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At some point in the history of consumer and business technology, seemingly everything became “smart.” Smartphones, smartwatches, smart TVs: These terms all denote devices that once lacked internet connectivity but eventually received it and were, in turn, able to deliver a wider range of features, such as high-quality apps downloaded from a secure online store.
The smart campus is a bit more complex. It typically refers to the convergence of multiple technologies on an educational institution’s campus, namely the Internet of Things (IoT) and the various wireless networking protocols - Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and more obscure ones such as Zigbee - that connect IoT devices as well as more traditional endpoints. Once a campus is “smart,” it can, in theory, better support student success and improve its operational efficiency.
Given the centrality of higher education to the U.S. economy, the smart campus - if properly executed - could deliver substantial benefits that would be felt across the country. Experienced telecommunications providers, including Telesystem, can deliver the connectivity and technical solutions (like hosted VoIP implementations) to help colleges and universities become smart campuses.
As a concept, the smart campus emerged around the time that most college students could be classified as digital natives, i.e. people who have had access to internet connectivity for essentially their entire lives. If it has an overarching purpose, the smart campus is fundamentally designed to create new experiences for these individuals, spanning the numerous devices, apps and connected services they use in and out of the classroom.
Some specific examples might include:
Many higher education institutions now offer fully online classes, especially at the graduate level. According to the U.S. Department of Education’s National Center for Education Statistics, one-third of all postsecondary students took at least one class over the internet in 2017, while one in six took exclusively online classes.
Reliable network connectivity and managed services are essential in delivering a consistent and secure experience to all students, regardless of their locations. For instance, a software-defined WAN can provide valuable support by routing traffic down the best paths available, ensuring optimal performance for real-time applications such as live video broadcasts of a lecture.
Course-specific mobile apps, such as a portal for accessing a learning management system, and hosted VoIP implementations can also help keep students in the loop and allow for further real-time collaboration. There is no smart campus without a robust presence in the cloud, which is why it’s important to work with experienced managed services providers and vendors to set up the multiple services that enable effective online learning.
Arizona State University has been at the forefront of smart campus projects, including ones that go beyond education itself and instead target other domains such as athletics facilities management. The university even has a chief information officer - a title that originated in the IT world - to oversee these initiatives.
At Sun Devil Stadium, where the school’s football team plays its home games, there is a high density of IoT devices designed to increase the building's operational efficiency, especially during games. Here’s how it works:
Beyond that site, the university has also explored another IoT-related project, this one related to measuring class attendance. Since a student’s failure to show up at a certain first-year course is positively correlated with poor outcomes such as dropping out, Arizona State tested a beacon-based system using Bluetooth technology to see when students were showing up and how many of them were in the classroom.
Some IoT components can add a strong layer of security on top of the smart campus. IP cameras are already somewhat common and self-explanatory in their usefulness, but there are other useful devices, too, including geofences, safety beacons and smart locks.
A geofence establishes a perimeter around a designated area. If a device enters or exits the perimeter, an alert can be sent directly to it or to another endpoint. Certain configurations can also be automatically applied during geofence entry/exit, such as restricting access to features like the camera, changing its Wi-Fi settings and/or putting specific content behind a firewall.
Like geofences, beacons are pieces of IoT infrastructure that can interact with nearby devices. They use Bluetooth to send push notifications to anyone within close proximity. American University in Washington, D.C., configured 20 beacons for a guided tour targeted at prospective students. When someone would approach a notable location, they might receive additional info about it. The same principle can help with campus security: Beacons can alert in-range devices about busy intersections, suspicious activities nearby and other risks.
A smart lock uses wireless technologies like Wi-Fi and Bluetooth, or in some cases a wired interface such as Power over Ethernet, to create sophisticated access control systems. Kent State University implemented smart locks on parts of its campus beginning in 2017. The installation allows credentials to be dynamically added and revoked from student ID cards, instead of being tied to actual keys that need to be distributed and collected. In the future, the university plans to allow mobile credentialing (i.e., access via phone) as well.
At a high level, the smart campus supports better educational outcomes for students, who gain easier access to course materials along with more streamlined experiences when using university facilities. That’s the upshot of what particular innovations such as real-time collaboration technologies, SD-WANs, more reliable internet access and beacon-based and geofenced alert systems can deliver.
The benefits do not end there, though. Let’s review some of them in more detail.
Colleges and universities have a huge footprint in the U.S. According to the Commercial Buildings Energy Consumption Survey, there are almost 400,000 total buildings across the country’s postsecondary campuses, occupying over 12 billion square feet of real estate. Collectively, they consumed almost a quarter-trillion kWh of power in 2012.
A smart campus with internet-connected HVAC infrastructure that’s integrated into the IoT could potentially realize some major savings here. By harnessing the power of automation and cloud analytics, it could remotely adjust consumption in response to usage patterns and particular incidents.
New students usually require some time to figure out where everything is located on campus and where their particular classes and activities are being held. The IoT infrastructure of a smart campus can help guide them via alerts and instructions.
Similarly, students at all levels may benefit from strategic beacon placement in areas such as libraries. These beacons could make it easier to locate the designated stacks containing the books or other materials that students were looking for.
Relaying information is a high-stakes situation like an on-campus fire is always a challenge, since speed and accuracy are both of the essence. Smart campuses may make this task easier, though.
First, they will feature the reliable connectivity and real-time applications necessary for keeping key stakeholders in touch about developments. Second, they could use beacons and geofences to send out mass alerts that would supplement notifications on other channels to ensure that students, faculty, staff and visitors got the update.
We’ve only scraped the surface of what’s possible with a highly connected campus. As more use cases come to light in the coming years, it will be beneficial to have the guidance of an experienced MSP to help make the most of smart campus technology. Learn more about Telesystem’s network and communications solutions by contacting our team today.