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Why schools and colleges need to revolutionise how they approach IT

Technology has moved on at such a pace in recent years and children have become so technologically-savvy that ICT is no longer a lesson to be taught, but a tool to use for the teaching of other subjects. But the wholesale use of computers, laptops, tablets, mobile devices and smartphones in educational establishments brings a brand new set of challenges for primary and secondary schools to overcome in order to successfully embrace this increasingly commonplace way of learning. 

Creating a dependable wireless network that is able to accommodate the exponential growth in devices and the use of outside applications, is vital in education. Ease of use is important too, as teachers don’t particularly want to have to worry about the wireless network and its technicalities other than turning it on and knowing it will be reliable for a class of up to 30 pupils. 

They want a school’s wireless network to run seamlessly and utilised without a second thought, so anything that IT experts can do to make the whole process as seamless as possible is welcomed.

Strong networks

For this reason it is essential for schools to invest in the best network possible. Not only is Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) becoming more prevalent in schools but also the demands and needs of students are now more strenuous on a school’s wireless network, with homework now often set online, the use of student portals and the ability for students and teachers to connect via the network. Pupils using devices in lessons and also recording and uploading at the same time requires a robust network. Students carrying two or more devices and using multiple applications, each using network resources, will compound these traffic issues.  

The biggest question schools must ask themselves is what educational goals are being met by BYOD and whether their network is capable of supporting those goals. But this must be answered in tandem with the fact that mobile technology has become part of everyday lives and its greater incorporation within the education system is inevitable. This is a tide that will not be stemmed and embracing it will be more a matter of ‘how’ and ‘when’ rather than ‘why’ for schools not wishing for their students to fall behind. But managing the whole process is not a matter that should be taken lightly. 

Due consideration of all aspects regarding the preparation of a network is essential and seeking expert help is paramount to ensure that a Wi-Fi network is not only reliable and secure, but provides a scalable long-term investment. 

Flexibility is key

While a flexible approach is required, a solid policy on BYOD is crucial, especially over device management. Close scrutiny should also be given to resource implications, technical support, training, specifications for devices used by pupils, access to networks, teacher equipment, restrictions and limitations. The work D-Link carried out at Canterbury-based Wincheap Foundation Primary School is a good example. 

Electronic learning has gradually become more embedded within the learning environment and as a result, the school now plays host to over 200 connected devices. To manage this sheer volume and traffic, Wincheap upgraded every aspect of its wireless network, resulting in greater speeds that helped to ease congestion and allow more devices to be connected seamlessly.  

Meanwhile, sixty miles away, in Tower Hamlets, Culloden Primary School required a scalable and future-proof network due to an expanding local population and an increased demand in school places. In similar circumstances to Wincheap Foundation Primary School, the growing number of devices, including 200 desktops and over 400 laptops resulted in the school needing a complete overhaul of its existing wireless network. Since the school’s network has been upgraded there have been significant benefits to the children’s learning experience and it has resulted in both staff and pupils being able to access resources far quicker.

Ben Carter, Assistant Head Teacher at Culloden Primary School, commented on the benefits of having a robust wireless network. “Thanks to our new network we now have a firm foundation to offer enhanced ICT supported learning to our pupils. Our network is critical in helping us to deliver a great learning experience.” 

Don't cut corners

The fundamental question for schools is whether the network can cope with an influx of devices and what upgrades, improvements or complete rebuilds would be necessary to future-proof any systems installed or considered. Implementing and managing networks to make the teaching and learning environment a better place and easier to maintain is the crucial aspect of any ICT decisions. 

While this may sound exceptionally complicated, it should be remembered that there are highly skilled ICT experts with many years of experience who are able to steer educational establishments in the right direction to achieve the best possible outcome with regards to enabling teachers and students to reach their goals as those girls differ widely from establishment to establishment. Rarely do two schools require exactly the same solution and bespoke systems are generally the order of the day. 

Often the underlying principles often remain the same – go for a good set-up, don’t cut corners on funding only to regret it later, and, most importantly, carefully consider what is required and take advice (from partner organisations, other schools, users, experts and even students) on how to achieve that outcome. Creating a solid wireless network able to accommodate the exponential growth in devices and the use of outside applications is vital. Going beyond that network and seeing what other innovations are out there is, increasingly, also of paramount importance. 

Maintaining a solid network within a school has now become a fundamental factor in creating the optimum learning environment by ensuring that the correct infrastructure is in place when it comes to cabling, switching, access points etc. With the influence of BYOD in schools looking set to grow alongside the demand for digital learning, it is no wonder why it’s essential for schools to implement a robust and reliable network, which presents a major opportunity for IT decision makers who are thinking of targeting this sector.

Image Credit: James F Clay / Flickr
Paul Routledge,
D-Link UK and Ireland Country Manager