Four higher ed tech trends and strategies for powering academic success.
GUEST COLUMN | by Dan Rivera
Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, higher education IT departments have remained laser-focused on their role as contributors to student success. For most, this has meant supporting the ongoing dynamic and rapid transitions among in person, remote, and hybrid academic environments.
Now, as we look toward weathering the balance of the storm and even beyond, it’s clear the next step will be adopting networking infrastructure solutions that proactively, flexibly, and securely support multiple academic models for the long term.
‘…as we look toward weathering the balance of the storm and even beyond, it’s clear the next step will be adopting networking infrastructure solutions that proactively, flexibly, and securely support multiple academic models…’
With leading higher ed IT departments already starting down this path, we’re seeing four technology trends that are on to-do lists for 2022. Let’s consider each.
1) Enabling HyFlex Environments
With HyFlex academic models expected to persist beyond the pandemic, the ability to provide remote education rapidly and effectively can keep campuses open during typical flu seasons, adverse weather events, and other crisis situations. Additionally, many institutions will choose a hybrid approach to expand their enrollments during a competitive era. Further, some students discovered they thrived outside of the physical classroom and will choose remote options for obtaining their degrees. Overall, this HyFlex trend will require ongoing capabilities for virtually integrating remote individuals into physical classroom activities, for which IT departments will need solutions that can scale rapidly, securely, and reliably as circumstances change overnight.
2) Optimizing Campus Connectivity
The ongoing move to cloud-delivered applications, for both on campus and remote academics, is also changing how institutions deploy and manage their WAN connections. Rather than continuing with inflexible and expensive traditional WAN technologies, like MPLS, or insecure performance-draining VPNs, higher ed IT departments are embracing SD-WAN for flexible, scalable, cloud-based connectivity. Whether you’re a large institution with multiple campuses, or a smaller college with remote outposts of a few individuals, SD-WAN’s cost and management benefits can help you provide quality educational and research experiences in highly developed urban areas, with ample circuits, and rural locations, with little communications backbone.
3) Advancing Health and Wellbeing
With many higher ed networks already leveraging IoT to help detect and mitigate risks of physical harm, the next wave is utilizing technology for adding precision and automation to ensuring health and wellbeing on campus. Advanced air quality monitoring, ventilation controls, room occupancy, and more will all be addressed with additional IoT sensors and their accompanying AI-powered, cloud-enabled management solutions for collecting, analyzing, and acting on data generated by people and facilities.
4) Plugging Online Security Gaps
Last, but certainly not least, security remains top of mind in higher ed, as the pandemic-driven remote education transition led to a spike in cybercrimes targeting higher ed populations. With students, faculty, and staff spending long hours accessing institutional resources via systems and technologies outside of IT’s control, expert sources, such as such the latest Verizon Data Breach Investigations Report (DBIR), say bad actors quickly zeroed in on the education industry. As a result, IT departments are doubling down on providing all constituencies with secure remote connectivity.
2022 Technologies and Strategies for Success
As with any trends where networking technologies play a starring role, the path to success in 2022 begins with understanding what to look for in wired, wireless, and SD-WAN solutions to meet new demands. We suggest making the following a priority.
Adopt a Holistic Networking Ecosystem. Although obtaining sufficient networking infrastructure is always critical, it’s no longer enough. Delivering high quality educational experiences, while simultaneously addressing cybersecurity, physical security, and wellbeing takes a comprehensive networking ecosystem that brings together an array of partners from which to choose the services that best fit your institution’s situation.
Critical capabilities include distance monitoring, space utilization analytics, vaping and air quality monitoring, gunshot detection, and automating guest access to enhance staff efficiency. Most importantly, a partner ecosystem with a proven record for integrating tightly and seamlessly among all of the participants is necessary for keeping academic experiences high and IT overhead low.
Get Advanced SD-WAN with SASE Support. Although SD-WAN solutions are beginning to mature, many still lack the management capabilities for achieving the savings benefits you need. Some require bolting on third-party management, with predictable results. Innovative SD-WAN options are fully integrated solutions with powerful optimization tools. Such solutions route traffic quickly and efficiently, achieving manyfold savings in WAN costs, considerable performance boosts, and significantly streamlined administration for reduced IT overhead.
Further, the best platforms enable institutions to adopt the latest in converged SD-WAN and cloud-delivered security services infrastructure for what’s known as Secure Access Service Edge (SASE). To support SASE, your SD-WAN needs an advanced architecture and leading-edge networking capabilities.
Step Up to Wi-Fi 6E. To address accelerating user and IoT bandwidth demands, such as video streaming for remote education or orchestrating real-time on-campus student movements, while also providing better security natively, include Wi-Fi 6E access points within your holistic networking ecosystem. With each student bringing an average of seven to 10 devices to campus, and learning on them more than ever before, higher-performance Wi-Fi 6E can be critical to education continuity.
In addition, with Wi-Fi 6E delivering an additional 1200 MHz of new spectrum in the 6 GHz band, while retaining backwards compatibility for 5 GHz and 2.4 GHz, higher ed institutions can devise plans for moving lower-data rate IoT devices to the 2.4 GHz spectrum, which frees up bandwidth for academic and research devices with high-data rate needs, such as the escalating use of XR in classrooms, laboratories, and dorm rooms.
Key to gaining the most from Wi-Fi 6E is preventing interference and performance degradation between the lower end of new 6 GHz band and the upper end of 5 GHz. To resolve this issue and maximize the number of available channels, look for Wi-Fi 6E solutions that provide dynamic hardware-based filtering, which is also known as ultra tri-band filtering.
Boost Remote Academics, Research, and Administration with Enterprise-grade RAPs. With the pandemic sending everyone home, many higher education institutions helped achieve access equity by quickly providing mobile hotspots. In the crush, consumer devices were often deployed, resulting in performance bottlenecks, dropped connections, degraded web conferencing, and security gaps. Hence, it’s now time to adopt enterprise-grade remote access points (RAPs) that will appropriately support your new HyFlex and remote work reality.
The most innovative RAPs deliver plug-and-play connectivity to every user, enabling them to quickly connect wireless and wired devices, along with easy cloud management for IT. Another critical feature is secure wired and wireless connections that include encryption and user authentication. In addition, insist on seamless application access, where RAPs extend the classroom experience anywhere that has an Internet or cellular connection. In combination, these features ensure laptops and VoIP phones work just like they do on campus — including four- and five-digit dialing — while keeping users and institutional resources protected.
Modern Foundation for Academic Innovation
No matter which priorities top your 2022 strategy list, it’s a sure bet that robust wired, wireless, and SD-WAN infrastructure will continue to serve as the foundation for educational innovation. The technologies we’ve discussed can help you with reaching your institution’s academic, research, and administration goals in service of ensuring ongoing student success.
Dan Rivera is an Education Manager for Aruba, a Hewlett Packard Enterprise company. Dan’s career in the public sector information technology industry spans over 30 years, where he is recognized as an industry thought leader. Dan has been featured in many education-focused publications and has served on numerous advisory boards, creating strategies for working with Government/Education agencies. Connect with him on LinkedIn.