Will Liu, Managing Director of TP-Link UK

Keeping EdTech tools connected in an evolving learning environment

Will Liu, Managing Director of TP-Link UK explores how to simplify tech integration into the classroom.

As one of the first sectors to be called back, Education has been hit by continuous disruption and uncertainty. There isn’t a teacher in the land who hasn’t experienced some form of ‘hybrid’ learning and for many it has become a permanent fixture. For lots of us, this blended approach represents opportunity, but there are wider social implications that must be addressed when delivering education and learning digitally.

Achieving digital inclusion, the pandemic experience has shown us that basic connectivity is essential in order to learn, work and function in modern day society. In any hybrid, remote or blended learning environment, the need for digital access is exacerbated and causes increasing challenges as students progress through education.

A report released by the British Academy during the pandemic suggested that students with lower socioeconomic backgrounds are left an average of 18 months behind their peers by GCSE age. This is brought into sharp focus by Ofcom’s report that one fifth of UK children did not always have access to a device for online learning while schools were closed in April last year. While we’re seeing progress in addressing the need for digital inclusion, there is still a long way to go in order to make hybrid-learning work for everyone.

As we emerge into a more permanent state of blended learning, it’s clear that those who don’t have adequate connectivity face difficulties reaching their full potential. However, we must ensure that the next generation of children has the means to participate. As educators seek the next wave of learning tools, the vital need for a strong, secure, and seamless wireless network at home and in schools exemplifies its importance.

Educational organisations are now acutely aware of the crucial role in which a seamless wireless network plays in their IT set-up, in order to create new ways to connect, learn and collaborate. From the evolution of interactive whiteboards, cloud-based platforms for remote learning and more sophisticated AV equipment, these days it’s almost impossible to determine an area of education that hasn’t been transformed by new and emerging technologies.

Tools for the future
As a result, schools need to ensure seamless connectivity and enhanced networks to meet the demand of more sophisticated tech across their sites, whilst giving students access to the tools that will allow them to learn successfully outside of the classroom. The good news is the rapid shift to remote education forced upon students, teachers and parents by (ongoing) school closures has paved the way for a whole host of EdTech innovation, making online learning more interactive and accessible.

Rise of the virtual classroom
Keeping the classroom atmosphere alive during the pandemic has been a huge challenge for teachers. At the same time, parents have also been given the added responsibility of building a positive and productive learning environment within their homes. This has paved the way for the rise of the virtual classroom designed to recreate the collaborative nature of physical space and engage students in immersive real-time learning.

In an effort to provide the best quality teaching and learning environment, many schools have standardised the use of virtual tools, such as Google Classroom accessed via Chrome books. This for many has been a vital lifeline in enabling teaching and peer-to-peer engagement for students during times of physical distance. This shift to online classrooms has been backed by a number of Government and charity initiatives to deliver millions of devices to the most disadvantaged pupils across the nation, enabling them to participate.

Digital e-learning libraries
Reading materials are of course an essential part of the learning experience at any age or level. Physical textbooks and materials remain a cornerstone of education. If you go to any college or university, you will still see huge brick and mortar libraries containing essential works across all topics, subjects and time periods.

However, in a blended learning world, there is a crucial need to provide digital access to these materials. E-learning platforms have bridged the gap of physical textbooks, housing millions of reading materials and resources that can be tailored to Lexile levels and accessed easily on almost any device. As hybrid models come increasingly to the fore, we can certainly expect a greater blend between traditional textbooks and digital reading tools.

Beyond learning itself, students, teachers and parents have a number of added responsibilities that work together to create a successful learning experience. The last two years have increased the spread of information outside of one base classroom. Managing timetables, curriculums and homework tasks across multiple learning locations is no easy feat and this is where dedicated student and learning management systems (LMS) come into their own.

Integrated management systems offer one version of the truth, which can be updated live in-line with new requirements. It’s safe to say that systems like this will bring much-needed visibility, transparency and structure for educators and learners alike, and will long continue on their upward trajectory.

Of course, onboarding and managing so many new tools does not come without its challenges. Whilst Education Technologies deliver an enhanced learning experience, securely maintaining confidential data and enabling effective communication between teacher, pupils and parents, networks continue to be stretched to capacity.

Naturally, the rollout of digital platforms like Google Classroom has forced change for teachers, pupils and network administrators alike. Networks need sufficient capacity and administrators need the tools to manage the network in real-time to prevent bottlenecks and unnecessary disruption in the classroom. What’s more, institutions are no longer concerned with just their own networks, but must also be mindful of the potential risks associated with students accessing school portals on their home WiFi network.

As education organisations increasingly balance a blend of on premise and portable connected devices, flexible deployment of both wired and wireless systems will be critical. Centralised management must also enable network operators and site managers to identify and resolve issues remotely, to ensure high-speed wireless signals cover an entire campus, as well as secure access to the school networks for children learning from anywhere.

Software Defined Networking integrates network devices, including access points, switches and gateways plus provides intuitive centralised cloud management, is the key to highly scalable networks that safeguard and meet the ever-increasing pressures on our integral education services.

That’s why, when education institutions are assessing whether their network is up to scratch for digital learning, there are some key elements to look for in the company that will help them achieve this:

  • In the pre-installation stage, make the most of site surveys and heat map data to identify any potential issues, and create an accurate diagnosis on how to install the best possible networks for their requirements
  • Ensuring centralised management so each site has the same configuration. Many teachers frequently have to move between sites and therefore look to simplify this process so they can focus on teaching, as opposed to thinking about their WiFi network
  • Create a guest portal for visitors and regular clubs/societies
  • Ensure that there are no ongoing licence fees
  • Source high-quality manufacturer support to ensure the best value, high performance solution

As a result, technologies like WiFi 6 are increasingly coming into their own. One of the main benefits is the ability to support much higher density clients, meaning that educational spaces can have more devices connecting to an individual access point at any one time.

These much needed faster speeds will prove increasingly vital to WiFi experiences, contributing to better performance and pupil interactions, whilst reducing the number of access points organisations need to service more devices. When a class takes to their tablets or laptops to complete e-learning tasks, students won’t be held back by unstable connectivity or slow WiFi speeds, and can achieve their full potential.

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