Schools are going digital—after all, what choice do they have? Still though, as many forge full-speed ahead into tomorrow’s infrastructures, technology is trailing at their heels. Often left scrambling to stay ahead of the curve, system leaders are challenged by the cost of providing a wireless environment, particularly the up-front costs. What’s more, those in rural communities suffer from a lack of competition and adequate bandwidth to support their needs.
Wireless is no longer a luxury, but a necessity for students, both in K-12 and higher ed settings. Still, while the need for wireless is a modern-day guarantee, access to wireless isn’t. The government is aware of these shortcomings and gaps, and progress is being made, but it’s still slower than some want—or more accurately, need.
The third annual “E-rate and Infrastructure” report, released by the Consortium for School Networking (CoSN), surveyed 531 district and tech officials to gauge the progress of school connectivity as it relates to goals set by the Obama administration. Their findings showed that 66 percent of schools have reached the goal of upgrading nearly every school to high-speed connections and bringing prices down by 25 percent. Unfortunately, the CoSN survey also points out that nearly one out of four school systems say their schools do not meet the FCC’s broadband goal.
Although higher-ed campuses are often thought to be progressive and innovative, in the arena of connectivity, they too are behind. Speaking to Campus Technology, Thomas Hoover, UTC’s associate vice chancellor and CIO, goes into detail about the challenges of wireless for his school:
“Wireless is like a pie. Normally, we would break it up into six or eight pieces. Now, we have to break it up into 50 or 60 pieces. If electronics can’t handle the bigger pipe, then it is useless. If your university has a 10GB connection to the Internet but your university’s firewall and border electronics can only handle a 4GB connection, your students, staff, and faculty are not able to utilize that full 10GB connections. You could have the Mississippi River coming in, and be getting little drips of water going to the Internet.”
Also painting the picture of what a poor infrastructure can mean during class time, Hoover added:
“If a network goes down in class time, everybody on campus is missing class. Our classes are so dependent on the use of technology that, if there’s a glitch, the professor is often not able to fully teach the lesson the way he or she intended to teach it.”
Hoover’s example is just one example of potential trouble—but as he later goes on to point out, more and more components of universities are tied to the Internet. There’s the obvious, such as lesson plans and email, but there is also the obscure, such as irrigation systems.
The U.S. education market isn’t the only one that hopes to successfully harness the potential of wireless Internet. There are initiatives dotted across the globe, helping to make wireless a reality in faraway places. One service, called eduroam (education roaming) describes itself as a “secure, world-wide roaming access service developed for the international research and education community.” Based on the participation of universities, eduroam makes Internet access available for students, researchers, and staff when they are visiting participating campuses.
No matter where in the world you’re located, the Internet is an ideal tool to have in your back pocket. Creating a wireless infrastructure is no small task. One eSchool News article tries to simplify the path to success by identifying six “must haves,” which include a robust network, IT support team, devices, robust LMS, campus wireless, and Internet connection.”
It’s easy to blame an increasing demand for more robust wireless infrastructures on technology’s advancement, but really it’s user advancement. Both an increase in tech adoption and an increase in the number of devices that any one individual carries (laptops, tablets, mobile phones, smartwatches, other wearables) have impacted the need for greater wireless capabilities.
The BYOD (bring your own device) movement is both a blessing and a curse. A blessing because school systems can save on the cost of providing devices to students and staff, but a curse because of the security issues and increased need for reliable bandwidth. Students are no longer just using technology for studying, but for studying, gaming, accessing media and movies, connecting with friends, surfing the web, social media, tracking fitness levels…the list could go on.
Building out a wireless infrastructure goes hand in hand with other concerns, a big one being security. IT decisions need to made with the safeguarding of student and family financial data and, primarily in K-12, concerns about children’s safety online, in mind. In some countries, such as the UK, monitoring web use has proven helpful in lessening security threats. Such monitoring could also be put to other uses, such as identifying students who may be suffering from mental illness, at risk for suicide, dealing with eating disorders, or being bullied.
Despite security issues, among other concerns, wireless is in high demand—and that demand must be met with supply. For administrators, instructors, and IT professionals in both K-12 and higher ed environments, this means infrastructure considerations to ensure access and cost containment, accommodating growing bandwidth demands, consideration of BYOD policies, and putting practices in place to protect students and their data.
1. “Providing free wireless hotspots helps this district close the equity gap” eSchoolNews. August 4 2015.
2. “Infrastructure Survey” CoSN. 2015.
3. “Using satellite Internet to bridge the ‘homework gap’” Education Dive. February 2 2016.
4. “Reversing a Raw Deal: Washington Gave Us Leverage” Education Week. November 19, 2015.
5. “What to Do When Your Wireless Network Can’t Keep Up” Campus Technology. August 11 2015.
6. “What is eduroam” Eduroam. 2015.
7. “This is how your infrastructure should look before your next tech rollout” eSchool News. February 3 2016.
8. “Schools monitoring pupils’ web use with ‘anti-radicalisation software’” The Guardian. June 10 2015.
9. “UK school kids to have their Internet usage monitored, filtered to avoid radicalization” Arstechnica UK. December 23 2015.
10. “2016 Predictions: Mobile, cloud and IoT impact on security strategies” RCR Wireless News. February 4 2016.
11. “Research: Teachers Say Tech Distractions More Concerning than Privacy, Security” Campus Technology. January 26 2016.