Education and technology have always gone hand in hand. However, when the COVID-19 pandemic hit and schools quickly had to make the switch to remote learning, the importance of technology within the education sector, including K-12 schools, was made even more evident.
Technology adoption is changing access for students in today's hybrid learning environment. But to make this change as impactful as possible, leadership including technologists, the superintendent, procurement, the school board and their teams must come to the table with a central focus on how to utilize technology for enabling our students and teachers to achieve.
Successful teams in the K-12 sector follow the same North Star when it comes to technology. Everyone must own a share of the responsibility. As school boards review the past two years and look to the future, there are four important measures all stakeholders in a district must align around for continued success.
1. Remote learning is here to stay
While there were challenges during the transition to remote learning for many, there were also a number of benefits. The learning models that were advanced during remote learning, including those which enabled more student autonomy and blended learning, were successfully adopted by many students. Not only were learners provided more control over the time and space in which they progressed through their studies, but remote learning also provided students with greater ownership of their work, fewer social stressors and stronger collaboration between students and teachers alike.
Remote learning is also helping prepare students for the modern workforce, enabling them to utilize similar collaboration tools to those they'll encounter during future internships and jobs. Given the continued uncertainty surrounding the pandemic and the realities of an increasingly hybrid workforce, remote learning should continue to play a role in education for the foreseeable future.
2. Evolving access to student and teaching resources
When it comes to remote learning, access is key. There are many things a district can do to enable access for all, but one of particular importance involves the computer lab. As many students continue to find themselves in a remote or hybrid learning environment, a physical computer lab may no longer be the ideal solution to meet their needs. School districts should consider the move to a cloud lab to provide greater equity of access, agility to scale, security and longevity. The cloud provides students access to high-end applications from their personal or lower-cost, district-managed devices, enabling them to take assignments on the go while minimizing the time and distraction teachers face having to reserve individual computer space for their students while on campus.
We have also seen a shift in access to collaboration since K-12 schools started to return to in-person learning, whether full-time or hybrid. In a fully remote setting, with one touch of a button everyone was instantly connected. When a student or teacher needed to share or present to the rest of the class, it was achieved intuitively – with no mismatched HDMI or VGA cables to slow instruction time. This, unfortunately, is not always the case in a physical space. Many schools implement a BYOD (bring your own device) policy. With varying degrees of technology software and standards between devices and their users, the capabilities of collaboration can and often do suffer. The faster, more efficient collaboration enabled in a digital environment also needs to be recaptured in live, modern classrooms.
3. Prioritize security measures
Nearly every day we read about another organization being the victim of a ransomware attack. Yet districts know that K-12 schools are more prone to these types of attacks than any other industry. Rapidly evolving threats are outpacing the manpower, skillset and resources of even the most sophisticated K-12 technology departments.
The number of reported ransomware attacks against K-12 schools began to increase at the start of the 2020 school year and is showing little sign of slowing. With this in mind, districts must be prepared for everything from developing cybersecurity plans, processes and roles ahead of an attack, to instituting cyber recovery measures during and after an attack.
When a cyberattack hits K-12 schools, there is a chance that the outage can last weeks and even months during trying periods of unrecoverable Average Daily Attendance (ADA), and that full recovery can linger further into the year. This results in learning loss or downtime in education. Learning loss prevention and data loss prevention plans should be put in place so school districts have trustworthy, uncompromised back-up access and stand-in essential services to all the important data which students and staff alike need daily.
4. Enterprise networking is key
K-12 environments are enterprise-grade environments with enterprise-sized challenges – yet often without enterprise-sized resources. The past two years were focused on getting students connected remotely. But what happens as schools continue to welcome back students operating on two different fronts? Devices are being brought into schools and networks are not ready. Districts should consider implementing an enterprise network that ensures students have access across the board – on-site and at home, and in the midst of digital divide.
Where do we go from here?
Each district has its own pain points and its own budgets. Ultimately, the best technology solution is not one size fits all. The single thing that can be agreed upon (and must be agreed on) is that every student requires a front-row seat to their education, regardless of where they're learning from. Collectively, we are responsible for every student having every opportunity to learn in the models that promote their personal achievement through the education system. Technology leaders must agree on what will work best for their district to advance the goal of engaging and empowering students and teachers.
Districts don't need another refresh. Successful technologists present solutions as business partners: they consider the full scope of investments/improvements needed to address real risks and gaps before prescribing a solution to the key stakeholders in a district (and potentially losing their interest early in the conversation). ConvergeOne's WAVES Methodology is a proprietary consulting model that will assess a school district's existing technology investments and provide critical insights to allow the district to make better business decisions – insights that will lead to actions.
This article originally appeared in K-12 Dive.