Member storyA student sits under a tree using her laptop and phone.

Bridging the connectivity gap in rural clinical settings in Powys

Cardiff University and Powys Teaching Health Board had been searching for a solution to give students a fully supported, rich experience of life off campus. A new device, extending eduroam, proved to be the solution.

The reality of rural placements

Imagine being on placement somewhere where the wifi is weak? What would you do if you struggled to access your university’s online resources as a student on a rural placement? And if you also couldn’t connect to robust wifi in your accommodation it would be harder to study, stay in touch with family and friends or even wind down with a box set or a game.

This was the reality faced by Cardiff University’s medical students on clinical placements in rural Powys. Those who study and live on site at Bronllys Hospital, in the shadow of the Black Mountains, have often reported problems with using the hospital’s guest wifi network. Connectivity can also be an issue in other places around the county.

Breaking down barriers

The solution? Extending eduroam - a device that enables eduoram connectivity anywhere there's a 4G/5G mobile signal.

Cardiff University were keen to help Jisc put the proof-of-concept to the test alongside Powys Teaching Health Board (PTHB). Jane Parry, PTHB's library services manager, explains:

“We jumped at the opportunity. As the county’s health board we need people to get the most out of their placements with us and enjoy their time in Powys."

Meg Gorman, NHS Wales libraries partnership lead at Cardiff University, adds:

“We would like all our students to have access to the same level of wifi that they have in Cardiff when they’re on clinical placements across Wales."

Connectivity made simple

Jane chose three primary test locations: in the on-site student accommodation, the library and the new Health, Care and Social Care Academy.

“It is so simple to set up. We were just handed the devices and we decided where they should be placed.”

There was some trial and error initially at Bronylls. Ideally, the devices use 4G/5G cellular connectivity but as the area is only served by 3G and 4G, a few places weren’t suitable.

“We found that line of sight to a mobile mast was key to the setup process for us. But that just meant finding a suitable windowsill near a power source. Then you can plug and play, and move the devices around if you want to.”

The portability of the devices meant that they could easily be moved around in this trial phase.

“We put one in a consultant’s office in Brecon for a while when students needed better connectivity there.”

A good reception

The health board’s Digital Services board approved the project to introduce eduroam kit to Powys. Students use their own mobile devices to connect to eduroam rather than NHS equipment, and their existing institutional credentials to authenticate to a network completely separate to the NHS. Jane says:

“The IT team just need to know where the devices are located."

During the 18-month test period, there were only one or two days when wifi signals were temporarily unavailable to students using the devices.

“When this happened, it was the providers not the devices experiencing problems, so the issue was resolved fast and without any need for our IT department to get involved.”

Students now get the connectivity they expect in their daily lives. No matter when they arrive at the health board’s premises, they can simply get online using their university credentials.

“We have had some very positive feedback from some students, while others don’t mention connectivity at all. And that means they’re happy.”

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