As we dip in and out of state-wide COVID-19 isolation restrictions, education institutions are preparing for a future of frequent shuffling between multiple learning formats – on-campus, hybrid, and entirely remote.
Here are three key areas for IT managers to consider at this time
Enabling study outdoors
As before the pandemic, on-campus learning demands enterprise-grade, secure, reliable wireless and wired connectivity at school sites. Digital learning will still be a part of the curriculum, and students will continue to use mobile devices on campus.
Early on in the pandemic, many schools around the world began deploying Wi-Fi in the parking lot or in neighbouring parks and public spaces. It’s a good idea and it will become expected that schools provide Wi-Fi in outdoor areas so that students can take classes or study in nearby locations, while maintaining social and physical distancing. Wi-Fi capacity may even need to increase on sports stadiums, in gyms or other large spaces on campus, that may need to be used as temporary large classrooms.
The ability to centrally manage the entire network’s uptime, including campus wired and wireless, the WAN, and VPNs, is also critical so that IT managers can gain visibility from one place, and from anywhere. The ability to manage the entire network from a mobile app or web browser means fewer people need to be in the central office.
Extending the network perimeter for teachers
When schools switched to emergency remote learning last year, many teachers struggled with inadequate home Wi-Fi and Internet connections. An offline teacher has exponential impact, as their lack of connection delays the entire remote classroom.
Today, faculty members require enterprise-grade Wi-Fi and broadband Internet in their homes. Mobile hotspots are one option, but centrally managing and securing many hotspots would be extremely challenging, if not impossible, for a lean IT team. Remote access points (RAPs) from your networking vendor are a simpler, more scalable way to provide secure remote access to faculty and staff who need to teach and work from home. Users can plug a RAP into their home broadband connection, and they will have the same enterprise-grade network experience they would have at the school site. If teachers are without broadband at home, the RAP can be upgraded to work with a cellular connection instead. Essentially, the perimeter of the faculty network changes. Security policies are extended to remote teachers, ensuring the Wi-Fi connection is secure and in compliance with privacy regulations.
To be taught effectively whilst remote, students of course need to be engaged, and teachers are getting creative through low-touch solutions. For instance, they’re sending home ‘math kits’ so students can physically count marbles or buttons as part of their remote math lessons or providing desk ‘cubicles’ that students can decorate and position on their home desks, helping them get into the classroom ‘zone’, from home.
Applying zero trust security
“Zoombombing” entered the vernacular last year. No teacher wants learning interrupted – and no school wants the liability of exposing students to inappropriate content. Some students are using laptops, Chromebooks or tablets provided by the school, but others are using their own personal devices or their phones. That means security is highly variable, leaving the school open to cyberattack.
Cyberattacks have surged this year, and safeguarding network access is critical. With a robust network authentication solution that delivers zero trust security, IT can control network access for all mobile and IoT devices, using dynamic, role-based access control and seamless security enforcement across the network – from school sites to parking lots to students’ homes. Whether school-issued or a personal device, it won’t connect – and stay connected – unless it’s secure.
Although eLearning and distance learning isn’t new, schools have scaled quickly to enable teaching and learning from home. There’s no doubt educators should be working collaboratively with their technology partners, to ensure they have future-proofed solutions in place and are equipped to adapt as students and staff switch between working on and off campus.
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