wi-Fi standards.

What benefits will this bring to schools?

Teachers should be focused on teaching, not troubleshooting Wi-Fi connectivity problems. Cloud-based Wi-Fi solutions are offering exciting opportunities to not only simplify the management experience for the IT department, but also to unlock new engagement possibilities in the classroom that are driven by mobility. For instance, when students bring their device into a classroom, the teacher should be able to register those devices and enrol them within the assigned lesson plan, including screen sharing, pushing resources, monitoring student activity and more.

With the right Wi-Fi solution in place, schools will be free to maximise the potential of their students. It’s an exciting time for pupils and those who take pride in delivering the best possible education to the next generation.