Communication is essential to educational facilities at all levels – whether they’re formal institutions on official campuses, or more ad hoc establishments situated outside the mainstream.
Instructors must impart knowledge and advice to their students, learners need to stay in touch with each other and the resources vital to their studies, contact must be maintained with parents, sponsors, or the community at large, and staffing and administrative duties must be performed, to keep the institutions themselves up and running.
With the increased availability of high-speed data connections in many places, the internet sits very much at the heart of this – and telecommunications technologies based on digital data transfer such as Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP), hosted PBX (private branch exchange) and Session Initiation Protocol (SIP) now have a greater role to play in the day to day operations of many educational establishments. Here are some of the reasons why.
A Global Reach
By their very nature, VoIP and hosted PBX systems give users access to a widely dispersed and potentially global audience through the internet. So institutions can easily set up or keep in contact with existing remote sites, satellite teaching programs, off-site laboratories, and the like. The reduced rates available on digital telecommunications networks ensure that schools won’t break the bank in establishing and maintaining these contacts – even internationally.
With the growth in popularity and increasing availability of free and low-cost Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs), hosted PBX and VoIP give educational facilities the communications versatility to actively participate in and contribute to these programs. This can be an excellent way to extend the curriculum of smaller-scale operations, or for an institution to add to its own revenue streams by supplying tuition, webinars, and course materials.
VoIP telephony and hosted PBX systems usually come with an extensive set of features, each of which may be fine-tuned and configured to suit the needs of a particular user.
One-click dialing, video conferencing, cloud faxing, email, Instant Messaging, SMS text messaging, and various call-handling options ensure that systems can be set up to work with and for the user, rather than making them bend to the requirements of the system.
Presence & Alerts
In a busy academic environment, keeping tabs on where people are becomes especially important – whether it’s to safeguard the student body, track the availability of staff members, or co-ordinate the movement of essential supplies. The “presence” feature of VoIP-based telephony facilitates these processes, by making mobile apps and desktop software panels available that can be configured to monitor the real-time status and location of other users on the system.
The rapid dissemination of essential information about upcoming events, and critical warnings about emergencies such as impending severe weather or earthquakes are also catered for through integrated alert mechanisms tied to a range of messaging services on the digital platform. These tools can even be linked to on-site warning mechanisms such as bells, buzzers, and alarms.
As well as providing alerts in emergency situations, a hosted PBX from a reputable service provider will have measures in place to safeguard the confidentiality and integrity of data transmitted over the network.
Services can also provide business continuity and Disaster Recovery (DR) capabilities, to allow systems to remain available to users even during emergencies. Typically, calls can be re-routed to designated alternative locations, or mobile apps may be made available with all the features of the classroom or office environments of the school.
Unified Communications & The Multimedia Environment
Telecommunications on the internet puts digital voice data in the same medium as other information sources there. This enables the co-mingling of data streams from various media (voice, office productivity software, video, audio, etc.) in what’s known as a Unified Communications (UC) environment.
To the user, this manifests as an apparently seamless streamlining of different data types, which has significant advantages in terms of operational efficiency and overall productivity.
Convenience Settings For Teachers
VoIP and hosted PBX systems typically feature a “virtual phone number” option that can assign additional cloud-managed alternate phone numbers to a subscriber’s personal or residential phone.
For teachers and instructors, this makes school-related calls and messages available from any location, with the power to dictate how incoming communications are handled (answer the call, direct to voicemail, transcribe voicemail to email, etc.) – and the ability to protect the privacy of their personal phone numbers.
Some systems can set up dedicated virtual “conference rooms” where instructors can take one-on-one meetings with students or parents, and host group sessions with larger numbers of people.
Streamlining For Administrators
Call-handling and presence features enable school administrators to fully control how their various information streams are dealt with, and to better co-ordinate the movements and activities of their staff.
Unified Communications tools can integrate with accounting, Customer Relationship Management (CRM, with students and sponsors being the customers in this case), and Enterprise Resource Management (ERP) platforms, to streamline the many different processes required to keep an educational establishment running smoothly.
And VoIP features like customized greetings, branded messaging, and click to call on website buttons can assist administrators in crafting a more professional image for the institution as a whole.
Networking Features For Students
Students need to interact with each other, have one-on-one or group access to instructors, keep up to date with events on campus, and have knowledge and resources available to them at all times.
Hosted VoIP and Unified Communications make all of this possible. Ring groups, instant messaging and video conferencing tools enhance the communication experience, custom alerts and notifications spread the necessary news, and access to web resources and online knowledge bases take care of the logistics.
Finally, VoIP and hosted PBX make good economic sense for cash-strapped educational facilities looking to stretch their budgets. With a hosted service, there’s no on-site hardware to purchase, set up, and maintain – and management of the infrastructure is the provider’s responsibility.
The reduced call tariffs made possible by data transmission on the internet make even international calling an affordable prospect, while the subscription-based pricing model of VoIP services makes billing and account monitoring a simple task for financial administrators.
VoIP and hosted PBX are a cost-effective and easy to manage choice for educational facilities of all kinds, and at all levels.