Headteacher Magazine, guide to services and products for UK Schools
Technology is evolving at a rapid pace, putting schools under pressure to adopt the latest technologies. Although they may be won over by the benefits they have to offer, schools may feel overwhelmed when attempting to integrate these new technologies into day-to-day operations.
One technological advancement that is growing at a steady pace is digital learning, an instructional practice that effectively uses technology to strengthen a student’s learning experience. This method enhances the feedback process through assessments, provides access to difficult content, and opens up opportunities for students to learn anytime, all while creating personalised experiences. Wi-Fi is what is enabling teachers to embrace this “digital classroom”, supporting the use of innovations like smart whiteboards, collaborative learning tools and even virtual field trips.
However, to ensure that your school is able to stay ahead of the curve and benefits from all the connected technologies, you must make sure that the wireless network is robust. If not, this may be the ideal time to upgrade or make a switch.
The practical guide below will help you to evaluate your Wi-Fi network, to determine if it’s the right system to take advantage of the latest technological learning tools.
As education practitioners, one of your key priorities will always be security. A common assumption is that having a password-protected network automatically guarantees security. However, this is not necessarily the case. Passwords are no longer required to create a secure network. In fact, passwords may cause disruptions that harm your school’s ability to benefit from the Internet and classroom technologies. Instead, look for a certificate-based Wi-Fi, that will deliver a smooth service with no need for passwords, without compromising security.
It’s essential that users can roam across the school without suffering a dip in coverage. Students should be able to go from classroom to classroom without having to reconnect. The network should be able to cope with surges in demand, and manage high-density areas such as assembly areas, sports halls and the cafeteria. Connectivity shouldn’t drop when there is a sudden increase in the number of devices using the network, nor should it suffer when users are concentrated in a specific area of the school.
A common myth is that strong coverage is guaranteed by using many access points (APs), which means it can be tempting to simply opt for the provider offering the most APs. However, this strategy doesn’t necessarily ensure better coverage and can be expensive and impractical. If you think your Wi-Fi infrastructure needs improving and you are thinking of changing the provider, look for one that will optimise access points based on how they will be used. A skilled provider will know how to carry out an in-depth site survey to pinpoint exactly where APs are needed to ensure high speed connectivity in high-density environments.
The parameters they will consider include static factors, such as area to cover and construction materials (thick walls can sometimes slow down Wi-Fi) and dynamic factors, such as the number of devices per room and the applications used by these devices, as well as other unpredictable factors that may impact coverage.
As secondary school budgets continue to be squeezed, a growing number are turning to Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) schemes as a cost-saving solution. But you need to assess whether the network can deal with the quantity and variety of devices being used. It needs to onboard and manage a large number of diverse devices – both those owned by the academy and those bought in by pupils or visitors – without creating headaches for users and the help desk. It must be capable of accommodating users smoothly and delivering a consistent performance.
As we see technology continuing to advance in every aspect of our daily lives, it is also playing an influential role in education. Academies are exploring new ways to engage tech-savvy students and enhance their learning experience. This increased use of digital technologies places more pressure on the school’s network. Whether it’s accessing virtual classrooms, ensuring students can see their timetables online or setting homework via a digital platform, you need to make sure the network can handle the growing demands that are placed on it.
One of the first steps to take is to check if students and teachers are experiencing slow load times or difficulties connecting to the Internet, as this could indicate that the network is overwhelmed or that the infrastructure needs rethinking.
You need a network that has the built-in flexibility to grow with the school and adapt to the changing needs of teachers and pupils. Effectively, you want to “future-proof” the network, so that it will be able to support new advances in Wi-Fi technology and education software. A good provider will work closely with you to determine what this means and make sure that the network they provide is capable of overcoming these challenges.
One key way that schools can prepare for the future is adopting the recently 802.11ax standard early. 11ax brings with it improved high density support, enhanced security, multi-gigabit access speed, and much more than basic Wi-Fi. Increased end-user expectations and application quality of service requirements pose unique difficulties to network designers. In schools where video content and applications are central to the curriculum, are challenging environments. Wi-Fi is the gateway to unlocking the next wave of innovation and technology, and this next generation of Wi-Fi will spur this on.
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