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Facing uncertainty about the new school year, many schools are now accelerating plans to put a tablet or laptop into the hands of each student. Chromebooks provide a cost-effective choice, and many schools already utilize them along with Google Classroom, G Suite for Education and other apps.
Whether or not your district is new to the devices or expanding an existing program, here are five important tips for maximizing your Chromebook deployment to support remote learning during the COVID-19 pandemic.
1. Plan for multiple scenarios.
No one knows exactly what the school year will look like, but it will certainly be different. Depending on infection rates in the area, some districts might be allowed to open fully with precautions in place. Others might be asked to keep campuses closed or institute a hybrid schedule with a combination of in-class and remote learning days.
Make flexible plans for each of these scenarios, including how your Chromebook deployment will function. How will you keep track of the devices? Are teachers and devices prepared to administer remote exams and tests?
2. Understand the difference between technology-enhanced education and remote learning.
Before the pandemic, many K-12 schools used Chromebooks to enhance classroom education. Teachers became familiar with Google Classroom and the app ecosystem — but they didn’t have to teach every lesson and collect every assignment remotely.
Where technology-enhanced education adds another layer to the classroom experience, remote learning depends on technology to deliver the whole package, from lesson to assessment. Recognizing the difference now might help you avoid complications down the line. Talk with district administrative leaders and educators about how much emphasis you want to place on remote learning, and how you will facilitate a full transition to it if your campuses are forced to close again.
3. Create a protocol for device distribution and management.
Many districts require students to leave Chromebooks at school at the end of the day. But that meant some schools were caught in a logistical nightmare when closures occurred without much warning.
To enable remote learning, schools need to distribute thousands of devices to students across the district. Administrative leaders can avoid having to package and ship each of them by sending Chromebooks home with students, but that can create its own set of problems.
Discuss this issue with other leaders and educators and ensure that you have a plan — and a backup plan — in place. If devices go home with students, is there management software to monitor their usage? What happens if a device needs to be repaired or upgraded during a period of remote learning? Are security protocols in place for the device and the connection? Brainstorm possible problems and talk about what you can do to prepare.
4. Provide training and support for teachers and students.
If your district is rolling out Chromebooks for the first time, ensure that educators gain access to the technology well before the first day of school. Provide training and technical support and clearly communicate goals for incorporating the devices. Teachers who have used Chromebooks for technology-enhanced learning in their classrooms are better prepared to implement remote learning — but they will still need support with tasks such as designing lessons, recording lectures, teaching via videoconferencing and administering exams online.
Also, be sure your district is equipped to offer technical support to students. Elementary students, in particular, will need help from parents or caregivers, so ensure that all stakeholders have the ongoing support they need from teachers and IT personnel.
5. Ensure accessibility for all students.
Accessibility can be a tremendous challenge for remote learning. Many students lack a dependable home Wi-Fi connection, making live videoconferencing sessions with their teachers and fellow students difficult to achieve. During the spring shutdowns in 2020, some districts got creative in dealing with the accessibility problem, installing Wi-Fi hotspots on their buses and sending them out to create hotspots for students. Others provided broadband access in campus parking lots and encouraged caregivers or parents without home access to bring students and devices for “drive-in” classes online.
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But while these are innovative stopgap measures, they don’t provide long-term solutions. One possible answer is to invest in some Chromebooks that include LTE connectivity. While students in very rural areas might still struggle to connect, cellular coverage is readily available in most places. Another option is to deploy Chromebooks together with mobile hotspots.
Access to remote learning is top of mind for many districts, but if your district is setting up a 1-to-1 Chromebook deployment for the first time, make sure you have the IT infrastructure in place to support Wi-Fi connectivity for hundreds or thousands of devices on your campuses as well. Because Wi-Fi only supports a limited number of devices per access point, you might need to install more routers and other hardware to cope with the additional load.