The national surge in cases force remote learning
In a week when the country has posted record number of COVID-19 cases, the nation’s largest school districts have released their back-to-school plans.
In California, which shattered a record of 10,000 new cases in a single day, Los Angeles, San Diego and San Francisco have all announced plans to start the school year with 100% online learning. Collectively, these three school districts have more than 800,000 students
In Philadelphia, a district with 200 schools, students will return to a hybrid in-person/online model with most attending 2 days per week in-person with remote learning the remainder. Several districts around the country that plan for a hybrid model are giving an option of returning five days per week online or in person, putting the decision on the students and their families.
Are schools ready to support synchronous online learning?
In March, when the nation’s schools were forced by rising cases of COVID-19 to shut down immediately, districts across the county scrambled to get e-learning devices out to students so they could continue their education. Perhaps the largest and most public instance of this was in New York City where the Department of Education delivered 300,000 4G enabled iPads to students at their homes.
As districts publish their 2020-2021 guidelines, many include robust plans for synchronous learning over video conferencing tools, yet what is far less publicized are the technology gaps in delivering robust online education. For example, as of the latest data published by the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, 14% of school-age children still live in homes that lack internet connections. For this reason, at the start of the pandemic, districts such as the Austin Independent School District deployed their WiFi-enabled busses across neighborhoods allowing students and their parents to drive to the location and download the day’s lessons. While this worked as a short-term fix, it does not allow for a robust synchronous learning program where students can engage in real time with their teachers.
Another major challenge facing our schools is how to provide thousands of students with remote technical support. For most schools, support programs have been designed around an IT resource officer at the schools where students can bring their device for support or repairs. There is a new need to provide remote technical support for devices that are being used in ways they never imagined.
Adopting technology from the enterprise
Remote learning may be new for K-12 education, however, remote working in the business world has been around for years. By modelling online learning after remote work, school districts have a trusted resource for understanding best practices. Through Dynamic Workplace Accelerators, employees of the corporate world have the ability work securely and wherever they are.
For many educators and their students, Zoom became a daily part of their vernacular as learning shifted online. In corporate America, unified communications and collaboration tools such as Zoom, Microsoft Teams, Google Meet and WebEx have been used by companies big and small to support global collaboration across their teams every day. Schools now need the same connectivity, training and technical support to successfully leverage these technologies for learning.
In order to be effective, teachers and students first need the proper tools and equipment. This starts with reliable internet and goes beyond the challenge of our nation’s households that lack the required connectivity. In households where children are learning remotely and parents are working remotely, even the best internet connections can be tapped out. And, as the family spreads to separate areas of the house to work and learn, the internet connection is often slow in some areas of the home. Lack of consistent connectivity can prevent students from staying online during the entire lesson. Often, this can easily be resolved. However, parents lack the technical knowhow to diagnose the problem and IT resource officers are not equipped with the proper tools or adequately staffed to provide this level of remote technical support.
Unlike most school districts, corporations support remote workers with teams of highly skilled experts who help through omnichannel user support programs. Help can be administered when needed and even dispatched to provide onsite technical support. Schools can adopt these types of corporate programs to support each student’s unique home environments and keep equipment running smoothly.
Additionally, standard equipment issued to students and their teachers was not intended for an entire day of remote learning. While webcams on most laptops and tablets have improved in recent years, the field of view on the teachers device will not allow the teacher to stand up and move around during the live lessons, and may not allow students a clear view of classroom visual aids. Moreover, laptop mics create similar challenges because they lack noise canceling technologies to minimize classroom disturbances from siblings or pets. For most corporate employees, engaging video conferencing experiences are supported by purpose-built peripheral devices such as 4K cameras and noise canceling headsets.
Teaching and learning are no longer conceived in a specific physical space. Continuing students’ education during COVID-19 has made remote learning a realty that has to be integrated into our day to day life. Being able to provide educators and students with the appropriate tools and process can transform the remote learning experience while minimizing IT burdens to the district support staff and increasing security.
Who knows what is next? The only thing we know is that it will never go back to exactly the way it was before. We’ve proven we can work and learn remotely. The challenge is to make it better. To make it easier and more effective. One thing is certain. 2020 cannot be a lost year for our school age children. We need to do everything in our power to ensure we are providing the right environment for our children wherever they are learning.