WiFi: Why a Connection Shared Can Be a Problem Halved

Richard Beeston, Director of Product, explains why true digital transformation in the education sector isn’t about caring about the technology, but ensuring that the technology cares.

In its 2020 strategy, The University and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS) outlined, unsurprisingly, that “digital advances are changing the ways students want to explore their options and engage with universities and colleges”.

By now, there aren’t many of us left who don’t know this. Indeed, one of the prominent buzz phrases of the day is digital transformation and at its simplest level, it means transforming an organisation’s core business to better meet customer needs by leveraging technology and data. In education, that target customer is largely students, though it also includes faculty staff, alumni, and others.

Almost every college and university in the UK has already either embarked on or at least identified its own need for a digital transformation strategy; understanding that in order to be competitive in a period of unprecedented change, they need to be providing “smarter campuses” to better attract and serve both staff and students alike. But while understanding the need to transform is great, how many of us actually understand why they’re doing it and how they can do it in order to make a real difference?

Beating the competition

Curveball: It’s not the most technologically advanced colleges or campuses that will outrun the competition, it will be the most caring – and the lesson here is that it’s time we stopped treating those two things as being mutually exclusive.

Rewind only 10 years and lectures up and down the country were being delivered via PowerPoint – or something like it – to students avidly taking notes down in good old fashioned notebooks. While over in the halls of residence, students were connecting one laptop to a LAN cable – things have changed fast, so yes, the need for fast, secure and reliable WiFi within the education environment is unprecedented. But what’s the real cost?

Futureproofing campuses by installing hyper-fast Internet connectivity will only take success so far. Yes, it means course content can be delivered via Teams, yes it means student support or bursary allowances can be processed quickly, and yes, it does mean greater collaboration between faculty staff, students, support, and administrative departments. But what good is this when there is still potential to fail students?

Connecting your campus with care at its core

University life is one of the biggest transitions our young adults are going to make. The distance from home, the sudden fending for one’s self, the shift from being financially dependent to financially responsible can in some cases be too heavy a pressure on someone not yet 20. So care – as well as connectivity – must be rule of thumb. And if we start with the latter, the former will follow.

Gone are the days of the one student, one laptop trend. This generation is coming from homes where they’ve had the luxury of their own personal network allowing unlimited streaming of multiple devices without lag or falter. These students want an always-on, home from home experience the second they unlock their dorms. Give them that, and you’re getting them off to the best start. You’re providing access to course materials, social media, Skype for ringing home, campus intranet and all on-site support services from student unions to accommodations services and financial aid.

Beyond that, you’re developing infrastructure with care at its core. Once in place, there are myriad ways of enhancing that network so that it can start interpreting data; start noticing patterns between dwindling attendance to concentrated location hotspots to help identify students – at any point in their further or higher education career – who may not otherwise be speaking up and may otherwise fall under the radar…

So you see networks really are important. Digitally transform one with tech, and you develop another with care.

This article was originally published in Education Technology Magazine April 2020