By Kevin (Dr. D.) Dorsey, Ed.D.
Most schools have returned to normal operations, but planning for future closures is still important. Now when schools close for weather, plumbing, transportation issues or so many reasons, schools can instantly flip to remote teaching and learning and never miss a scheduled school day. Benefits include not impacting school breaks or needing to extend the school calendar or adjusting graduation dates.
To properly prepare the school community for the instant switch back and forth from remote to in-person teaching and learning, it is important to continually train teachers and students on any instructional technology tools that can and will be used. Providing job-embedded professional development is one of the best ways to support teachers who may struggle while implementing new technology tools. An instructional technologist or coach can provide support to teachers as a peer in a non-evaluative manner. Studies have shown that teachers who have access to a peer who can come into their classrooms and assist them with new technology tools feel better, more supported, and are able to implement the tools quicker while increasing both teacher and student experiences.
By setting the expectation that teachers can utilize instructional technology tools in their daily practices, teachers and students will have an easier time transitioning to remote instruction than during the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic. One of the major pain points for teachers and students at the start of remote learning was the need to quickly adopt and learn new technology tools. Teachers and students who are constantly exposed to (and who expect to utilize) school-approved applications on a semi-regular basis will have the skill sets needed to transition instantly to remote learning.
Even though the tools selected will vary by school or by district they should include an easy portal that provides the student with SSO capabilities to access curriculum applications, video conferencing applications, Google Workspace with MEET or Office 365 with Teams, PDF annotation, and other tools determined by school leaders. Many schools already utilize Clever or Classlink for this purpose. Both support rostering services for various applications and provide one place for students to access all their education technology applications, decreasing student frustration since all applications are housed on one personalized webpage.
Providing hardware to students who do not have a device at home was a challenge for many districts in 2020, and continues to be a bit of a problem. However, most schools now provide or have devices available to all students who don’t have access to devices at home. By providing this ready-access inventory, student devices are up-to-date and are configured properly for remote learning. Home devices may be outdated, infected with viruses, or not able to access all the technology tools utilized by a school. Providing access to school devices helps close the technology equity gaps that exist.
Internet connectivity is also a concern for many families, and schools have been creative in finding various ways to fill this gap. It is important to make sure families who do not have Internet connectivity at home are aware of local programs from local Internet providers. Programs such as the Affordable Connectivity Program from the Federal Communications Commission may even make it possible for families to get their Internet expenses completely paid for. That said, do not assume these programs will take care of the problem. It is important to check with families to ensure that they can work it out. If not, you may have to get creative. It is estimated that 19 million homes currently do not subscribe or have access to broadband Internet access. Some students may need to be provided a school-funded hotspot to attend and complete school work remotely.
Preparation for remote learning should be a part of a school’s regular professional development plan. Teachers and students should not fear remote instruction. While the goal will always be to return to in-person as quickly as possible, having a contingency plan will cause less chaos to a school calendar. Communication with teachers, students, parents, and guardians about a school remote teaching plan is essential to the program’s success. For example, if inclement weather is approaching, remind everyone to take home a device before the weather system arrives. If a school needs to be closed for another reason, communicating a plan for device distribution quickly and efficiently will limit distribution to students who lack home devices.
About the author
Kevin Dorsey is Strategic Solutions Engineer at Beacon, and host of (ET) and Dr. D., the official podcast of (ET) Magazine.