Jan 16 2020

How 5G Will Advance Educational Technology on Campus

Next-generation networking will expand the capabilities of distance learning, virtual reality and robotics.

The buzz about 5G has been around for a couple of years, but many in IT say that 2020 is the year 5G will really take off.

The next generation of cellular connection includes both speed and simultaneity improvements, meaning that more devices can connect at once while also enjoying better download and upload speeds. That’s a huge benefit for higher education, which continues to see a steady uptick in the number of connected devices on campus. 

Consider some ways the college classroom will change from the impact of upgrading from 4G to 5G.

Faster Speed Means a Better User Experience with Video-Based Content

Enthusiasm about 5G is largely about speed. How-To Geek notes that “While 4G tops out at a theoretical 100 megabits per second, 5G tops out at 10 gigabits per second” — that’s 100 times faster.

In the classroom, that increased speed will get students and faculty closer to a seamless experience when it comes to videoconferencing with remote peers and experts. It also means that class time can be dedicated to instruction instead of to waiting on slow downloads or dealing with other connectivity hiccups.

That speed will be particularly beneficial when downloading instructional videos and other educational materials, which will happen nearly instantaneously with 5G. That’s important as instructors continue to increase the amount of video-based content they use, both in the classroom and outside it as part of blended learning approaches.

Video is also, for many students, the medium of choice when it comes to academic material: A 2018 Pearson study found that just under 60 percent of Generation Z students cite YouTube as their preferred learning platform. 

5G-Supported Virtual Reality Will Advance Immersive Learning

5G also will help to pick up the pace of virtual reality adoption in higher education. Because so many VR experiences are bandwidth-intensive, having a network that can properly deliver immersive content will make it easier for faculty to take advantage of this powerful learning tool. 

Leveraging VR, along with augmented reality, to its fullest extent will require better connectivity than exists today. “5G will add new types of content, from augmented reality to virtual reality — tools whose bandwidth requirements are currently beyond commonly available Wi-Fi technology,” notes a TCEA blog post.

VR is also an effective way to provide active-learning opportunities. While faculty members may already know this anecdotally, research is backing up the effectiveness of pedagogies that engage students in collaboration, problem-solving and two-way communication with instructors. According to a recent Harvard study, students “learned more when taking part in classrooms that employed so-called active-learning strategies.”

READ MORE: Colleges deliver personalized learning experiences with custom VR content.

Robotic Applications Will Expand Learning Opportunities

Robots still have a limited role on campuses generally, but some academic programs — advanced manufacturing and healthcare, to name just two — are already embracing this technology. As with VR, the introduction of 5G will set the stage for more sophisticated applications. 

Ana Galindo-Serrano, a research engineer with Orange Business Services, writes in a company blog post that 5G may revolutionize robotic control, thanks in part to its improved latency and reliability. With 4G, she notes, robots work more slowly and therefore can’t perform complex tasks. “On the other hand, the robots in 5G have a fluid, fast and perfectly synchronized behavior, which enables the completion of complex tasks,” she writes.

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