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Extreme Networks: Universities must prepare for VR

OpinionHigher Education
By Heather McLean | 28 April 2017
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Create DateApril 28, 2017
Last UpdatedApril 20, 2017

By Bob Nilsson, director of vertical solutions at Extreme Networks.

We are currently seeing a major rise in interest in the educational virtues of virtual reality (VR). Google, for instance, recently announced that it wants to bring VR to one million UK school children, indicating a huge step up in the integration of technology within schools. Given past patterns in tech adoption, higher education will surely follow suit.

With the student cap now abolished, providing students with the opportunity to learn using advanced technologies like VR will be critical to delivering a competitive, first class student experience to attract and retain future talent. However, in order to facilitate this, universities must take significant steps to upgrade their current wireless and wired network infrastructure in support of these data-heavy applications.

Facilitating new forms of learning

There is already active research on how VR will be used in higher education. Pennsylvania State University, for example, looks at how it can be used in engineering and architecture to allow students to construct and manipulate structures in a virtual environment. This could create a much deeper level of learning and understanding, rather than students simply observing how concepts and structures work.

Meanwhile, we also see architectural and engineering firms using VR on projects, making familiarity with the technology an important skill to possess to succeed in the highly competitive job market. With student employability scores playing a large part in rankings tables, giving students every advantage is of utmost importance to universities.

As one of today’s biggest consumer technology trends, VR will become much more integrated into our lives, just like mobile and tablets. It will naturally follow that, as with mobile devices, students will expect VR to become an integral part of their education experience as much as their personal ones. These students are likely to prefer course material that is delivered in a format they enjoy and use themselves regularly; interactive content makes those materials far more engaging than learning by rote.

Networking for the future 

With these potential benefits and trends in mind, universities will need a robust, flexible network and strong Wi-Fi coverage across increasingly larger campuses to accommodate this. Universities have already had to upgrade their networks to accommodate the bring your own device (BYOD) trend and further improvements are needed if VR is to be used effectively across lecture theatres and student accommodation.

In order for universities to put in place the type of infrastructure that VR requires, they will need to better understand the traffic on their networks. Network analytics are needed to determine what demands new technologies (ie, headsets or intensive VR applications) are placing on a network as soon as the first ones go online. This intelligence will inform the way in which universities futureproof campus infrastructure and help them to roll out future technology more efficiently.

Increased visibility through analytics is also needed to prioritise exam room bandwidth over more day to day uses when students begin to be assessed in virtual environments.

From a security perspective as well, knowledge of the type of applications being used on the network allows IT managers to isolate devices that have been breached and protect the rest of their network.

Given the surging increase of public interest around VR and how it will be used in an industrial context, it will surely have a huge role to play on campuses in the near future. Universities will have to look at their implementation strategies to assure that they can compete and attract the finest students from around the world. This means understanding and preparing their networks to meet the requirements that a plethora of virtual reality and support devices will require.

VR is a very exciting concept and it has the potential to deliver alternative, more engaging learning experiences that will change the face of education forever. However, we are likely to see the VR ecosystem expand from a consumer level before it reaches mainstream education. IT managers in education should take this opportunity to track VR’s progress carefully and make the necessary adjustments to the network service that they will need to provide staff and students these experiences in the future.

Extreme Networks delivers software-driven networking solutions that help IT departments deliver the ultimate business outcome: stronger connections with customers, partners and employees. 


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