The pandemic has struck the education system especially hard as schools had to swiftly adjust operations to fit within a remote learning environment. Now, as many schools take the summer months to map out a plan and prepare for the start of a new school year come September, administrations are working to find the most successful and efficient ways to adopt learning models that can accommodate an extended period of e-learning.
For schools that are addressing a shift to e-learning for the first time, it may feel overwhelming trying to successfully implement a learning model that answers your district’s needs. Despite this uncharted territory in which schools find themselves, it is important to highlight that there are steps to take that will help navigate this changing landscape and ensure that no student has to feel the weight of this crisis.
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Let’s explore a few steps we’ve instituted at Duarte Unified School District that have helped us deal with the stress of this pandemic on our school system.
Reach out and get your community involved
As you work toward sustained distance learning processes, I emphasize that you never underestimate the power of your district and community. When the pandemic first broke and our students and teachers – as well as education systems around the globe – were asked to instantly adapt to a new remote learning phenomenon, the entire Duarte USD district rallied together to ensure that learning did not have to suffer.
To ensure all students had access to devices, online curriculum, and uninterrupted teacher-student connectivity, our district issued 2,570 laptops to students in need and arranged over 300 Wi-Fi hotspots for households in need of internet access.
The simple message is to reach out to your local community and see what strides can be made together to ensure learning is not disrupted because of limited access to the technology needed. A great place to start is by handing out a school-wide survey asking for important information to help narrow down what students need heading into the new school year. Emphasize questions such as ‘do you have a device in the home that can be used for online learning’ or ‘do you live in a home that has access to internet.’ This will give your school the insight needed to prioritize the most efficient ways to work with your community to fill technology gaps.
As your school plans for the future curriculum methods, community collaboration is an incredible tool to tap into, and should never be overlooked.
Align your curriculum to reflect the new learning normal
When you change the learning environment that teachers and students operate within, you need to keep in mind that you should also implement change in your learning curriculum. Prior to the pandemic, school curriculums were structured to reflect an in-class environment, which offers hands-on guidance and techniques for students. For many schools, this model may no longer exist as some remain remote. While schools begin researching learning applications and websites to accommodate learning initiatives for the fall, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed and lost in a sea of countless offerings.
To ensure that the most important applications are available to students, implement a solution that can measure student engagement and gain insight into how your district is utilizing both new and old learning programs.
One solution that has helped Duarte USD figure out which applications will be needed and in what priority order is Absolute’s Web Usage. With Absolute, we’re able to receive reporting and detailed insights to help us drive better learning outcomes and identify valuable or underused learning resources. Additionally, it offers us guidance to help build a budgetary plan next year. Adopting tools like these gives schools a direct look into the effectiveness of learning applications and can positively direct the changes needed in school curriculum to maximize learning opportunities.
Ensure your student devices are secured
On top of refining school curriculum to reflect the new normal of e-learning, schools need to amplify their security posture as internet-connected device activity increases. Even with security measures in place like website filters that prevent unwanted sites from interfering with learning initiatives, often times students are able to bypass the filters in place. For a school IT department that is already stretched too thin and making sure security tools are running efficiently, it’s invaluable to adopt tools that can pinpoint risky websites – including potential Children’s Internet Protection Act (CIPA) compliance violations – to ensure school administrators are protecting the online safety of their students.
There has never been a more critical time for distance learning initiatives to be anchored in trust – and the technology tools used should reflect that. Aside from eliminating risk of unwanted websites, schools that are lending out devices also need to be able to locate them. Especially if a device goes missing, IT departments have to be able to quickly track and trace devices remotely. For Duarte USD, we rely on Absolute for its tether to all our student devices and ensuring we have access to locate, track, and take control over any device in the event of loss, theft, or damage. So the message here is prioritize investing in tools like these that will ensure Endpoint ResilienceTM and protect student devices, so they remain safe and free from risk.
Keep lines of communication open
When the new school year begins, administration should remember the importance of keeping all lines of communication open with parents and staff. Just because students are not physically in the classroom, it does not mean that collaboration and comradery should disappear. Being able to share experiences, announcements, and celebrations with one another is a huge component of what makes school systems extraordinary, and that shouldn’t fall by the wayside just because of distant learning. A good way to keep spirits up is by sharing weekly updates, notes, and announcements schoolwide. Don’t be afraid to get creative, commit to routine letters or videos and be transparent with staff and parents with updates.
The complexity of the situation is sure to bring complications and speed bumps as schools explore ways to effectively adopt e-learning techniques. At the end of the day, the main goal is making sure all students have access to not only secure devices, but also connectivity to teachers and access to online curriculum— extending beyond just academics. It’s also important to support social and emotional learning and ensure connection with each other remains strong.
By tapping into your local resources, adopting technology tools that efficiently and securely fit the e-learning model you are trying to achieve, and keeping open communication a top priority, a successful school year – regardless of location – is sure to follow.