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Key considerations when updating schools' ICT infrastructure

With summer refurbishments on the horizon, electrical device manufacturer MK Electric advises on preparing for growing governmental focus on edtech

Posted by Julian Owen | June 06, 2019 | Technology

This spring, the Government unveiled a new strategy for the use of technology in education. ‘Realising the potential of technology in education’ is intended to reduce teacher workload, boost student outcomes, and offer greater support for those with special needs and disabilities.

Alongside this, the Department for Education released a guidance document, ‘Assessing your school ICT infrastructure’. Covering aspects such as cabling, data connection, and internet connection equipment, the guide seeks to encourage a review of school infrastructure, including areas requiring attention in the next three to five years.

But, what does this mean for refurbishment season this summer? Below are three key areas to consider when it comes to updating schools’ edtech infrastructure.

The Government has pledged to implement a step-change in the digital services available to parents, students, teachers and education leaders

1. USB charging

 As defined by the Government’s strategy, edtech constitutes ‘the practice of using technology to support teaching and the effective day-to-day management of education institutions. It includes hardware (such as tablets, laptops or other digital devices), and digital resources.’

In order to support digitally enabled-learning, provision must be made to keep such hardware powered up, without requiring students to carry bulky chargers alongside the usual books and notepads. International students must also be considered, because relying on conventional switch sockets requires them to purchase and carry adapters.

For these reasons, it’s worth considering the installation of USB charging points. Besides offering ease of charge for students and staff, they eliminate the need for portable appliance testing inspections.

Simple and relatively inexpensive to install or retrofit, integrated USB socket outlets can enable schools to bring smart hardware into the classroom without concerns about low battery levels. We’d advise to look for options designed to fit a standard 25mm back box, as this will keep disruption to a minimum.  

Be aware that not all USB socket solutions offer the same functionality. For example, it’s important to ensure that the product includes dynamic device recognition (DDR), designed to detect nuances in charging configurations and react accordingly. This is important, as devices charge in distinct ways – for example, a USB charger which works for an iPhone may not effectively charge an iPad; DDR ensures that each device recognises the USB socket outlet as it would its own charger. In a busy school, college or university, where time and efficiency are of the essence, optimal charging is key.

In order to support digitally enabled-learning, provision must be made to keep such hardware powered up

2. Cable management

Within the Government’s information and communication technology (ICT) guidance, the first technical components listed are ‘physical cabling and data connections that form part of the building fabric, typically using copper cabling with fibre-optic links between buildings’.

To cater for the greater use of technology in the classroom, this means cabling additional to that already in place to support standard resources such as PCs, printers and monitors.

PVC cable management is therefore an essential consideration for schools looking to update ICT infrastructure. Quality counts: in the face of tightening budgets, longevity is crucial. With this in mind, ensure that the solution specified comes from a reputable manufacturer with a history of reliability. 

A good starting point when considering cable management is compliance. Solutions which support cat 5e, 6, 6a and 7 compliance are ideal, and options produced using PVCu are both cost-effective and simple to install. What’s more, design features such as data sweep - which maintains cable capacity while eliminating the need for bulky corner covers - can help to streamline retrofitting.   

To cater for the greater use of technology in the classroom, this means cabling additional to that already in place to support

3. Part M 

Any updates made to a school must, of course, consider the needs of students of all abilities. In line with this, updates to a facility’s ICT infrastructure must meet a number of parameters, including satisfying Approved Document M. 

For example, it’s important to ensure that wiring devices – USB-integrated sockets in this case – of a contrasting colour are fitted in the PVC trunking system to provide a means of contrast. Alternatively, a different coloured flange either side of the wiring device can provide the necessary contrast.

This also applies to cable management. Certain brands offer dado skirting and trunking in charcoal to provide a contrast to white wiring accessories, while charcoal flange and socket spacers are also available to provide colour contrast.

The Government has pledged to implement a step-change in the digital services available to parents, students, teachers and education leaders, and made clear that ICT infrastructure updates will play a key role; all things to bear in mind when planning refurbishments for the summer period.

 

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