But with ARP funds being deployed at varying times, schools have to make challenging decisions about what to deploy first. To do so, they should evaluate the most urgent priorities within their district based on the past year and half of the pandemic. It might be ensuring that every child gets a device. Maybe it’s doubling down on network security and privacy. Or perhaps it’s making sure that all devices have mobile data connections so students without Wi-Fi at home–including those who divide their time among multiple homes–aren’t left behind.
As we’ve seen, the pandemic only widened the gap between the digital haves and have-nots. We can’t lose sight of how digitization can exacerbate inequalities. As the father of a college student, I’ve witnessed first-hand how university can be a great equalizer because everyone on campus has access to the same dormitories, lecture halls, and facilities. It points to the value of standardizing technology across grades to level the playing field for everyone. But to do so, schools need to define and prioritize the needs of their students, so they have a clear roadmap to follow as funding materializes.
Setting up for long-term success and dividends
Getting set up for seamless hybrid learning is not just a solution for today. It will also pay dividends long after the pandemic has receded. For instance, snow days and sick days might look very different if students can safely join class from home, which could help reduce learning loss. Yet there are growing challenges to navigate together as well. For example, the novelty of the online experience has worn off for many. One teacher recently told me that the vast majority of her students no longer turn on their cameras during virtual class. What does that say about engagement? As we hone the best practices and skills needed to use our technology thoughtfully and effectively, perhaps new approaches, such as curricula about good digital hygiene or regular mental health breaks, are needed to prevent burnout and stress.
All of this is a tall order. But the outcome will be invaluable. Developing a strong, cohesive technology strategy around hardware, software, and the network will give our educators the ability to respond to future challenges and developments with agility.
No doubt, we are seeing the And Era take shape before our very eyes, in our schools and in every facet of life. Amid these unprecedented challenges, we have the unique opportunity to thoughtfully build the infrastructure that will define the learning experience of the future and open up possibilities we can’t even imagine yet. Schools that focus on what they can control today will not only have an advantage this year, but for generations to come.
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