The network is vital
There is a lot to learn about how to use… technologies effectively in the new spaces that are opening up. Two key directions are letting people do things together, and joining up the physical spaces with the informatic spaces. New ubiquitous and mobile technologies, with built-in networking, allow us to do both.
Dr Tony Hall and Professor Mike Sharples, University of Nottingham and Peter Lonsdale, University of Birmingham
If the future is mobile, the network is even more important than ever before. We already have more bandwidth at college/university and at home than we ever imagined possible. Janet, the body that supplies the high speed internet connections for UK research and education, is to upgrade the backbone of this service in autumn 2013:
To provide a network that is flexible in terms of meeting future demand.
This next iteration of the network (Janet6) will be designed to have the capacity that you need to handle, analyse and transfer the vast amounts of data you anticipate working with. Its agile design will allow the capacity of the network to be expanded, tuned or trimmed to match that demand.
The UK government has an ambition for the whole of the UK to have the best superfast broadband network in the EU by 2015; BT have the target to supply two thirds of households by the end of 2014. Public finances will then be used to cover the cost of supply to the other third, which will be mainly rural areas.
However wires will not go away as higher speeds increase still, and guaranteed Quality of Service will be needed for some applications like telepresence. Such high bandwidth networks will enable greater use of soft technologies such as Voice Over IP (VOIP) – any new build or refurbishment should think seriously about VOIP, further information is featured in our Social Software resource.
The changing face of education: mobile and ubiquitous learning
Software-based implementations such as Skype are a cheap option and as more suppliers offer alternatives to Skype this use of the network is starting to really happen, as are improved building management and environmental control systems that are network-based.
There will also be new applications many of which will be so ‘local’ they will be personal. The network, wired and wireless, should therefore be considered as integral to any new space development. And it needs to be open. There will be a growth in network services, as in applications, that are tailored to the individual. Students will want access to these wherever they are so considerations about the network need to consider not just your network but access from external wireless networks to students in your new building.
New generation computer applications will be hybrid, using both the power of the client device (which is more and more likely to be owned by the student), and the network. These applications will make use of the facilities of both the web and the desktop taking the best of each to perform the relevant task.
You will need to consider whether or not you have the necessary expertise within your institution or need to obtain additional support. Assistance with analysis of learning modes, advice on technology infrastructure, and development of the project brief are all areas where outside help is available.
Recognise the limited lifespan of much technology – most probably the space will outlive the technology. The centrepiece of the room should be the learning not the technology (which should be supporting and ubiquitous but not domineering).
Purchase of the hardware and software should be left until the last moment to ensure that the latest versions are available.
“Above all make it learning led”
I think that it is pretty good the way they have staggered IT through the building and I do use the mix of areas – there is even a silent area which I used a lot when revising
Northumbria University student
The key theme, as mentioned at the start of this technology section is that the primary consideration should be the learning that you want to take place in the space. It is worth considering doing some learning mode analysis to help develop the scenarios that you would like to see in the space or that you see already in the institution and that work well. This will also help inform your work on ‘space data sheets’ which are featured in the Implementation section.
Technology should be there to support learning, should be ubiquitous but not overpowering. It is clear that the technology has a limited lifespan of around three to seven years – the space will outlive the technology and will also have to accommodate the next generation of technology – whatever that might be.
Do: Embrace latest technology
But bear in mind: Cutting edge won’t be cutting edge on delivery!