Back to School 2020: Key IT Considerations for Virtual Learning

A child watches a laptop that shows a live feed or video of a teacher lecturing.Usually, the back-to-school season involves kids boarding school buses, learning new locker combinations and getting to know new classmates face-to-face. However, this year, the start of the new school year will be anything but typical for millions of children due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Just as many other aspects of our lives have been turned upside down by the pandemic, the novel coronavirus “has changed education forever,” according to an article the World Economic Forum published in April.

COVID-19 and the Classroom: The Rise of Remote Learning in Response to the Pandemic

As COVID-19 spread around the world, educational institutions in various countries closed as part of broader shutdowns to combat the worsening pandemic. At the end of April, 1.2 billion children across 186 countries were impacted by those closures, according to the Forum.

Online learning quickly gained traction as a replacement for in-person classes. The concept of leveraging the internet and other technologies to make remote instruction possible was already growing in popularity before the pandemic: Global investments in learning tech companies reached over $18 billion in 2019, according to Business Insider. Now, with in-person learning presenting potential health and safety hazards, virtual educational tools have become vital for many teachers and students worldwide.

While the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) state that in-person instruction “is in the best interest of students, when compared to virtual learning,” the agency also notes that kids of all ages can catch COVID-19 and might play a part in spreading it. One study published in The Journal of Pediatrics and involving 192 children (ages 0 through 22) found that kids had even higher viral loads than adults hospitalized with severe novel coronavirus infections.

As a result, returning to classrooms this fall could cause significant outbreaks. Some universities that have welcomed students back to campus have already found themselves grappling with hundreds of cases, according to The Washington Post article “Universities sound alarm as coronavirus cases emerge just days into classes — 530 at one campus.” For instance, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill announced earlier this month that it would switch to virtual learning after confirming 177 COVID-19 cases among its students.

Until the pandemic is under better control, it looks like many students will do their learning from home, just as many people with office jobs continue to work from home to control the spread of the virus. Thirty-nine out of the 50 largest school systems in the U.S. have decided to move forward with remote learning exclusively as of Aug. 26, according to Education Week.

Essential Factors to Address for Effective Distance Learning

For those in the education industry dealing with the transition, there are plenty of factors to address to ensure remote schooling goes as smoothly as possible. If you’re adjusting to distance learning this fall, here’s some vital info to keep in mind as you navigate the “new normal” of not returning to the classroom. Please keep in mind that this isn’t an exhaustive list.

1. Establishing the proper infrastructure. If you haven’t already, you must take inventory of what software, hardware and telecom solutions you need to properly deliver remote instruction, according to the Center for Democracy and Technology (CDT) article “Considerations for Distance Learning: A 7-Point Strategy.”

2. Ensuring access to reliable, high-speed internet. All students and instructors must have adequate internet access so they can utilize e-learning programs and resources, the CDT states.

3. Distributing needed devices. Do all your students and teachers have the equipment they need – such as tablets, laptops, smartphones and so on – to use virtual learning platforms? It’s crucial to remember that students from lower-income homes might not have access to the devices they need, according to the Consortium for School Networking (CoSN).

4. Training teachers, students and everyone else to use e-learning technologies. The CoSN also recommends scheduling orientations and training sessions to get everyone familiar with the technologies they’ll use for remote schooling.

5. Making accommodations for students with special education needs.  E-learning might not mesh well with some students’ special education requirements, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP). Be aware of potential issues ahead of time and plan how you will accommodate Individualized Education Plans (IEPs).

6. Implementing proper cybersecurity measures. Transitioning to online learning using large numbers of mobile devices and laptops creates new points of vulnerability. Additionally, the pandemic has inspired malicious actors to exploit the crisis and use COVID-19-themed schemes to get their hands on sensitive data. IT security measures like anti-virus software, endpoint and network Managed Detection and Response (MDR) and zero-trust architecture.

7. Seeking IT support to address any issues. When students and teachers run into technical difficulties, who will they turn to for help? School districts should have an IT support team ready to tackle any problems. It’s also important to ensure everyone knows how to reach the help desk, according to the CoSN.

If you’d like to learn more about IT solutions that facilitate remote learning and work, our trusted technology advisors would be happy to assist you. Just give us a call at 877-599-3999 or email sales@stratospherenetworks.com.

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