Remote Education: Prepping for the Long Game

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Part of the Driving Digital Agility content series: Insights and strategies to pivot to digital business, navigate new work environments, and manage changing customer expectations.

COVID-19 has radically altered how educators teach and students learn, and its long-term ramifications on the education industry remain to be seen. According to a United Nations estimate, more than 850 million students of all levels worldwide have been forced out of the classroom, and students are either learning remotely from home or not participating in school.

Education leaders are now tasked with delivering remote instruction to students. They must also consider students who might not have access to the internet or resources like computers or tablets. And school districts must find ways to support a newly remote workforce.

“Readiness has varied across the country,” says Lenny Schad, Chief Information and Innovation Officer, District Administration and Venture Partner for Education at RIDGE-LANE LP in Cypress, Texas. “I don’t think anyone could fathom that they would be out for two and a half, or even three months.”

Tools Already in Place

In some districts, blended learning has incorporated aspects of remote learning or virtual classes. Still, most school districts haven’t developed the network infrastructure needed to support whole populations of students, teachers, and administrators who are now at home.

“This has forced the hand of every school system in the country to say, ‘This is not an option anymore,’” Schad says. “School leaders need to start thinking in terms of how prepared you are and what you are going to do in the next three months that will put you in a better position."

Ad hoc approaches to remote education no longer work, and telecommunications providers need to work closely and quickly with school IT leaders to design and implement online infrastructure. Districts also need to create curriculum that can work with current systems and provide necessary educational resources and support.

“Parents were very tolerant of whatever happened in their school system because no one planned for it, but as they start to look to next year, they will want to see improvement,” Schad says.

Bridging the Digital Divide

Education leaders and technology providers will need to quickly determine how to get technology resources into the hands of at-need students. They will also need to quickly stand up the infrastructure that will serve as the backbone, if it isn’t in place already.

“This is a community issue; just solving the technology isn’t enough,” Schad says. “Once we get the nationwide, community-wide connections, next is the education.”

That means all students need access to reliable technology, and experts say these are the several things that must happen now to make it happen for the upcoming school year:

  • Devices for every student: Educators must ensure that every student has access to an Internet-connected device, which remains a challenge in some areas. Tech providers are also working to close the gap for those without access. For instance, Comcast’s Internet Essentials program has provided low-income families with affordable high-speed Internet access as well as more than 100,000 lower-cost computers for students.
  • Network capacity and connectivity: With so many people suddenly sharing the same bandwidth for both work and school, reliable and secure networks are imperative. If the Internet connection at home is not unlimited, families with multiple kids and both parents working from home are using up their data plan very quickly.
  • IT and instructor collaboration: School systems were not designed to handle a remote workforce. Going forward, expect to see districts switch to cloud applications for many administrative and HR functions, as back-office teams strive to reduce paper forms and increase access for personnel, parents, and students.
    IT and curriculum/instructional teams will also work more closely together as school districts standardize online resources for teachers. Districts will also need to standardize remote learning applications to make lessons more efficient and effective.

The Human Element

IT leaders need to work with school districts to support the teachers, parents, and students using the remote learning apps and platforms. Teachers must adjust to a new way of instructing in a virtual classroom. There needs to be tighter integration between IT and instructional teams to design effective virtual classrooms and provide support to those who use them. This includes:

  • Professional development for teachers: Educators often learn through formalized training programs that align to state, local, and national curriculum standards. Professional development needs to be redesigned, so that virtual and blended learning can work in parallel with classroom work 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 as well as how to choose resources.
  • Varying student needs: School districts rely on specialists that help students of differing needs—some 7 million nationwide— according to the National Center for Education Statistics. Now they need to provide those special services to a remote audience.
  • Added security: Education IT professionals need to work with carriers to set up secure virtual networks that can provide security to students while they are online. Without the right security measures, malicious actors could gain access to children through platforms such as Zoom, which has had problems with hacking.

Preparing for the Unexpected

As the impact of COVID-19 continues to unfold, it’s clear that education leaders need to plan for a future in which remote instruction is heavily relied upon in times of crisis.

Until teachers and students can safely interact in a physical school facility, effective education will require an unprecedented collaboration among parents and students, education IT leaders, and network carriers to deliver technology resources and instruction.

Leaders are working to prepare contingency plans for the future. Ideally rather than reacting to a global event on the fly, educators will be able to seamlessly transition learning to an all-virtual model.

To watch the Comcast Business “Education and COVID-19: Remote Learning Tech Solutions” webinar, please click here.

For more information on how businesses can use technology to navigate new work environments and expectations, explore the rest of our “Driving Digital Agility” blog series. Read More 

Learn how educators and technology providers are preparing for the future of remote learning.

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