Following an abrupt shift to remote learning this past spring, school and district administrators have had their fair share of summer homework as they prepare for a technology-first fall term. From filling out funding applications to reworking classrooms to promote social distancing, to choosing the right technology for hybrid learning environments, they’ve been working diligently to prepare for a school year that drives student engagement.
With COVID-19 showing few signs of slowing down, schools will likely not get through the next school year without some form of remote learning. It is also a safe bet that schools will lean heavily on education technology solutions to help ensure teachers can continue to deliver lesson plans to wherever students are located. With thousands of districts around the nation going back to school, the need for online education tools for students, teachers, and parents has never been more vital.
The key to investing in and maximizing edtech is to know which ones will work best for your district as there are so many to choose from. The following are a few important considerations district administrators should take into account to ensure their investment provides students with meaningful learning experiences – anytime, anywhere.
Maximize the tools you have
Many schools nationwide were already using technology in the classroom when the pandemic hit and learning went remote: Kahn Academy, Kahoot, Promethean, Schoology, Zoom, Teams, YouTube, Edutopia, and other highly adopted apps. However, the critical process of integrating all of these into one unified virtual learning environment might not have been in place since they were secondary to in-classroom learning.
In fact, a 2020 report that surveyed 1,200 U.S. teachers and administrators found that only 20 percent of respondents considered their schools “very prepared to implement remote learning in response to COVID-19.”
As today’s district administrators continue the journey towards a remote-friendly classroom, it is critical to create a digital roadmap to help prevent frustration and ensure procedures are in place for using technology school-wide.
It’s equally important to maximize the tools you already have. Let me repeat that – use what you have and leverage what you know. Teachers are more likely to be comfortable with the solutions they’ve been using rather than to learn to use new technology while learning new processes. Chances are there are a lot more ways to further the use of solutions teachers have used before than to introduce too many new things at once.
Further, district administrators will ensure proper training is in place both during implementation and ongoing, and create a virtual space for educators to share teaching tips with each other.
Conduct thorough research
While many schools did have tools they could use when the world went remote, we know that was not the case for every district nationwide. Many schools lacked the technology and network infrastructure needed to make remote learning possible in the spring and found themselves scrambling for the right solutions – and the funding to acquire them.
If technology considerations are still being made, a good way to start analyzing technology solutions is to begin with what your district really needs to serve its students. This will help you prioritize which solutions are the best fit. Although it might be tempting to make a quick decision about which solutions to invest in, especially as the semester quickly approaches, talking with other schools to see what has worked best for them can be an extremely worthwhile exercise. What’s more, research companies that will provide up-front and ongoing training, and try to avoid solutions from companies that have not proven they know how to deliver over the long term in the very unique K-12 environment.
Once you have the solutions list down to a manageable size, invite vendors to present their solutions like Southeast Lauderdale High School did (pre-pandemic) before buying interactive whiteboards. The team evaluating options in the Mississippi school was able to test different platforms, which allowed it to see which systems lacked reliability, interactivity, and integrability and which ones demonstrated superior functionality, sustainability, and ease of use. In the times of COVID-19, the proactive vendors are offering virtual demos of their solutions that can help give you the look and general feel for how a solution could work in your classroom.
Embrace the opportunity to update and improve
At the risk of sounding too optimistic, this pandemic could allow all of us to break free from our habits and intentionally examine teaching and learning approaches, and possibly improve learning outcomes in some ways as a result. Once we get through the COVID-19 pandemic, some schools may choose to continue to mix digital learning with in-person interaction for a more engaging learning environment, or to reach certain segments of learners in new ways.
The number-one question right now is: How can we teach better under these circumstances? The education system is learning lessons that will continue to be applied for years and will help prepare students not only for higher education but for their future careers. K-12 schools usually represent the struggle between innovation and consistency – whether that is related to the content, technology, food service, transportation, reporting – the list goes on and on. There is so much to do, but districts have very limited budgets and many competing priorities to consider before making a change that you’ll have to live with for quite some time. This pandemic is truly awful, and the loss of life and disruption to the economy and to learning and the fabric of how we interact as people has been devastating. If there is any “opportunity” here, it is to examine the current classroom processes and use this time as a catalyst for positive change in select areas.
Prepare to pivot quickly
Most schools nationwide are preparing to offer hybrid learning programs because of the “unknown unknowns” that come along with the pandemic. Although some students will attend school in person this fall, it may only be for two or three days a week. Schools that do reopen their doors may need to make arrangements to also teach the students whose parents prefer to keep them home or to deliver accommodations in new ways. Others will have teachers in the classroom while students learn remotely. There are likely 10 other scenarios under consideration across the nation and globally.
That lack of certainty about what will happen next lends credibility to investing time in developing concrete strategies and technology that will allow teachers to transition back and forth between remote and in-person instruction.
We’re learning lessons now that may continue to be applied, in some way, for years to come.