School shutdowns due to COVID-19 left districts reeling as they tried to keep their students connected. The abrupt shift to digital learning proved a formidable challenge for everyone in the K-12 community, including teachers who already used education technology in their classrooms.
There’s still a lot of uncertainty around how the next school year will look, so it’s an excellent time to review what your district has learned through this time and create a roadmap for where to go from here. Here are a few key areas to focus on as you forge a path forward.
First, assess the devices, connectivity hardware and software you already have. Are they sufficient to enable remote learning for every student? If you’ve been considering a 1:1 deployment for your school, giving each student access to a district-supplied device to use for learning, now is the time to accelerate that investment. Cost-effective options for student devices include Android tablets and Chromebooks.
And think about accessibility. If you currently don’t have a device for every student, will your campus Wi-Fi network be able to keep up with the influx of traffic from a 1:1 deployment? If the pandemic prompts another shutdown, how will you ensure all students can connect their devices at home? One option is to provide devices which support LTE connectivity, like Samsung’s Chromebook Plus.
If your district has already been using devices in the classroom, your teachers are probably familiar with many of the apps available. Ask them — perhaps through creating a survey — to see what apps they’ve used, which ones help them and which ones don’t. Specifically, ask them for feedback on remote learning platforms and content and find out if their classes require live interaction through videoconferencing.
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Even if your teachers are well versed in education technology, the shift to teaching online can be overwhelming. Ask them what sort of support they need and provide them with professional development tools that will help them succeed both as online teachers and classroom educators. Resources could include online professional development seminars, remote learning resources and forums to connect with other teachers and share ideas.
Unless devices, apps and connection points are adequately secured, students’ and teachers’ private information could be compromised. Consult with IT professionals about what you need for cybersecurity, both on campus and when students are connecting from home. How will you track student device usage from afar? Which apps are more vulnerable to hacking and privacy concerns? How can you ensure compliance with the Children’s Internet Protection Act (CIPA)? Provide ongoing cybersecurity training for teachers, staff and students to ensure they’re up-to-date on best practices and current threats.
With the economic downturn threatening state budgets across the nation, you might be bracing for funding cuts. Once you have a sense of your new budget, spend some time exploring available technology tools, curriculum materials and professional development resources. If you need more than your budget allows, consider alternative funding options such as public or private grants and crowdfunding. Also analyze your budget to see where you can cut costs to offset an educational technology purchase. For example, if your district opts to close campuses for one remote learning day per week, it could save on utilities and other overhead expenses.
No one’s sure how the pandemic will continue to unfold, so you should prepare for several possible scenarios over the next school year — and possibly beyond. Schools are discussing various options to accommodate social distancing measures, such as alternating attendance days for students, with only half the student body on campus at once while the other half has a remote learning day. Other districts are offering students and parents the option to continue with full-time remote learning if they prefer. Though most districts are planning to reopen in some capacity, consider the possibility that virus cases could surge in your area, in which case you’d need to shift back to fully remote learning.
While you’re making plans for the immediate future, take a step back and consider their long-term implications. When restrictions are lifted, what role will education technology continue to play in your district? Will distance learning remain part of your normal operations? As you answer these questions and develop a roadmap for the next year, you’ll create a clearer vision for the future.