CDW Blog

Supporting the 'New Normal' in Higher Education

8 June, 2020 / by Neil Bailey

Neil Bailey, Head of Education at CDW, explains how software could help ensure the safe return of students to university following the COVID-19 outbreak.

The rapid spread of coronavirus has impacted nearly every aspect of our daily lives. In higher education, universities around the world have closed their doors as governments and health officials fight to get the outbreak under control. While those efforts remain ongoing, academic institutions are starting to consider what the ‘new normal’ might look like. For instance, how can campuses - where students have always lived and studied in close proximity to each other - be re-ordered to operate in a socially distanced way? 

Many of these conversations are at an early stage. But it is already clear that the imaginative application of technology will provide some of the answers. CDW is considering how technology will enable the ‘new normal’ within higher education settings. 

Smoothing out student flow: Historically, the start of the academic year is an exciting time, as thousands of students flood to campus and mingle with their peers. In the new normal, things are likely to be very different, requiring the flow of students across campus to be given far greater consideration. Node-based mesh networks provide the opportunity for the collation of anonymised data to enable the tracking of footfall and flow, improving the spacing between students and creating safety zones around individual learners. Such technology could underpin the use of heatmaps to identify areas of potential congregation, with artificial intelligence applied to manage the movement of people around sites.

Improving timetabling and access to resources: Similarly, students have traditionally been given free rein to make use of shared facilities such as libraries and IT suites. That unfettered access will need re-evaluating, to avoid overcrowding. Intelligent technology solutions can provide the platform to timetable availability of learning spaces and access to resources, with notifications sent to students’ smartphones to remind them of allocated timeslots. Beacon technology has been used for some time in location technology and proximity marketing in smart cities, and such an approach could bear fruit in academia.


Success Story: Australian University 
One CDW customer, a university in Western Australia, is home to 60,000 students and 4,000 staff. CDW implemented a smart campus with the goal of providing a better student experience, increased efficiency and safety. To do this a Smart City Platform was implemented that collects, integrates, and analyses data. The IoT platform collects atmospheric information at the edge, enabling informed, energy-saving decisions. It provides building occupants with collaborative, productive workplaces while enabling actionable, data-driven insights for owners. 
The aim of the project was to: 
· Reduce costs through energy savings and fewer repair and maintenance requests 
· Streamline operations with automated energy optimization and remote updates 
· Connect the unconnected by providing a communication platform for Smart City IoT solutions


More intelligent use of CCTV: No-one wants to live their lives under the scrutiny of 24-hour surveillance. And yet there is a discussion to be had around the use of CCTV networks on campuses as a means of ensuring safe
social distancing at all times. Advancements in wireless technology such as low power wide area networks (LPWAN) can now deliver Internet of Things-based connectivity at low cost over wider geographic areas, providing site managers with better coverage and improved imagery. These CCTV cameras can be networked with other proximity data to provide an early warning of potential hotspots. 
Delivering more remote learning: As we have seen in the world of industry and commerce, there has been a strong trend towards remote working in recent months, and this is likely to endure for the foreseeable future. The academic world is no exception, with universities providing a blend of face-to-face and distance learning. Higher education institutions will need to invest in their IT infrastructure, with an emphasis on having robust, compliant and secure storage arrangements, capable of managing the large volumes of data being generated, processed and analysed by staff and students. It is crucial that IT services are reliable and easily available, with enough flexibility to adapt to evolving needs as remote working becomes a key strand of academic life.
What we have seen, then, is that technology will act as a crucial enabler of change in the field of higher education. To conceive and deliver such digital transformation, universities will need to establish links with key partners who have the capability, experience and expertise to deliver a holistic view of how technology can support the “new normal”. 
For 30 years, CDW has provided technical expertise, defining, designing, sourcing, configuring, supplying, deploying and supporting technologies that underpin excellent education delivery. Today, more than ever, our experience that has helped shape the education of more than 50m learners each year can support universities in adapting to the “new normal” 
To speak to one of CDW’s higher education experts, email


Topics: Education