Over the past year, the COVID-19 pandemic has majorly tested the notion of school being limited to the four walls of a classroom. As governments across the UK and Europe progress with the roll-out of vaccination programs, it is unclear when students and teachers will return to a communal place of learning. Against this backdrop, technology is playing a crucial role in supporting and enabling students’ learning as most are consigned to staying at home.
In previous years, students would have been discouraged from using devices during class – whereas now it’s the norm. Whether its virtual classrooms on Zoom and Teams, or accessing class resources online, technology has become vital in education. According to the Digital experience insights survey 2019 by Jisc, 72% of students already used digital tools on a weekly basis to support their learning process. It is safe to say that over the course of the last year, the uptake of digital approaches to learning in the educational landscape will have well surpassed pre-existing levels.
The rise of on-demand learning
According to the same 2019 Jisc survey – only 3 in 10 students felt that they had a say in decisions about the kind of digital services their school offered them. As education systems continue to rely on new technology to support students during the pandemic and thereafter, it is important that students’ need and preferences are taken into consideration.
Despite classrooms and lecture halls remaining largely empty, students and educators are making efforts to uphold the quality of education and in possession of the appropriate technology they are more able to define and adjust to the way of learning that best suits them. On-demand access to online learning resource, for example allows students flexibility and are a key factor in the digital transformation of education.
So what do students want? In fact, the study found that access to computers, reliable Wi-Fi and lecture recordings were among their main concerns. With the option to record live stream lectures via online platforms, students are able to watch them back in their own time and make better quality notes and capture information they have missed. Students also largely benefit from using devices familiar to them, for example their Smart Phone or personal laptop, to aid their learning.
Investment in the present and the future
Yet, matching these expectations now and in the future will require a solid network structure. With 5G and Wi-Fi 6 set to become the mainstream, it’s important that organisations invest and build the infrastructure they need to support tomorrow’s connectivity, as students will increasingly come to expect it. This expectation is only further fueled by the role that technology has played in supporting students whilst they learn from home throughout the pandemic.
When it comes to choosing a place to study for example, students are likely to select the environment that provides the best connectivity capabilities to facilitate their learning experience. As tech develops, demands for a reliable connection and bigger bandwidth are set to increase. This is especially relevant as newer, more dynamic technology become available, such as Virtual Reality & Augmented Reality (VR & AR) technology, which are already set to become a staple educational tool.
According to a recent paper by Vodafone R&D, early stage VR already requires 25 Mbps of bandwidth and they estimate that the soon-to-come Entry Level VR will demand 100 Mbps, whilst Interactive ‘Extreme VR’ will demand a mammoth 2.35 Gbps. To provide some perspective, Netflix recommends merely 3 Mbps for streaming. In addition, VR/AR requires latency of less than 40ms to avoid the user developing motion sickness or other side effects. The majority of standard networks would struggle to support even early stage VR – as they are simply not up to par in most educational facilities.
In the advent of technology like VR/AR becoming a more permanent fixture of classroom life, educational facilities will need to invest in updating network infrastructure to ensure it is supported. A classroom of around 20, all using VR headsets at the same time would need to be able to rely on a stable network and ample bandwidth to ensure that when they are learning about the birth of Athenian Democracy, for example, they are able to benefit from the uninterrupted experience of it through VR rather than just reading about it.
After the pandemic and beyond
However, the COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted pressing matters at hand – including the fact that not all students have access to the devices they need, including laptops, computers, tablets and other equipment. As a result governments across Europe are investing in the necessary technology and equipment to support them.
In the Netherlands, the Ministry of Education, Culture and Science allocated 2.5 million Euros to purchase laptops for school pupils who must rely on online learning due to the pandemic and who do not have the proper equipment at home. Whereas the Department for Education (DfE) in the UK, are also providing laptops and tablets to schools, colleges and other further education institutions to help students access remote education during COVID-19.
As a result of this widespread upgrade of technology, students can benefit from being able to access and make the most of their devices as well as online resources when schools and educational facilities reopen. Educators, in turn, will have more flexibility to explore new teaching processes and will be able to offer their students more both in and outside the classroom. With months spent learning from home, students of all types will also have a better understanding of the role technology plays in their education and how it can benefit their learning experience.
As schools and educational institutions remain closed to the majority of students, now is the ideal time to begin planning for the additional network requirements that a larger number of devices as well as the expected influx of new technologies such as AR and VR will require. The return to school is likely to look very different to how it was left, with important lessons learnt by education professionals and students who had to quickly adapt to new ways of learning and who are now ready to further embrace the digital transformation of education.