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The most digitally connected academic year on record

Richard Agnew looks at how the education sector must prepare for the most connected academic year on record

Posted by Hannah Oakman | September 01, 2016 | Technology

It’s the start of a new academic year. It’ll be the most technology-centred, digitally connected on record. The students entering this new term come from digitally connected backgrounds too. The new generation approaching Higher Education are millennials, who have grown up with technology. Meanwhile, the children entering primary and secondary schools see technology as second nature. Now, more than ever, is the optimal time for the education sector as a whole to think about the infrastructure that supports the digital learning experience. 

In the UK in 2015, £900m was spent on technology in schools, according to the British Educational Suppliers Association (BESA). £95m was spent on software and digital content in schools in the same period. The UK has one of the highest levels of technology deployments in schools, with 1.4 students per computer. There are expected to be 939,000 tablet devices used in schools this academic year.

Research has shown that top-level classroom success grows by 36 percent when the right approach is taken to technology (according to BESA), and clearly the trend is towards a more enhanced digital learning experience.

With the rise of blended learning, universities are also under pressure to meet students’ demands and adapt to the digital age while facing higher levels of competition. Institutions are having to learn how to innovate the teaching and learning experience.

Meanwhile, technology and delivering a connected learning programme is becoming a key differentiator for universities and Higher Education institutions, particularly in light of the hike in tuition fees that have been passed on to domestic and international students in recent years. Students expect a premium service to account for raised fees. 

Essential education materials such as learning resources, library files and assignment documents are digitised and stored centrally in university-owned repositories. It is no longer enough for Higher Education institutions to simply ‘have’ learning materials – however good they are – as they must be constantly available to students at anytime, anywhere. Delivering critical application and data availability to the university’s diverse user community is a basic requirement. Both students and staff are demanding a more effective IT infrastructure to meet their needs – whether that’s bringing a personal device on to campus networks or being able to retrieve materials at any given moment. 

The same applies to primary and secondary schools, who must have in place a rapid and reliable mechanism for protecting and recovering student data, while providing real-time access to centralised services, including class programmes, research materials and in-class services.

According to the 2016 Veeam Availability Report of more than 1,000 IT decision-makers, 36 percent of respondents from the private and Higher Education sector are currently investing in private cloud (including automation, self-service and billing), while 23 percent are investing in public cloud infrastructure.

But, does that equate with the exponential data growth that is taking place from digitised education? As short-staffed IT teams work to save money and modernise their data centres by combining server virtualisation, modern storage applications and cloud-based services, they face new demands including exponential data growth, users demanding access to data 24/7, and no patience for downtime. All in all, the figure of 36 percent should be much-nearer to 100 percent if schools and universities are fully buying in to technology as an enabler of better education standards.

Veeam’s report also highlights that only 43 percent of respondents from the private and Higher Education sector are currently investing in data protection and disaster recovery. This goes a long way towards ensuring an ‘Always-On’ approach to education – that students can be reconnected to essential resources quickly in the event of downtime. Contrastingly, the majority are not in a position to guarantee an available learning experience for their students. A further 34 percent are planning to invest in data protection and disaster recovery services soon, while 11 percent are considering doing so in the next two years. This poses problems. With increased data and learning resources digitally connected, a like-for-like set of contingencies and technologies must be put in place to protect students from going without essential materials for too long. For Higher Education institutions, this is a potential financial risk, and may threaten a university’s ability to attract future talent if a reputation for low-tech is publicised.

Schools and Higher Education institutions must future-proof the large investments that are being made in technology and digital learning resources. By ensuring that they are constantly available, or easily restored, operations can continue and the learning process can be seamless.

By Richard Agnew, ‎VP NW EMEA, Veeam Software

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