To adults who graduated from college a decade or more ago, the idea of picking an institution based on its Wi-Fi connection may seem silly. But in fact, students who do so are making a strategic decision about their educations. Students today don’t just live online; they also learn online. Consequently, a college that makes it difficult for students to use mobile devices to connect with peers and online resources isn’t just putting its enrollment numbers at risk. It is also doing a disservice to its current and future students.
At most institutions, administrative and IT leaders recognize that connectivity is a priority for student life and student learning, and they’re racing to upgrade their infrastructures to accommodate growing demand. But on many campuses, work remains to be done.
The Road to a Connected Campus
For colleges that want to turn their entire campus into a connected learning environment, the following IT solutions are critical:
Robust Wi-Fi: At many universities, IT networks have sprawled over time, often without a cohesive strategy to guide investments. As a result, disparate legacy hardware can limit the performance of the wireless network and make it difficult to perform upgrades without massive rip-and-replace efforts. By centralizing networking strategies and investing in state-of-the-art solutions, colleges can give students and faculty the robust, reliable connectivity they need.
Network optimization tools: As networking investments grow, so do monitoring and troubleshooting tasks. Network optimization tools can aggregate data from across the network to alert IT professionals when problems arise. Often, such tools help IT staff diagnose and correct potential problems before students and faculty even notice them, thereby increasing user satisfaction and reducing the maintenance backlog.
Digital signage: Increasingly, higher education institutions are adopting digital signage solutions to share information across campus, enhance classroom experiences, provide wayfinding services and facilitate emergency announcements. According to Digital Signage Today, up to seven out of 10 colleges have already implemented digital signage, for reasons ranging from saving money on printing to needing a convenient way to encourage students to fill out course evaluations.
Collaboration tools: Through video, voice, instant messaging and file-sharing tools, colleges can empower students to seamlessly collaborate inside and outside the classroom. Such tools also let faculty and students facilitate virtual visits from experts in the field and access files from any machine on campus. Significantly, collaboration tools make it possible to deliver the distance-learning programs that have become such an important component of many students’ education.
Learning management systems: These systems have been a staple of the IT environment at most colleges for a decade or more. However, as the capabilities of consumer technology have expanded, some LMS tools have stagnated by comparison. In the higher education edition of its 2017 “Horizon Report,” the New Media Consortium suggests that next-generation LMS solutions, designed to support more flexible online learning spaces, may be coming to the higher education market.
Audiovisual tools: Audiovisual solutions help professors share information in a visual format, incorporate video and music into lectures, and display student work. Wireless AV tools that seamlessly pair with mobile devices can encourage adoption and reduce wasted instructional time.
Back-end support: Connected campus solutions require data center support, including appropriate networking, processing and storage. For some colleges, the public cloud will be a good fit for some of these infrastructure needs. Others are incorporating hyperconverged infrastructure — which combines compute, storage and networking into a single, on-premises solution — to power hybrid cloud models.
Security: The more connected that campuses become, the more they must be mindful of security — for example, ensuring that Internet of Things devices don’t compromise the network. In a 2017 survey from the Center for Digital Education, 36 percent of colleges say they will need to beef up cybersecurity to facilitate their connected campus plans.
To learn more about how to make the connected campus a reality, check out our white paper, "Building Blocks for the Connected Campus."