Just imagine the scene: It’s deadline day for mid-term papers to be turned in. Students are anxiously working on campus to submit their papers, thankful to be done with them and enjoy the holidays. Suddenly, the IT director gets the dreaded message that the network has crashed. Too many students at once working to upload voluminous documents. That’s all it takes and this IT director’s holidays are on hold. Prior to the dreaded crash, the IT director had worked diligently to ensure that the network could accommodate the myriad of education and social media applications, video streaming and other tools that are easily available to students through their smartphones, tablets and laptops. Welcome to the class of social media and instant access.
The bring-your-own device (BYOD) trend has hit hard. Driven by cloud computing, the rise of social media, distance learning and big data, today’s campus IT director has his work cut out for him, ensuring that there is enough bandwidth to fuel the critical apps and usage required by students and instructors alike.
Following is a look at the key trends driven by technology innovation that are changing the education landscape.
Higher education is seeing an explosion of mobile devices on campus, including cellphones, iPods, tablets, laptops, e-readers, and netbooks, and schools are not only permitting their use but encouraging them because of the learning benefits and, in some cases, costs savings that they allow. For teachers, this opportunity to have technology devices in all of the classrooms—not just a lab—is revolutionary. Teachers can have students utilize e-textbooks, watch videos, use educational apps, research online, and complete digital learning projects (photography, video/video editing, word processing, desktop publishing) all through their own devices, reinforcing ideas that are being taught in class.
Hand in hand with the BYOD movement, Facebook, Twitter, blogs and the like represent a new form of social interaction among students. Additionally, peer-to-peer social learning has gained a lot of attention in recent years thanks to new technologies that now offer ways for students to communicate and collaborate—whether they’re side-by-side in the classroom or thousands of miles away. The ability for learners to connect with one another is fast becoming one of the key trends of the coming years. This isn’t just a matter of connecting learners with online resources or with online instruction. Rather, one of the big opportunities is sites where learners help and teach each other.
It’s clear that cloud computing is set to revolutionize the way campuses purchase, use and engage with IT. In fact, research firm, Gartner, estimates that by 2014, the market for cloud services will be worth $148 billion. The cloud computing model has enabled campuses to centralize increasingly large numbers of applications within the cloud, drawing on them as required and even paying for them as they are used. This new model reduces costs drastically and improves the flexibility of moving to new software models—a key requirement for today’s cash-strapped education system.
This presents a great opportunity for both carriers and providers, but also poses challenges for the campus network manager. As with any change, the transition isn’t a simple one. To be able to guarantee the performance of applications delivered from increasingly remote locations, the campus network takes center stage. Network managers must be sure that each time a student or a professor attempts to use education software or research databases located within the cloud, the network can support the request in the most intelligent way.
Enamored by the promise of the cloud, campuses looking to reduce costs and improve service levels must first prepare the network to support significant increases in mobile bandwidth data usage and web browsing traffic. Universities must inventory both the critical and noncritical applications running on the network and also assess use case scenarios for events that may tax the network beyond its normal capacity, such as the scenario described above.
There is a lot of discussion in higher education about rising costs and partly because of this, as well as a globally dispersed student population, technology is being used to make education more efficient and effective. Distance learning and digital education is the latest fashion in education. It appears to be an excellent way to enable universities to truly become global. Additionally, today’s workforce requires even greater levels of education and constant learning. New communications technology can make education and new knowledge more available to the people who need it.
Additionally, the internet has enabled a more democratized knowledge economy, enabling students in the most remote areas of the world to tap into a vast universe of knowledge; video streaming and other technologies have made the classroom anywhere the student might be; receiving one-on-one instruction from an instructor at the click of a mouse.
“Data-driven” has been a buzz phrase in education for a number of years now, but with the sheer quality of knowledge and data contained not only across the campus technology network, but also available on the internet, there’s a trove of information that is impossible to count or track. What will be key in the coming years is finding ways for students to tap into the bottomless reservoirs of information through new analytical tools and leverage data residing both on and off campus.
Given the huge growth of smartphones, tablets, and devices in the classroom and the various apps that run on them, the complexity of computing networks is not for the weak-hearted IT director. With soaring tuition costs, as well as rising public education costs, each student, instructor and administrator must have access to the tools they need to succeed whenever and wherever they need them.
But how can an education IT director keep pace with the expanding bandwidth requirements for the newest and greatest apps and technology uses? They could add greater bandwidth, but more is rarely enough in the long-term, or use what they have more effectively through application performance technology, monitoring and regulating the flow of applications across networks. The solution lies in having tools that allow an IT department to control applications as they flow across the network. Using these tools, IT departments can see how applications are moving, who is using them, and for what purpose, and then can prioritize applications accordingly.
Network performance visibility is about aligning education priorities and IT priorities over the campus and identifying education-critical applications on the network and their level of performance. The IT department needs to ensure user productivity and satisfaction and also provide the measurement and reporting on actual delivered application performance, in a way that is easy to understand. With new technology, such as automated application performance monitoring tools, schools will finally be able to clearly manage the cost/performance trade-offs at the IT level (i.e. rightsizing your network according to application performance SLAs).
As technology continues to become a key part of the learning process, IT must continue to find ways to guarantee application performance, not only for the education-critical apps, but also for the social ones that today’s students rely on. This approach almost always enables campus IT directors to receive top grades in helping the education system succeed.
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