Lockdown learning has unveiled a number of challenges for educators; from ensuring students have access to the tech they need, to deploying and configuring platforms that enable remote and hybrid learning. Educators have adapted well over the last twelve months. Yet one factor still hindering the learning environment is wireless technology and the quality of the cabled network. With greater reliance on mobile technologies, it’s imperative that the core infrastructure is fit for purpose.
This is also affecting home learning. There have been some positive steps taken to help students and teachers deal with WiFi challenges – including mobile phone networks providing free access to data, but addressing every home environment is not a problem solved quickly.
One environment that can be rectified sooner are the educational buildings themselves. With many accommodating reduced numbers, now is a prime opportunity to ascertain whether existing infrastructures are fit for purpose, without causing disruption to students who would ordinarily be on-site. This includes looking at both the immediate and long-term, and considering the use of mobile devices and media-rich applications like Zoom and Teams.
To ensure wireless connectivity is capable of meeting demands, here are three steps that can be taken to identify weaknesses – and simple fixes that can deliver big gains.
- A wireless MOT: no two sites are the same and each will have unique challenges, so undertaking a site audit is a good first step to identify those weaknesses. This will include reviewing physical areas of the estate that need coverage and the density of usage required.
It will also take into consideration the physical building. Victorian buildings, for example, are renowned for hindering the propagation of wireless thanks to their thick walls. However, a specialist can install antenna technology that can help to maximise coverage – a simple solution which means older buildings can be fully supported without the need for multiple, and costly, access points.
- Up your broadband capability: a strong wireless connection is only part of the solution; you also need to ensure your broadband is up to scratch. Inadequate capacity will slow download speeds, and lead to frequent disconnections (if any connection at all) – resulting in learning disruption. Luckily, there are a plethora of broadband options available designed for specific use in the education space.
One area includes looking at your access points. Many wireless providers will recommend the deployment of additional access points in an attempt to offer maximum coverage and quality of connection. However, this can actually create more problems, as having too many access points can result in overlapping channels that cause interference and congestion.
“Now’s a good time to review what’s in place and ensure it’s up to scratch – including overcoming any safeguarding issues”
Also consider future requirements and the likelihood of an increase in the use of mobile devices and multimedia applications once students return to the classroom. If too many people are trying to connect, it will create a surge of activity that may impact the amount of devices able to connect. If only half of students can get online, this will have a significant impact on productivity.
- Take stock of your switched networks: reviewing your network switches, which are essential in connecting hardware and data, can also help things run faster. Consider optimising and securing your networks with the implementation of VLAN’s. VLAN’s can help to speed up network traffic and can be used to segregate sensitive data from general traffic, further enhancing security. For this reason, you may decide to put critical departments like finance on a different network to the core network.
Unreliable connectivity can create some significant bottlenecks – but it’s not the only thing impacting hybrid learning. Beyond assessing your infrastructure, another quick fix lies with reviewing what platforms you have in place.
When we entered the first national lockdown, schools deployed solutions such as Zoom and Microsoft Teams. Many had to do this quickly, without necessarily ensuring those platforms were configured to an educational standard.
Now’s a good time to review what’s in place and ensure it’s up to scratch – including overcoming any safeguarding issues. This may include putting blockers in place so, for example, students can’t call one another or send direct messages, as well as a scan function – which can prevent inappropriate content from being uploaded.
It’s also important that these platforms are configured to suit teachers’ needs. A big part of this involves providing regular training sessions so that educators feel both confident and empowered.
The need for strong connectivity in the classroom is now greater than ever. By following some of these steps, educational institutions can ensure they are in the best possible position for students’ return.
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