The growth in the utilisation of the Internet has had a huge impact on the education system, with a stark contrast in the resources available now, compared to five or ten years ago.
As a result, IT teams are facing an increasing need to make sure that highly effective and reliable foundations are in place to avoid disruptions.
It was therefore unsurprising that in our report on The State of Networking in Education, 68% of respondents stated improvements to 'wireless access' as their top priority over the next three years. This is not unexpected as an effective foundation for technology in education has become mandatory.
It is now well understood that wireless networks are no longer a 'nice to have'. They are a necessary accompaniment to all 'wired' LANs (Local Area Networks). Daryl Reseigh from Eggar’s School wrote about the considerations required for bring your own device (BYOD), as personal devices become ever more popular and the need for access increases. As Daryl explains, the need to support these devices unearths the importance of building a ‘fast, reliable and feature-rich wireless network’ with an appropriate number of optimised wireless access points.
An issue experienced by many IT staff is managing to convince senior executives of the need to spend money on network upgrades (inc Wi-Fi). There will always be enthusiasm for a purchase which has instantly understandable value, e.g. new laptops; but the reality is that without a ubiquitous wireless network, many IT departments will be unable to keep up with the demand for fast and secure access to the relevant learning materials (either on-site or online).
The increasing need for fast and reliable Internet access in schools
Whilst the priority for IT teams will continue to be wireless over the next three years, the pressure to make the connection 'reliable' is paramount. There has been a move in recent years for lessons to revolve around the wide range of online resources open to teachers and pupils. From Internet research to the use of Office365, Google Docs and digital quizzes, the scope for developing and using new educational material has never been so big.
However, it is this progression which has left many schools on the back foot. Traditionally not enough resource has been freed up for wireless and the network. This is changing! With teachers planning lessons around the use of technologies (including BYOD or 1-2-1 iPads), pressure has grown on IT departments to ensure that the platform on which the technologies run is reliable and fast!
To improve the reliability and accessibility of learning materials many schools have opted for resilient cloud-hosted services, which in turn rely on a stable and fast underlying infrastructure.
Millfield school were one of those who felt they needed to go back to the drawing board and consider their network from scratch, something which you can read in their case study here. The solid base on which all access now relies, means that they have plenty of scope for future development as new technologies and demands are introduced.
Security on the horizon(?)
It is clear that wireless networks in education are prioritised well above any measures for cyber security. The difficulty is of course, that with cyber attacks happening increasingly often, it will not be long before there is a real threat to the education sector too. A threat that is already recognised in the higher education sector.
The data shows that many school wireless networks require an upgrade in the coming 12 months, to keep up with the pace of change in teaching methodologies and learning technologies. Our research suggests that it is only upon completion of the Wi-Fi project that schools will look to address the next most pressing issue: 'network and information security'.