Why is Wi-Fi essential to education provision?
Not so long ago, school Information Technology (IT) provision was confined to wire-based computer labs. Video sites such as YouTube were inaccessible due to heavy-handed filtering, work and resources were stored on physical flash drives (or even disks) and assignments had to be printed off to be submitted.
However, this is far from the case in today’s educational institutions. As education has embraced technology across all subjects, IT has expanded beyond the confines of the lab to be used campus-wide. Affordability and increased sophistication in both hardware and software are transforming teaching and learning.
How are educational establishments now using technology?
Educational establishments are realising the benefits of embracing technological change. Just some examples are enhanced opportunities for creativity, use of sophisticated multimedia applications, improved data management systems leading to better monitoring and assessment, ease of communication, the ability to save resources digitally and remotely, and greater transparency for all.
Hardware and software advances now mean that both teachers and students use interactive whiteboards, tablets, laptops and other devices on a daily basis. Virtual Learning Environments (VLEs), tools, apps and education-specific software have become embedded into teaching and learning at most institutions, who have come to rely on its flexibility, accessibility and infinite potential.
Teachers can also task students with more ambitious assignments. By embracing the possibilities offered by new technology, they can set multimedia tasks such as video and animation. However, these must be quick and easy for students to upload, from any location, so good Wi-Fi is key.
What are the challenges of rapidly changing technology in education?
Change is not easy to implement, and many educational institutions have old, sprawling campuses which make delivering high-quality Wi-Fi coverage a significant logistical challenge. Some institutions still rely on wire-based networks, and those who do have Wi-Fi can suffer from patchy coverage and insufficient bandwidth.
There are additional hurdles to overcome in how different user groups access Wi-Fi too. Unlike most workplaces, students and teachers move from room to room throughout the day and require internet access outside of lessons. So, an effective school Wi-Fi network depends on defining and understanding logistical, technical, social and interpersonal requirements.
Who are these user groups and what are their Wi-Fi needs?
User groups within educational establishments access, generate and manage online resources in a variety of different ways. Understanding these needs is key to providing an effective system.
The technological needs of teachers are to input and manage data, monitor progress, share resources, set work using VLEs, communicate with students, colleagues and parents and deliver lessons using tools like interactive whiteboards. They need to be mobile, able to set up lessons quickly in different locations, and access multiple systems with ease, both at school and at home.
Students use a variety of hardware such as laptops, tablets and phones to access online learning apps and resources, research information and create multi-media assignments. They work in class and in both formal and informal settings around a campus. They need to communicate with teachers and each other, at school and from home.
Support staff facilitate the smooth running of the wider organisation. They fulfil administrative tasks and assist teachers, students and parents. They also input data, manage budgets, logistics and timetabling, often needing a variety of different specialist software packages to do so.
The need for effective Wi-Fi is becoming ever-more necessary, to help fulfil the needs of these user groups. Not only in delivering teaching and learning, but also seamless communication, the day-to-day running of a large, modern organisation and the required high levels of monitoring and data management of public institutions.
What technical features does a school Wi-Fi system need?
Security is essential, not only for students, but also for educational data and services. School systems should have adequate filtering, firewalls, anti-virus, authentication and network security systems.
Access to online content also needs to be monitored. The school has to find a balance between safeguarding students from harmful contact and being able to access the websites and materials they need. Backup and remote access systems need to be secure. Security checks should be built-in, and systems updated on a regular basis.
Logistics and Accessibility
To create a network that’s both flexible and accessible, it’s important to understand how each area of the campus is used and by how many people. This will give a clear indication of the number of wireless access points required and the number of clients they need to support. Good coverage and performance are needed throughout a campus, and everyone should be able to access the network, regardless of technical competence.
Reliability is essential to an educational institution’s Wi-Fi, especially as they become increasingly technology-dependent. It is hugely disruptive to have Wi-Fi cut out in the middle of a lesson when both the students and teacher are relying on it. Furthermore, Wi-Fi maintenance is hard to carry out on educational premises, as classrooms cannot be easily vacated, so it’s worth planning and investing to get the quality and reliability needed from the outset.
Coverage is key. Routers use radio frequency (RF) energy—a form of electromagnetic radiation—to bring wireless internet to computers, TVs and other devices. In a small office, one Wi-Fi router might be enough but large lecture theatres need much more. Furthermore, signal quality can depend on building shape or material, not just the number of access points. Coverage needs to be carefully planned and mapped to take account of these issues.
Bandwidth & speed
Bandwidth needs are ever-increasing, so it’s important schools use a provider package that not only meets the needs of the setting, but has the flexibility to change over time. Unlimited data is also vital for schools, as extra costs can be incurred by exceeding limited plans.
Until not so long ago, schools’ computer networks were thought of as auxiliary tools. However, in today’s education institutions, the network is not only useful, but is an essential part of the administrative infrastructure. Almost every aspect of the running of these organisations, now depends on high levels of technological functionality.
Delivering high quality Wi-Fi in educational settings such as schools, colleges and universities is complex and presents many logistical challenges. However, the benefits of effective, reliable, secure networks and the endless educational opportunities for technology, far outweigh these difficulties in an increasingly connected world.