Decoding a Connected Education Experience

Mahesh Gupta, National Manager, Borderless Networks Sales, Cisco India & SAARC

Every day, Disha attends regular classes at a leading University campus where she is pursuing engineering. She takes notes given out by her professors, has open discussions on the economy, politics and business with her peers, and diligently prepares for her impending exams. In addition Disha also manages to attend guest lectures of interest by experts from outside her faculty, which are facilitated through high definition video and is able to learn about things outside her regular curriculum.

Disha is a Next Gen student who has the flexibility to access information from anywhere within or outside her campus using her own laptop/mobile phone or Tablet which is web-enabled for research on/off classes and share notes with her peers through a cloud platform. Students like Disha belong to a generation of digital natives, which have spent most of their time downloading and accessing information through the internet through a host of connected devices, which help to provide a connected education experience.

The Case for a Smart and Connected Campus

With backpacks getting lighter thanks to gadgets such as smartphones and Tablets; today’s students depend on seamless connectivity to access information. They want real time and on-the-go information to communicate and extend the learning environment from the classroom to dorms, research facilities, and beyond. The proliferation of technologies like Wi-Fi and 3G are enabling next gen students - and employees of the future- get information on their fingertips. By facilitating on-demand learning they help to increase productivity of both the students and staff.

Additionally they help to connect the entire ecosystem-educators, students, parents and support staff together - to monitor progress and gain visibility into the education system. However, this freedom makes new demands on college and university networks, which must adapt to accommodate the unprecedented influx of users, devices, and applications. Several questions arise on the security implications of the data that flows through an unsecured network, which could strain and increase the maintenance of the IT network.

Benefits Galore

Global educators have realized that technology is a key ingredient for driving student engagement and learning outcomes. Hence, they are embracing new learning programs that feature netbooks/ Tablets. These Internet-based devices can help to increase collaboration and engagement, creating a technology-rich learning environment that feels familiar to students. The key benefits of creating such connected learning environments are:

  • Improving communication: Mobility solutions that enable network connections to PCs, laptops, PDAs, printers, video cameras, video conferencing units, IP phones and other devices, make school resources more widely available and improve communication among students, faculty, parents and administrators. Video, digital signage, IPTV systems and social networking helps transform how everyone in the ecosystem collaborates.
  • Increasing efficiency: Educators today see technology as a means to "do more with less" and become more capable. Mobility solutions for education provide a robust foundation for next-gen learning using web-enabled tools, Web 2.0 applications, and context-based applications. Advanced communication services such as voice and video collaboration ensure that the school, college, or university communicates in the most effective and efficient manner possible with their students and staff.
  • Ease of learning: Being connected through wired, wireless or 3G networks, students can access content from anywhere irrespective of their physical location. Even if a student has missed a class or parts of a course, the availability of the content online and its ease of access make it possible for him/her to catch up with the curriculum. All of this makes learning very comfortable.
  • Reducing costs: Technologies such as high definition video help improve accessibility, reduce the cost of delivering education remotely and allow educators to be more effective and productive in teaching across geographies. "Presence" technology is also becoming an important tool for teacher training and staff development areas, while the availability of collaboration tools is fostering new "project-based" learning environments.
  • Benefits to educators: Faculty members can use wireless networks to streamline administrative tasks, alert students about grades, keep tab on class schedules and improve classroom relationships. Administrators and staff also see wireless networking as a means to improve campus operations, reduce operational costs and enhance productivity using email, instant messaging and calendars.

Addressing challenges through an architectural approach
A secure and seamless connected experience is critical for any educational institution to enable its stakeholders (students, educators, parents and support staff) to communicate effectively because they may not meet face-to face very often. The implications of a weak network can range from losing invaluable data to damaging the brand equity. Offering a flexible, scalable, high-speed campus network , (wired, wireless and remote access) example the Cisco Unified Access Solution, architected with One Network (wired and wireless as one), One Policy (able to determine which user, what access and monitor device in use) and One Management (manage, design, deploy, monitor, optimize, and administer your entire network-regardless of whether the connection is wired or wireless) , helps enhance learning, simplify operations, promote productivity and teamwork. Such next-gen solutions allow schools/universities to implement multiple device strategies without compromise.

Ideally, all campuses require a network security solution that curbs attacks before threats can harm network reliability and availability. At the same time, the solution and the network should be flexible enough to meet the changing needs including influx of personal devices, applications and video solutions for the betterment of education and work processes. This will only be possible by deploying an architectural approach as mentioned above.

The need for constant internet connectivity at the campus and workplace has been ratified by the Cisco Connected World Technology Report (CCWTR) 2011 which reveals that one of every three college students and young employees believes the Internet is as important as air, water, food, and shelter; Two of five would accept a lower-paying job that had more flexibility with regard to device choice, social media access, and mobility than a higher-paying job with less flexibility. Regarding security-related issues in the workplace, seven of ten employees admitted to knowingly breaking IT policies on a regular basis, and three of five believe they are not responsible for protecting corporate information and devices.

This means that educational institutions of today have to invest in the right network so that it becomes a powerful engine for growth, innovation and competitive differentiation for the workforce of tomorrow. Creating secure, connected campuses will serve as the first step to provide enriched learning opportunities, diversified faculty and expert viewpoints. In the long run that will help create new networked economies the world over.

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