The smart campus network

Regional schools and universities need to re-think their infrastructures so that they can deliver the next-gen services that students demand.

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The smart campus network
By  Tom Paye Published  February 24, 2015

Many education institutions are beginning to move toward offering multi-media classrooms for their students. Schools and colleges are starting to incorporate video conferencing technologies, which will allow them to sync with lecturers from around the world to extend teaching outside of the classroom. This is the first step to becoming a borderless classroom and a step closer to becoming a smart classroom.

In order to support high definition videos for instance, there is an increased pressure on the network. Education institutions that want to enjoy a seamless experience when streaming a live HD lecture would need to deploy a Smart Campus Network that is fully equipped to support emerging e-learning technologies.

“We have also noticed a move for educators to introduce seamless mobility solutions into the classroom. We recently deployed one of our BYOD solutions for a leading UAE international school, which understood the importance of investing in e-learning technologies to improve engagement in the classroom. The Huawei Smart Education BYOD solution gave the students the flexibility to attend their classes virtually, featuring a video conferencing system with converged unified communications that enabled the collaboration of voice, data and high definition video,” says Farid Ben Asker, senior solutions manager at Huawei Enterprise Middle East.

While we cannot generalise a trend in the Middle East due to the discrepancies between countries, we have seen countries like UAE or Saudi Arabia making huge leaps in terms of building state of the art educational institutions that can deliver smart student services.

For example, Hamdan Bin Mohammed Smart University is the first e-University in the UAE; with its unique learning environment (the Virtual Learning Environment, the e-Campus), the University offers a fresher learning experience with the use of innovative technologies in the form of mobile learning, discussion blogs, online classrooms, educational gaming, social networking all suited to meet the needs of working professionals and high-school graduates.

“At the same time, an increasing number of schools in the UAE have started to replace textbooks and pen and paper with tablets, which are provided to them for free. A series of educational applications that can be accessed offline lets the children review their teacher’s lesson plans, complete homework assignments and read digital textbooks. All this is part of the Mohammed bin Rashid Smart Learning Programme, an initiative launched in 2012 and introduced to schools last year after an edict by Sheikh Mohammed, Vice President and Ruler of Dubai. By 2017, the Smart Learning Programme will be installed in all K-12 government school classes,” says Jim Curran, vice president of enterprise sales at CommScope.

Although most campuses have an infrastructure that supports basic access and mobility requirements, most are not structured to meet the expectations of students today. The core network itself may be outdated, unreliable and may be too complex, with too many layers to efficiently support multimedia applications.

“Most campus networks are managed in silos, with different platforms for LAN configuration and management, WLAN configuration and management, and service level management. To effectively manage the network, the IT team must tackle each system separately , which makes it difficult to enforce a consistent, reliable level of behaviour for the entire network that will meet student and faculty expectations wherever they are on campus,” says Baher Ezzat, Regional Sales Director, Alcatel-Lucent MEA.

“To build a robust, full-featured, next-generation network, universities need to provide a high-quality of experience (QoE) for students everywhere on campus and on any device; support multimedia learning and test applications that enable immersive teaching and personalised learning; have the capacity to support a high density of student devices while avoiding network overload; and create a secure communications environment.”

To turn the demands of students into reality, educational institutions must focus on the underlying network infrastructure of both the data centre and the campus networks. A smart campus network is an integrated wired and wireless network that must deliver the overall performance, capacity, bandwidth, scalability and security required for educational environments to provide a safe and effective e-learning experience to the modern day student.

“Much of today’s learning involves high-bandwidth digital applications such as video, video editing and collaborative learning, and if the network performance is not up to par, the learning experience will be frustrating,” says Yarob Sakhnini, MEMA regional director at Brocade.

Connectivity and the supporting infrastructure are crucial to supporting the needs of students and educators alike. Like big business, gone are the days when business/education was achieved in a single location on week days between 09.00 and 17.00. Students can now learn from home, overseas, business premises, somewhere on campus, as well as within the classroom or the lecture theatre. Educators also need such connectivity. In these days of tough competition between learning establishments (nationally, regionally or globally) a key differentiator can be the learning experience. The need for high-quality connectivity for rapid communication, as well as 24-7 access to learning materials is critical, explains Taj ElKhayat, regional vice president at Riverbed Technology.

“Therefore the content must be delivered over super-fast connectivity across a campus, as well as streamed via the internet to potentially anywhere across the globe. And additionally tools must be used to guarantee that distance, and therefore performance, should not impair the learning experience,” he says.

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