A number of key South African universities have reported good progress with online learning for their students since the COVID-19 pandemic resulted in the country’s lockdown situation. This is encouraging, as it means the wheels of learning are able to continue turning, but it also brings serious issues around data and bandwidth provision.
So says Marcel Fouché, networking and storage general manager at value-added distributor, Networks Unlimited Africa. He explains, “Before the pandemic, growing data consumption meant that the demand for bandwidth had already resulted in a race between consumers’ appetites and providers’ best efforts to supply it. Today, as the world moves ever more swiftly into remote working and learning, the implications for bandwidth are more critical than ever.”
“University life, with its emphasis on teaching the young professionals of tomorrow as well as its critical focuses on technology and medical research, plays a hugely important role in the quest to make sure that data provided is able to match demand.”
ProLabs, a global leader in optical networking infrastructure, is rising to this challenge for universities, as well as other vertical sectors. The company, whose solutions are distributed in sub-Saharan Africa by Networks Unlimited Africa, notes that: “Universities are adjusting to the influx of e-learning and tele-education in the era of the COVID-19 pandemic. There are complex and varying digital infrastructure components that need to function properly to support the day-to-day operations of a university, from enrolment to payment, to online coursework, to library and databases, research, web applications for learning, and more.”
From a local perspective, the following three universities – to name just a few – have reported a solid online learning response to the COVID-19 pandemic:
· The University of Cape Town will move the rest of its academic year online as a result of the pandemic.
· The University of Johannesburg says attendance of its online classes during the lockdown has been better than physical attendance for the same period last year.
· The University of Pretoria discloses that the vast majority of its lecturers and students managed to move relatively seamlessly into remote teaching and learning.
According to ProLabs, universities – as key centres of learning – need to adapt right now to changes in the following scenarios:
· Security: Both students and lecturers are accessing university networks from outside the on-premises network, which exposes potential security gaps.
· Increased reliance on cloud communication and collaboration platforms: Universities need to develop new student engagement platforms to provide robust learning opportunities, including virtual campus visits, new student orientation and virtual lecture rooms.
· Operational intelligence: With the current need to engage in contact tracing in a bid to prevent and control future outbreaks of the virus, university infrastructures will also need to support operational intelligence models through multiple learning modalities that could include video, mobile device data and applications.
ProLabs clarifies that some of the universities it has worked with have asked questions such as:
· How to create state-of-the-art networks for their future needs;
· How to save money without sacrificing quality; and
· How to support an environment with multiple platforms and vendors?
“ProLabs is outstandingly competent to provide answers to these and other questions that higher learning institutions may have,” explains Fouché.
“For example, its transceivers range from 1G to 400G, while its other options support an institution’s growth and infrastructure transitions, including the integration of new technology with ageing equipment, and also address the challenge of network inter-operability by providing cables that are compatible with multiple platforms and vendors. In short, all the bases are covered to allow universities to concentrate on their core mission of teaching the professionals of tomorrow to the best of their ability, even in today’s currently trying times,” he concludes.