During the past decade, sweeping technological innovations and student demands began rapidly outpacing traditional educational methods. The impacts of these changes have continued to expand and academic and residential networks across college campuses have felt the pressure rise.
Academic digitization used to be ancillary to textbooks. Now however, most course materials are not only accessible online, college students are often required to complete necessary course work via the Internet. Video-embedded learning modules are now commonplace and from a network performance perspective, this means bandwidth consumption reaches max capacity pretty quickly. Couple that with students’ consumption of media and research, whether for entertainment or academic purposes on smart devices and you have schools that are suffering from an overdose of network demand that dated infrastructure simply cannot bear.
Staying ahead of higher ed learning and living can be challenging. Below are six tips to consider which were compiled from my experiences working hand-in-hand with colleges and universities since 2005:
- COMMUNICATION IS KING: Have an open dialogue of where the institution needs to be and what the consequences are if a successful solution is not implemented. Universities today are embracing technology to improve educational outcomes, student experiences and outcomes. Facilitate and initiate the conversation about the school’s needs, goals, and challenges regarding high-speed connectivity solutions and accessibility demands. Administrators– from Business Officers to Student Affairs to IT — understand the imperative necessity of providing high quality service and support when it comes to Wi-Fi and are typically open to sharing and to listening. Aligning with key personnel and planning for tomorrow will support schools in providing their students with secure, scalable access to resources wherever they are. Be a resource, a consultant, and a sounding board.
- CONSIDER A NEW PERSPECTIVE: Working as a communications bridge between schools and their students, my team and I have often had to overcome any misunderstanding between perceived expectations and needs. Sometimes, this manifests in knee-jerk reactions to millennial student demands, such as “students want everything right now” or “students complain all the time.” I encourage leadership to be open to feedback that can help inform their decision-making processes. The fact is that although the feedback of today’s students can sometimes be easily cast off as a “boy who cried wolf” scenario, their voice does have a profound impact on retention and marketability. Through listening instead of minimizing, administrators gain insights into diverse perspectives and they may also find unexpected internal champions interdepartmentally to advance solution possibilities.
- THINK OUTSIDE THE CLASSROOM: True accessibility and mobility extends beyond the academic environment to everywhere on campus that students live and learn. Residential networks were once thought of as entertainment networks, but the truth of today is that the learning component of student living has embraced a broader and more intensive usage of the internet. For example, students not only look up research and methodologies online, but also collaborate in real-time through text, file sharing and coding algorithms. Wi-Fi has evolved to a required and necessary component of survival. In fact, if Maslow were here today he would possibly add a new bottom row to his Hierarchy of Needs called WiFI Connectivity and Accessibility.
- DON’T GO TO THE HARDWARE STORE FOR A LOAF OF BREAD: When evaluating whether to outsource, administrators should approach it as a business decision. In many cases, it is no more lucrative for a University to be in the network business any more than it is in the textbook selling business. Why not consult the experts that can evaluate the current campus scenario and create a program of progressive technology growth? Outsourcing a network solution can eliminate the growing administrative drains on time, resources, and personnel allocated to managing and supporting a network while providing students with the “at-home” experience they (and oftentimes their parents) expect. Ask: does it make better business sense for us to have a stable and predictable budget by outsourcing?
- JUST SAY NO…TO POPCORN: Like leaky plumbing in an old home, network issues are like popcorn – they just keep popping up randomly and inconveniently. Administrators will benefit by taking into account the cost and value to the time needed to maintain, install and upgrade these systems. Outsourcing enables institutions to get off the hamster wheel of managing incremental changes through partnering with a trusted provider and re-focus on mission critical tasks of the University.
- FIND A GOOD TAILOR: Avoid buying a run-of-the-mill commodity with a solution that isn’t tailored to fit your campus’ unique needs. Your ideal partner should understand the uniqueness of your campus community, the institution’s financial goals and its strategic vision. For example, will your chosen partner provide you with a fixed solution or a guaranteed service level for the life of the contract? What is their track record in higher education specifically? What does it mean to expand network infrastructure for today and tomorrow’s students, have budget transparency, to provide students with the support and service they need, and to park this focus permanently? You’ll know you’ve found “the one” when they demonstrate shared values, alignment with your vision, and are consistently working to enhance the quality of services.