Enhancing the educational network to build a smarter classroom

Alan Stewart–Brown, VP of EMEA at Opengear, shares his insight on how educational institutions can look to meet the demand for increased internet usage

From distributed campuses to smart classrooms, complex education networks are constantly expanding with new digital initiatives.

Charged with maintaining large, local wireless and fixed WAN networks which include multiple locations, network engineers are reliant on always-on access. From identifying security threats to supporting disparate devices and maintaining privacy information, these challenges impose responsibility on campus IT operations staff to keep networks constantly running.

The pandemic has added to these network management challenges by increasing the integration of distance learning into the digital curriculum. Distance learning has become increasingly popular with the current regulations and mandates revolved around work and travel.

Integrating IoT

Over and above the switch to distance learning, schools and universities across the world have been building smart Internet of Things (IoT) into their educational networks.

IDC predicts that in 2025, there will be more than 40 billion connected devices. The advancement of these devices, along with cloud computing, integrated networks and 5G will allow the internet to transform physical classrooms into digitally sophisticated environments. IoT in the classroom is no longer just about internet accessibility, it’s about extending connectivity beyond traditional smart devices to engage students and solve common challenges. This includes everything from the need for enhanced data collection to the requirement for more personalised learning, and even greater human-to-machine interaction to improved security systems.

Students and faculties continue to demand faster, more innovative applications and devices. Although these IoT devices allow educational institutions to bypass limitations imposed by traditional cloud-based networks, they place greater strain on the network which increases the likelihood of an outage, creating a need to analyse IT infrastructure at each facility.

As campuses grow, IoT systems will become edge-heavy, not only in the number of devices, but also in the level of sophistication with provisioning, management and remediation needs.

Many educational institutions aren’t considering device and system management as something that’s highly distributed, with the need to set-up a management plane that’s separate and works independently from the data plane or production infrastructure.

Managing an IoT system in this environment, therefore, needs to involve the use of alternate connectivity and dedicated management devices that provide resilient access to the IoT devices at the edge for management purposes. These devices will require continuous provisioning, configuration, monitoring and remediation to provide resilience.

Adding resilience to the education network

Networks are the lifeline of a campus. This infrastructure connects students to resources and devices needed for learning that are spread throughout geographically dispersed areas.

The importance of networks has been heightened by the COVID-19 pandemic. With many colleges and universities not expected to return to one-to-one lectures and teaching until 2021, and many schools having to juggle and rotate teachers, resources and classrooms with their students, network resilience is increasingly key. On top of this, institutions are likely to come under even greater financial pressure in the coming months and years.

There is likely to be a reduction in overseas students, leading to a loss of income. All this comes at a time when there is an added need for educational institutions to do more with less. Having ready virtual ‘smart hands’ instead of ‘feet on the street’, whatever the time of day, together with centralised management, has never been more important.

Diversify your network

Continual digital innovations are poised to reshape learning approaches. As IoT-connected systems continue to scale, campuses expand and teaching strategies become more digital, educational institutions can’t rely on centralised data centres to process and collect large amounts of data that are constantly being collected. All these factors are challenging educational institutions to diversify their networking initiatives to ensure constant connectivity, from the core to the edge of their sites.

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