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The ABCs of Blended Learning

min read

Cisco Meraki

New learning models require robust, secure foundations. To do this, plus improve experience and address opportunities for staff, faculty, and students, IT teams need to reduce manual processes.

Moving to remote and blended learning models requires your institution's technology infrastructure to have a robust, secure, and strong foundation. Whatever the size of your IT team, you are most likely searching for ways to do more with less. Ideally, your team will minimize time spent on mundane tasks and maximize resources for digital innovation by doing things such as developing new services to improve the connected experience for students, faculty, and staff.

With a cloud-based network platform, your organization will have the agility it needs to connect the campus with robust Wi-Fi, ensure a safe return to school, and secure learning environments, all without increasing complexity and costs.

Making sure secure Wi-Fi is available to students, faculty, and staff is an important but often time-consuming part of your job, and nowhere on campus is this more important than in dorms.

After all, 96 percent of students rank access to Wi-Fi as an essential element for studying, and while 50 percent of students use two devices—a laptop and smartphone—more than one-third have three or more devices, according to a recent survey from EDUCAUSE.Footnote1 That could mean more strain on your Wi-Fi network, its bandwidth and security, and your team.

The latest generation of Wi-Fi has new capabilities that are specifically designed to support and bring out the best in connected devices, wearables, virtual and augmented reality, artificial intelligence, and data analytics. Already, some higher education institutions are pushing networks that were built on earlier Wi-Fi architectures beyond capacity. Students study, surf, and game campus-wide. IoT devices already dot grounds, parking lots, and arenas. Stakeholders want their internet to push the pedal to the metal, and before Wi-Fi 6, that wasn't economically feasible. Now, a fast, reliable, and affordable connected campus is a necessity, not something that's nice to have.

With always-on connectivity—without bottlenecks or degraded experiences—Wi-Fi 6 has the highest-performing set of wireless protocols developed and was designed to operate efficiently across campuses, dorms, and classrooms.

If you keep the following ABCs of cloud-first networking at the center of your Wi-Fi strategy, you can reduce the number of Wi-Fi-related headaches your IT team will experience.

The Gift of Time: Automation

Keeping firmware up to date is a constant challenge at higher education institutions because many systems require manual configuration changes, making it challenging to update devices en masse. However, with the automation a cloud-managed solution brings, IT teams can cut up to 90 percent of the time spent manually performing network changes. With time freed up, your team can stay ahead of student needs. For example, during exam periods or registration, when Wi-Fi traffic may increase, you can deliver more capacity, as required. One university was able to reduce wireless troubleshooting more than 50 percent by moving their IT infrastructure to the cloud.Footnote2

Moving to the cloud allows universities to go a long way toward future-proofing their networks. Even as the devices themselves age, the firmware and software that runs them automatically remains up to date, meaning IT staff doesn't have to rip out and replace the hardware.

The security staff at the University of Virginia Biocomplexity Institute uses an integrated cloud-based solution to monitor multiple sites and secure its research facilities.

"I don't have to hire a bunch of people to manage a complex on-premises system. We can monitor all of our facilities, track arrivals and departures, change permissions, and troubleshoot alerts remotely and in real time," said Andy Phelps, IT director at the University of Virginia Biocomplexity Institute.Footnote3

Many Helping Hands: Broad Ecosystem

Every university prides itself on its unique approach to student success. The network can play an essential role in helping schools shape that approach—primarily if the network uses a platform with open APIs. A broad ecosystem of partners that have developed solutions based on those APIs enables your IT department to quickly meet the need for new services by allowing your team to scale without requiring internal resources. These vetted experts can help deliver applications that will enable students to easily and securely enroll and manage their devices on your network even before they step on campus.

The University of Virginia Biocomplexity Institute deployed an integrated solution that allowed a couple of staff to monitor multiple sites from one location. These employees easily adjusted access privileges, hours of operation, and workgroups, Phelps said.Footnote4

Solutions that provide student behavioral metrics, monitor social distancing, and track real-time location occupancy can provide data that institutions increasingly rely on to improve retention rates, monitor student traffic, and pinpoint real-time location occupancy. This data provides rich insights that can assist other departments and ultimately support the drive for better student and faculty experiences at your institution.

A Repeatable Process: Configuration

Configuration is secure and replicable, with monitoring conducted via a single dashboard. Whether your institution just built a new dorm or a satellite campus must conduct classes virtually, your team can quickly establish secure connectivity and provide the same experience as everywhere else on campus.

Like other industries, higher education competes for highly technical network engineers. With a cloud-managed network, however, IT team members can more easily configure and monitor the network while quickly establishing secure connectivity and providing the same experience everywhere across campus and beyond.

That was the case at Pfeiffer University, a rural North Carolina institution with three campuses. It sought a powerful solution its small technology staff could use to oversee its network.

"Pfeiffer had a very talented help desk team, but we didn't have a professional IT staff," said Ken Russell, chief information officer and vice president of digital transformation at the university. "We needed a solution where you didn't have to be a network administrator to manage it. It had to be straightforward. You need access to this? Click. Something's wrong where? Click; let's find it."Footnote5

Forecast the Future: Data Analytics

Many variables can affect network performance—everything from old buildings and usage changes to the type of traffic traveling over the network. The ability to analyze patterns, identify trends, and prioritize traffic accordingly is a main strength of cloud-managed networks. With cloud management, IT teams can monitor network performance at every level, whether assessing what percentage of students are using YouTube or drilling down to examine why a particular student uses so much bandwidth.

Identifying problematic issues across the network creates greater visibility for faster issue isolation. You can troubleshoot and avoid support tickets from students and staff. Rich analytics provide end-to-end assurance, allowing you to spend time on other projects outside of network management.

With the help of partner Degree Analytics, Eastern University used a location analytics API, wireless network, and data from its student information system to measure class attendance and engagement metrics for almost its entire student population. Visibility into billions of rows of data gave insight into 3,700 classes, which empowered the Pennsylvania university to prioritize and execute services to improve retention and protect enrollment.Footnote6

With powerful Wi-Fi at the hub of your interaction with school stakeholders, your IT team creates secure and speedy connectivity and generates time, flexibility, and rave reviews for service.

Discover how Cisco Meraki can connect your campus with an agile IT platform.

Notes

  1. Dana C. Gierdowski D. Christopher Brooks, and Joseph Galanek, 2020 Student Technology Report: Supporting the Whole Student, research report (Boulder, CO: EDUCAUSE Research, October 2020). Jump back to footnote 1 in the text.
  2. Eastern University: Simplifying Dorm Network Management and the Student Wi-Fi Experience, case study, Cisco Meraki, September 2020. Jump back to footnote 2 in the text.
  3. Open Path, "Openpath and Cisco Meraki Deliver Best-in-Class Cloud-Based Security and Access Control," news release, February 3, 2021. Jump back to footnote 3 in the text.
  4. Ibid. Jump back to footnote 4 in the text.
  5. Pfeiffer University: Preparing for the Future of Higher Education with a Next-Generation Network, case study, Cisco Meraki, September 2020. Jump back to footnote 5 in the text.
  6. Eastern University: Simplifying Dorm Network Management and the Student Wi-Fi Experience, case study, Cisco Meraki, September 2020. Jump back to footnote 6 in the text.

Juan Vela is Global Head of Market Strategy at Cisco Meraki.

© 2021 Cisco Meraki.