Education meets the Edge: transforming teaching and learning outcomes

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Australia has established its thought leadership on education as a global pioneer, boasting a world-class system that focuses on implementing rigorous, evidence-based learning standards. Furthermore, its focus on employment outcomes and transferable capabilities has allowed Australia to cement its reputation as a principal destination for international education. In 2019-20, education expenses in Australia were $114.1 billion, an increase from the 2018-19 estimate of $105.1 billion as observed by the Australian Bureau of Statistics.

In response to this growing demand for innovation to deliver stronger learning outcomes, the EdTech market has nearly doubled in size between 2017-2019 according to EduGrowth, with over 600 EdTech companies in Australia generating $2.2 billion through the provision of digital platforms and services. A major issue challenging education providers in current times emerges from how the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has fundamentally disrupted the way in which education has traditionally been delivered, and how the accelerated adoption of consumer-facing technologies such as 5G have influenced end-user expectations of low latency when accessing high-bandwidth learning content.

While the impact of COVID-19 pandemic on international arrivals has resulted in declining overseas student revenue for universities, there has been a recognised demand for hybrid IT applications supported by critical infrastructure to support both in-person and remote learning across borders. Hence, as the education market demands solutions for sustainable digital transformation, Edge computing solutions are well-positioned to enable more engaging and accessible learning outcomes for students across Australia.

Driving primary and secondary school students

Forty two percent of Australian EdTech organisations focus principally on the K-12 segment as outlined by AusTrade, corresponding to a strong commitment towards digitising the primary and secondary education experience. With an irrefutable dependence on network connectivity to deliver enhanced learning outcomes, schools cannot afford to experience disruptions due to slow speeds or outages in the cloud. The decentralised nature of local Edge guarantees uninterrupted connectivity despite disruptions in the cloud and facilitates greater control of remote monitoring and maintenance procedures. Temporary school closures because of COVID-19 restrictions have illustrated the need for flexible learning technology through adaptable hybrid learning modes.

Even before the onset of the pandemic, there has already been a shift towards a blended learning approach, with the deployment of learning management systems (LMS) to supplement the crucial role of classroom educators outside of school hours. We are also observing a strong adoption of high-bandwidth immersive learning experiences that champion interactivity and collaboration. By leveraging Augmented Reality (AR), Virtual Reality (VR) and Mixed Reality (MR) technologies alongside interactive projector technology, ‘gamification’ is used to supplement the delivery of curriculum content within digitally enabled classroom environments. Consequently, in classrooms of the future, the deployment of micro data centres to facilitate such experiential applications would require physical infrastructure security through small rack enclosures with integrated power and cooling solutions that can be deployed conveniently into small classroom environments.

Powering the higher education

Traditionally supported by under-resourced legacy systems within a centralised precinct, the universities of today are fast becoming IoT-enabled smart campus hubs that offer connectivity across a distributed network across borders. Network usage behaviours vary immensely across the multifaceted aspects of a university’s operations, and therefore present a variety of compelling use cases that illustrate the benefits that Edge computing brings to the higher education sector.

With instructional teaching for academic coursework, processes such as digital quizzes and electronic marking have already become a backbone in improving both student and faculty productivity. Accelerated by the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on accessibility and student mobility, there has been a rapid uptake in the offering of remotely delivered classes. The deployment of fully virtual learning environments (VLE) also offers the benefits of lower operating costs and more efficient resource allocation from the perspective of university administrators. In the future, the use of artificial intelligence (AI) / machine learning (ML) learning analytics to support intelligent tutoring systems will also create demand for Edge-enabled IT architectures.

Conversely, academic researchers play an indispensable role in transforming big data to actionable insights that have the potential to change the world. The analytical processes to support such breakthroughs necessitate resilient supercomputing power supported by always-on infrastructure to minimise disruptions. Rather than relying solely on cloud services for processing, operating within an Edge architecture allows intensive applications to be diverted to servers at the local Edge, which will lead to lower network costs and congestion. Researchers will only need to upload the most relevant data to the cloud for continuity, which will consequently lead to lower network costs and congestion.

From an administrative standpoint, storing and accessing vast amounts of personally identifiable information such as student records at the local Edge facilitates greater data security and offers the opportunity to ensure greater compliance with state and territory privacy laws. Beyond the needs of other administrative processes such as alumni engagement, recruitment and help desks, operating a campus ecosystem also involves efficiently managing digitally connected infrastructure such as student residences, sporting facilities and retail outlets. With such diverse network requirements, deploying an integrated Edge architecture will also facilitate greater visibility and autonomy within the monitoring and maintenance of campus local Edge and distributed IT infrastructures.

Delivering resilient IT solutions in the next frontier of education

Enabled by a constant stream of disruptive innovation in learning technologies and the growing size of IoT-enabled campus ecosystems, education providers must reconsider their IT infrastructure requirements to ensure they are delivering the best learning and teaching outcomes for both students and educators. As learning continues to champion the key themes of collaboration, interactivity and mobility, adopting an Edge architecture facilitates low-latency experiences in high-bandwidth learning and research environments.

Schneider Electric’s diverse range of physical infrastructure such as UPS, server racks, cooling and security products alongside our data centre infrastructure management (DCIM) solution EcoStruxure IT software offer sustainability and resiliency for integrated Edge deployments in diverse education environments ranging from single-facility schools to multi-campus hub environments.

Find out more about Schneider Electric’s edge computing solutions.