Rethinking remote learning: 5 ways to take on the 2020-2021 school year

While the school year is undoubtedly going to be a challenging one, educators and IT leaders can prepare by shoring up five key areas
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As school districts in Colorado and across the country grapple with balancing students’ education while keeping everyone safe from a highly contagious virus, it’s becoming increasingly clear there might not be one right answer.

In theory, it may be better to have students in physical classrooms. The reality is this school year likely will combine physical and remote learning or virtual classes in some form. And if there was one thing educators and administrators learned this past spring, it’s that many schools were behind the curve of preparedness when it came to providing technology and connectivity for all students.

This means all stakeholders—education and IT leaders, teachers, as well as parents and caregivers—must work together to shore up five key areas to keep students engaged and learning, no matter where they are learning from.

IT and Instructor Collaboration

School systems were not designed to handle a remote workforce, and while many were working toward implementing the cloud, some areas were not all the way there this spring.

Many schools have since rapidly adapted by forcing a swift move to the cloud, which could help smooth out some of the bumps experienced in the spring. For example, many school districts will switch to cloud applications for administrative and HR functions, reducing paper forms and increasing access for personnel, caregivers and parents, and students.

Yet educators are still adjusting to teaching virtually. It remains critical that stakeholders work together to ensure effective remote learning and virtual classrooms. IT and instructional teams will need to collaborate more closely as districts standardize online resources for teachers and remote learning applications for students as well as be ready to provide support to those who use them.

Student Access to the Right Device

Not all students have access to a computer or tablet, but internet-connected devices are going to be critical for student success this year. In some places, it will be up to the schools to provide this digital equity.

Schools that do not have the resources to provide devices for all students can look to private partners. Programs like Internet Essentials offer low-income households affordable high-speed internet access as well as lower-cost computers for students.

Adequate In-Home Connectivity

The early months of the pandemic — when parents who could work from home would be in Zoom meetings at the same time as their children were trying to learn in virtual classrooms — revealed how critical it is to have enough bandwidth in a home. With so many people suddenly sharing the same connection for both work and school, fast, reliable networks became even more imperative.

To help parents and caregivers understand what they need, technology-wise, IT departments can create a new kind of “back-to-school” checklist with guidelines on minimum download and upload speeds, software programs, ideal computer memory, and so on. Households that can afford to acquire the right tech can do so ahead of time, while others can be directed on how to apply for these resources via school and private-partner programs.

Device and Network Security

Education and IT professionals will need to work with carriers to set up secure virtual networks. Without the right security measures, malicious actors could gain access to children through platforms such as Zoom, which has notoriously experienced recent problems with hacking since the start of the pandemic.

Professional Development

Beyond day-to-day needs, educators often learn through formalized training programs that track toward state, local, and national curriculum standards. New learning environments will require redesigning professional development courses, so virtual and blended learning can work in parallel with classroom assignments during normal times and can be easily switched when remote learning is the only option. This may require changing curriculum in teacher training programs to include more instruction in online platforms and on how to choose resources.

A Remote Reality

There’s no doubt in anyone’s mind that the school year is going to be rife with challenges of all kinds, but these challenges are not impossible to overcome.

Education leaders and technology providers need to quickly determine how to get technology resources into the hands of at-need students and support the connectivity infrastructure that will serve as the backbone, if it isn’t in place already. Collaboration and flexibility will be the name of the game this year — and by focusing on the goal of ensuring students are able to learn effectively from anywhere, school districts will be able to face the challenges and succeed.

(This sponsored content is provided by Comcast)

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