With schools heading back to school, IT and technology leaders across the country are facing some of the most challenging circumstances given the disruptions caused by the COVID-19 outbreak.
“We’re about to go back-to-school, with a choose-your-own attendance model, and it’s only me and one other IT guy. It’s madness,” reported one technology coordinator of a suburban-Chicago school district.
Plus, many parents and school staff are pushing back on reopening plans, leading to a great deal of uncertainty. With so many unknowns, IT leaders are forced to prepare for multiple contingency plans.
We’ll outline the most common reopening education models and the impact it has on technology, as well as some steps IT can take to gain control in a situation steeped in variables and last-minute changes.
Back-to-School in 2020: The COVID-19 Conundrum
The outbreak of coronavirus disrupted the end of the 2019-2020 school year, and technology leaders are still playing catch-up.
Schools across the U.S. moved remote to reduce the spread of COVID-19 beginning in March and April of 2020. Initially, government education and health officials indicated the potential return to school — in-person — in the Fall.
Yet the U.S. continues to see rising case numbers and with the autumn semester about to begin, many education leaders across departments, grade bands, and roles are struggling to make plans. The continuing changes, both in government recommendations, disease data and medical understanding, are challenging for technologists.
Some of the variables impacting reopening plans include:
Disease spread information: Data about how the coronavirus is transmitted has led medical teams to identify specific activities and behaviors that lead to increased transmission. Tight gatherings, close contact, and activities that involve heavy breathing – like singing – greatly increase the method of transmission.
Child & teen vector info: The data around how children are both impacted and involved in the transmission of COVID-19 has changed drastically over the last few months. School reopening plans have been significantly impacted by these minute-by-minute learnings.
Community demands: Parents, teachers, and students have their own views about the current virus crisis. The politicization surrounding the virus has increased the tension and sense of what best practices entail. In some areas, teachers have held sick-strikes, protesting what some view as a risk reopening.
In addition, some schools are offering a choose-your-own-adventure style entrance to the school year – or requiring 1:1 – all without including the IT team in planning.
Government recommendations: Federal and state governments have delivered mixed messages regarding the spread of COVID-19 and the risk of reopening schools, adding yet another layer of complexity for educators and IT leaders looking to make an effective 2020-2021 reopening plan.
The number of stakeholders and factors, as well as the variety of reopening education models, means technology services will be impacted.
Here are the three primary reopening plans, the impact on technology services, and what IT can do.
Education Models & Back-to-School Technology
While the nuances around reopening plans vary tremendously, they fall into three primary categories: full-time virtual or remote, part-time in-person and virtual or a hybrid, blended learning approach, and a full-time in-person model.
100% Virtual Model
The 100% virtual or remote model for reopening has the highest direct impact on IT; however, the decisive and all-in nature of this model also means that once the initial planning is complete, IT will have a consistent, routine approach to technology management.
Description: In a full-time remote or 100% virtual education model, all students and staff operate completely off-site in home or similar environments. They may use a school-issued or personal computing device.
IT Impact: Security, collaboration tools, and network connectivity become top-of-mind.
IT Next Steps: Ensure you have adequate security controls in place, include multi-factor authentication and email security.
Apply the same security diligence to your collaboration platform. We recommend Cisco Webex Teams, which is the most secure elearning platform.
Finally, help families and educators with clear, easy-to-understand support for a connected, speedy experience.
The hybrid model for reopening schools is favored by school districts with smaller populations or multiple stakeholders. While there are some risks, many districts feel this is a safe middle-ground choice for back-to-school in 2020.
Description: Hybrid models for reopening schools in the Fall are the most complex and varied. The specific logistics of a hybrid model may vary tremendously; some schools may have in-person learning half-day or split among segmented groups of students, while others may operate two days in-person and three days at-home.
IT Impact: For IT, this situation poses the most complexity. IT leaders need to ensure the technological performance of both in-person and at-home learning with technology. This might mean addressing device access, network performance, overall security, and simple troubleshooting.
IT Next Steps: Define the exact operational model under which you are working and identify relevant technology needs for each environment: in-school and at-home.
Identify what solutions already exist and map those to each environment, noting gaps in either procedures or applications.
Prioritize gaps and work with other district teams to procure the resources needed.
100% In-Person Model
A 100% in-person, regular back-to-school model for reopening is the easiest from a technological standpoint. Challenges around social distancing, device sanitation, and
Description: In a 100% in-person reopening model, most students return on-site to school for learning. This model most closely resembles pre-pandemic education models; however, the nature of the COVID-19 virus means even in a 100% in-person model, some families may opt-out, instead choosing to remain at home.
IT Impact: IT will be more focused on how technology enables social distancing in a learning environment and helps minimize disease spread.
IT Next Steps: Focus on the in-person environment first, performing your regular assessment and maintenance to ensure operational success.
Then, identify any emerging policies or needs for both the in-person and likely growing at-home learners, determining whether current resources or tools can meet them.
Finally, procure any additional resources needed to support both teachers and students during the ongoing and evolving challenges.
Challenges & Expectations For Back-to-School 2020
Regardless of the back-to-school education model employed by your district, the upcoming changes and shifting expectations will remain a challenge for everyone: staff, teachers, parents, and students.
The best steps IT can take at this juncture is controlling what they can: acquiring new devices, helping families and students navigate with clarity and transparency the multitude of possible scenarios, and adding a decisive, loud voice to the conversation.
Need help managing back-to-school technology for 2020 and the various education models? Reach out to one of our EdTech specialists at Mindsight for advice and recommendations.
See what we can do for you. Contact us today.
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About The Authors
Eric White is Chief Technology Officer and VP of Consulting Services at Mindsight. With over ten years of experience in information technology and leadership, Eric excels at implementing network and data center technologies, designing high-yield solutions for the business. Holding professional certifications from Microsoft, VMware, and EMC, as well as the Cisco CCNP, Eric is an expert at solving business realities with a client-centric focus that delivers.
Siobhan Climer writes about technology trends in education, healthcare, and business. With over a decade of experience communicating complex concepts around everything from cybersecurity to neuroscience, Siobhan is an expert at breaking down technical and scientific principles so that everyone takes away valuable insights. When she’s not writing tech, she’s reading and writing fantasy, hiking, and exploring the world with her twin daughters. Find her on twitter @techtalksio.