By Ian Jansen Van Rensburg, Senior Systems Engineering Manager at VMware Southern Africa
It could be argued that universities could have started the BYOD concept as there is no other industry that has such a proliferation of devices all personally owned by the end user. What’s more is that there is significant attrition, as about a third of students naturally churning each year. New students mean new devices.
For staff / lecturers / teachers mobility aids them with being more agile in the way that they do research and teach. Many academics spend a lot of time between research labs, classrooms and even conferences. Within a mobile environment they can work on tablets and laptops away from the campus.
On the flipside, for students mobility is absolutely crucial as because of the nature of how they perceive the digital world and how they use it, they expect constant access to the Internet, whether this is for keeping in touch with friends and family over email and Facebook, or to access university applications or courseware. This is so evident that many higher learning institutions are striving to create student-friendly IT infrastructures that support students’ desire to bring their own mobile devices to campus. But this is putting immense pressure on already strained IT budgets within education departments
Lets call them the “digital student”, a new breed that is surely changing the face of higher education and forcing the hand of academic institutions and even schools to take advantage of this transformation. Locally we are seeing a massive uptake of tablets in schools with many private schools already using them as the de facto standard for textbooks. The proposed tablet rollout in Gauteng schools, driven by government, is also fuelling this transformation within the public schooling system.
Looking abroad at a best practice as an example of mobility that works, the North Carolina State University has created a computing environment that allows it to recruit the best and brightest students by offering some of the most comprehensive and user-friendly IT access and policies. With the help of VMware Horizon desktop virtualization solutions, higher education IT departments are satisfying the work style needs of students, faculty, and staff for a consistent, intuitive end-user experience that is easy to manage on any device.
But in order to create a level playing field for all students, schools need to ensure equal access to computing resources. Many schools are adopting programmes offering shared or individually assigned devices for personalised learning to ensure that all students have equal access to digital coursework. Many solutions have been tried, ranging from school-issued Chromebooks and iPads, to supporting BYOD. Where we have worked with schools we have seen great success through the use of VMware Horizon to deliver a consistent student experience – no matter what device is being used, without sacrificing IT control.
In South Africa the same isn’t always true for students in remote areas. While technology can have a profound effect on a child’s education, regardless of where they live, we can’t always bring children to centres of learning. Which is where cloud computing steps in and can be used to bring centres of learning to the children no matter where they’re based.
The cloud offers many benefits for remote learning for students, teachers and parents. Due to the extreme distance between a village and the nearest city, for example, a community faces a variety of challenges, including a lack of trained local teachers, up-to-date instructional materials, and money to support a school and staff. Today, students can access information, classes and experienced teachers remotely from almost any device, including phones and tablets. They also can send information such as assignments and get feedback quickly.
The cloud really comes into its own when used for applications such as online collaboration between students and teachers to facilitate idea sharing. It can also be used to store learning materials, including documents, videos, photos and music. This eliminates the need for parents and community to purchase multiple physical copies of materials, protecting those materials from being lost.
Naturally, this method of education comes with a fair number of challenges. Getting the technology to the students and covering the costs of the installation and distribution of devices are the most critical barriers to solve. Fortunately, many governments and companies around the world are taking on both challenges, funding cloud-computing programmes in even the most remote areas.
By leveraging mobility, academic institutions are providing invaluable educational opportunities for students and staff anytime, anywhere, setting the stage for even greater advancements in the future.