Students have returned to virtual or face-to-face classrooms, but from a technology perspective, the average middle schooler now looks more like a corporate executive. Now, the biggest challenge facing school district IT teams is that their departments were not set up (or budgeted) for the unique challenges that come with the remote synchronous learning programs resulting from the global pandemic.
Many daily challenges that were all too familiar for government agencies and large businesses, such as end user device support to connectivity and security, suddenly were introduced to education communities.
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For corporate America, shifting an entire workforce to be remote, with thousands of workers simultaneously logging into the network each morning from unsecured and often unstable Wi-Fi connections, was an easy transition. This is because most large organizations already had the necessary equipment, security controls, and infrastructure to support remote workers. Traditionally, the IT infrastructure and equipment that schools purchase have been designed to support in-classroom instruction. As the curriculum and modality shifts to using tools such as Microsoft Teams or Zoom, districts must pivot to support remote synchronous learning.
This challenge was recently summed up in an email from Seattle Public Schools to parents after the first day of remote learning, stating, “as we brought tens of thousands of devices onto our network this morning, we saw the internet slow down in some areas, and some students experienced disruptions to class meetings or might not have been able to login.” The email used the analogy, “we had six thousand cars on the road and now we have 63,000.”
As it became evident that most of our nation’s schools would be forced to start the school year in a remote or hybrid model, educators rushed to equip students with devices necessary to continue their education from home. In fact, according to National Telecommunications and Information Administration, 14 percent of school-age children still live in homes that lack internet connections. As a result, districts have worked diligently to get these students devices such as mobile hotspots or iPads with a 4G LTE connection.
Now that schools are back in session, district IT teams are starting to see the challenges of managing large numbers of remote users—and they have an opportunity to look to their colleagues in corporate America for solutions readily available in the market today.
Outsourcing end user support
For most school districts, IT issues have traditionally been managed by the educators or a small cadre of IT teams onsite within the school. Remote learning, along with the issuance of thousands of end user devices, has introduced a host of new technical support challenges. These challenges range from troubleshooting or replacing devices in a remote environment to addressing unstable internet connections for both the students and teachers that impact the efficacy of synchronous learning lessons.
Districts can solve these challenges and save costs by outsourcing this function to professional organizations that specialize in this type of support. They also bring the tools to prioritize and manage support requests following proven methodologies such as ITIL–a set of detailed practices for IT service management that focuses on aligning IT services with the needs of business.
What district IT teams can learn from the corporate world
Reviewing and redefining tools
Enterprise businesses have teams of people responsible for procuring the proper equipment based on an employee’s role within the company. Schools need to provide teachers with audio/video equipment that facilitates distance learning. Over the past decade, as downtown offices shifted to open floor plans and video conferencing meetings became commonplace, employers began issuing tools such as noise canceling headsets that not only block out external distractions, but also have mics that block the noise around them from being heard on calls.
In many U.S. homes, students do not have a private location that allows them to participate in their remote classes using the native mic and speakers in their device. However, many districts did not issue headsets to their students, and instead asked them to use their own. This can further highlight disparities as some students may not have access to high-quality headsets, while other students with access to Bluetooth devices like Apple Air Pods have to manage challenges due to battery life.
Additionally, while the native webcams in most student devices are likely sufficient for them, teachers are not able to move around during lessons while staying in view of the camera. This has proven most challenging in hybrid learning models where half of the class is live with the teacher while the other half is remote from home. As the teacher moves about the classroom in support of the live students, remote students are unable to see the teacher and often hear as the teacher moves out of range of the laptop microphone, causing them to miss portions of the lesson.
During this unprecedented time, educators are working passionately to support their students’ education while facing a host of new obstacles. As district IT teams navigate these challenges, they can also continue to learn from the business world. Partnering with corporate IT teams will help district IT teams identify the appropriate tools and processes to transform the remote education experience and ultimately be highly effective for children–wherever they are learning.
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