Now that the global education industry has gone digital and ‘blended’, IT professionals have heavier responsibilities to fuel the engine’s transformation.
When the COVID-19 pandemic hit the Asia Pacific region (APAC), countries wasted no time activating lockdown and home-based learning (HBL) initiatives in school, and many launched their own online learning platforms.
In Singapore, an official Student Learning Space (SLS) has been supporting all teachers and students in the national school system, and it has facilitated a smoother transition into HBL for local educators and students.
Through lockdown-induced HBL, Singaporean educators found that combining virtual and classroom learning brought about multiple benefits, and are now even looking to hold a ‘HBL day’ once a fortnight. This ‘blended learning’ approach, which merges face-to-face and online modes of learning, has been gaining popularity in Singapore, and it may not be long before more countries in Asia start experimenting with it as well.
With the expected increase in network traffic volumes brought about by HBL, how can IT professionals improve their IT infrastructure to support the advancement of school curriculums?
Keeping networks operational
Streaming live video lessons and conducting classes through conferencing tools consumes much bandwidth, causing internet traffic to surge. When countries implemented lockdown and telecommunication measures, internet traffic spiked in India (30 to 40%), Indonesia (16%), and Singapore (60%).
Schools are also adopting new technologies like cloud computing to reduce costs on hardware and improving efficiency to mitigate roadblocks. However, this can put pressure on school networks. Many Asian countries have not yet made extensive investments in educational technology infrastructure or emphasized on leveraging technology as a means of conducting lessons. The lack of tools and time to diagnose, monitor, and redeploy network resources effectively can severely hamper IT sections’ capability to scale networks to support an influx of users attempting to access online resources.
Fitting network monitoring is a quick and highly-effective solution to provide school IT professionals with real-time visibility, control, and capacity planning for their network traffic. Network performance monitoring tools have evolved from basic hardware and traffic monitors to include software-defined networking, cloud, application traffic mix analysis, and more.
These capabilities have enhanced IT’s ability to identify and meet rapidly-evolving and unanticipated network demands. With increased visibility, IT professionals know where to redeploy hardware or when to spin up virtual servers. The data and insight of network traffic also allow IT professionals to predict high-load periods and improve allocation of capacity.
Ensuring learning never stops
Besides causing bandwidth surges, remote-learning also increases the variability of peak demand times and concurrency issues. This can be a challenge as school IT professionals battle slower hardware refresh rates, more heterogeneous service ecosystems, limited connectivity, and less predictable user access to educational services throughout the day.
To counter this, IT professionals can control the application experience to provide stability. The adoption of distributed application-focused monitoring tools can increase visibility over the performance of more complex eLearning applications and user platforms.
With real-time, actionable data, they can tailor the network and its interconnected services to identify issues before they interrupt lessons. Often, they are grouping related apps and services with similar network requirements, burdens, and user groups into ‘composite’ applications they can monitor holistically.
This makes mapping topology and traffic easier, and identifies bottlenecks during usage spikes, reducing troubleshooting time. The result is faster problem resolution and fewer disrupted lessons and administrative tasks.
Keeping everything safe and secure
The pandemic has also caused cloud adoption to spike, with growth rates predicted to be as high as 12.5%. However, as schools start to rely more on a hybrid mixture of cloud and on-premises infrastructure, this sudden increase in cloud adoption has increased the potential cybersecurity threats at the user end, owing to the lack of robust security configurations.
Video conferencing tools may have more lax security features, and user access may not be well-controlled. IT professionals should continue to work closely with their administration to establish good and effective security policies. The best policies are those they can efficiently and broadly apply across the infrastructure—technical and human.
Configuration tools allowing IT to automatically scan and align networks with security policies, manage user access, and provide security information and event management capabilities are good options, especially as IT professionals rapidly configure their networks to accommodate greater traffic loads and continue to adapt to rapidly-evolving educational needs.
The pandemic has forced many industries to adapt, and learning institutions have not been spared. While the sector has found new ways to adapt to a rapidly-changing landscape, it may truly be the wakeup call that schools need to embrace the digital era.
Whether it is about helping students in Asia tide over a pandemic, or about healing digital divides, the inevitable truth is: HBL school is here to stay. For these platforms to be successful in delivering education effectively, it is imperative they are supported by reliable and secure networks. The responsibility now falls on IT professionals in ensuring crucial e-learning apps do not fail, by ensuring school networks remain stable and secure, and technical issues stay minimal.