Your connectivity and the successful delivery of teaching and learning go hand in hand. We’ve identified five key areas to consider when weighing up whether or not your school’s broadband connection needs an upgrade.
1. Online Learning Tools
This is the use case that naturally springs to the front of mind when thinking of school broadband usage. Typically, the demand on broadband is the greatest in this area, and the most likely to increase.
There are a huge range of online educational tools available. Some of these will be free and others subscription based. Caution should always be exercised when taking on new software from a data protection and e-safety perspective.
Most subjects will either use or wish to use some form of online resource to enhance learning in the field. Aside from the obvious high usage of the arts subjects, a physics teacher could bring the solar system to life with an interactive app, or an English teacher introduce poetry by matching the written word to visuals.
Some other examples of heavy usage include:
- Image editing and storage;
- Video editing, storage, and streaming;
- Audio editing, storage, streaming;
- Computer programming/coding;
- Music Composing/Scoring;
- Office Tools (writing, spreadsheets, presentations, etc.).
While some classes may be more ‘show and tell’ style, in others, every student will need simultaneous access.
It’s becoming the norm for software licenses to require internet access, even if the programme doesn’t need connection to run. Publishers keep track of licenses by connecting them when in use. Schools purchase a set number of licenses, when that limit is reached no other users will have access. For tools like Google’s G Suite or Microsoft Office 365, the license will generally be 1-1. For apps used on a class by class basis, this is an unnecessary expense when a maximum of e.g. 35 licenses will ever be used at one time.
2. Online Exams
In terms of online examination, the reliability of connection becomes equally as important as the speed.
Online assessment doesn’t necessarily only cover the major end of year exams run by schools. Teachers can use ongoing online assessment in their classes to keep track of student attainment at a more granular level. In this scenario the school’s broadband must be continually reliable, not just for a set week or two per year.
It’s likely that the main public exams may start to move online in the interest of providing cost savings to the exam boards and government. For subjects which can benefit from automated marking or ongoing assessment, there is less need to employ invigilators and markers.
To cater for both reliability and resilience, a backup line may be a prudent investment. If exams go online it will become imperative that there are no connection issues, so a failover will become an essential piece of infrastructure.
3. Online Storage
School work is commonly saved to a cloud based platform such as OneDrive, Google Drive, Dropbox, Box, etc. This keeps it safe from a hard drive corrupting or a laptop getting lost.
Although the user will have a total storage allowance, there’s usually no limit to individual file size. For audio and graphics files, these could run into the gigabytes. The upload and download speeds need to be capable enough to allow students to access and save their work unhindered. At a more basic level, if a school is purely computer based, it is reasonably expected that all students will be saving and accessing work continually throughout the day.
Any local user data or server data will need to be backed up on a regular basis, usually overnight to minimise disruption. If this backup is to the cloud the connection will need to be stable enough to transfer the data without question.
4. Bring Your Own Device (BYOD)
BYOD is a growing trend where students use a personally-owned device for their in-school learning. These devices are connected to the school’s WiFi.
BYOD can benefit schools who are unable to provide 1-1 devices but want to increase opportunities around interactive and self-managed learning. This does come with additional associated risks. Students that use their own devices and have a personal data plan can bypass the school WiFi. Filtering and malware scanning tools will therefore be rendered ineffective. This can lead to both e-safety and network security repercussions.
When allowing BYOD access to the WiFi network the school must account for the additional data usage. The school will need to implement a robust policy to minimise network issues. This could be in the form of number of devices per student, bandwidth restrictions, app restrictions or filters during lesson times, etc.
Boarding schools expect BYOD and WiFi access for both homework and recreational use. The demands on the network will be considerably greater than for day schools.
5. Multi-site Schools
There are 1190 Multi-Academy Trusts in the UK as of January 2019, educating over 3 million of the 10 million pupils in the UK. On top of this, there are schools who operate as buying consortiums and across multiple sites. Many of these schools will work together via a wide area network (WAN). This enables all sites to access the internet over a single broadband connection, with each separate site directly connected to the main one.
For multi-sites, the single broadband connection must have enough bandwidth to cater for the total demand across all sites and have adequate inter-site connections. The purchase of any connectivity will likely be the responsibility of a lead school, after consultation with the other member schools. An accurate representation of usage at each site is essential as a starting point. Each school will then need to assess their growth projections, both in pupil numbers and intensity and reliance on the internet for teaching and learning.
If a requirement to upgrade the connectivity is determined, and the contract is big enough, this will then need to go out to the tender process.
Would your Teaching and Learning Benefit from a Connectivity Upgrade?
After considering the five points above, plus any others unique to your situation, you should be leaning in a direction. If you decide your connectivity is capable enough for your current to short term needs, build a reminder into your ongoing infrastructure plan to reassess in X months/years. If you conclude your current connection has no longevity, and it would be prudent to upgrade, you will need to find a supplier who can support and guide you seamlessly through the process.
Connectivity from M-Tech
We’re a full Internet Service Provider (ISP) and also specialists in education. We ensure congestion-free, fast, reliable direct access via our interconnects with all the leading UK Telecoms providers. With the experience we’ve gained as both a solutions provider and ISP, we always work with you to share this knowledge and guarantee you get the right solution.
To help you get started with picking a supplier we’ve put together a downloadable ‘Buyer’s Guide to Connectivity’. This booklet is filled with advice on what to look for and what to ask. If you have any questions at all on connectivity, we’d be happy to chat.