We recently moderated a panel to discuss the impact COVID-19 is having on EdTech purchases, interoperability, and onboarding. If you were unable to join the webinar live, you can listen to it here. The panel members included Joe Fives, Director of IT for Kansas City (KS) Public Schools; Rob Abel, CEO at IMS Global Learning Consortium; Aaron Harnly, CTO at Amplify; and Uma Hankar, Director of IT, Alachua County Public Schools.
“Overnight, we were told schools were closing and to come up with a distance learning plan. Fortunately, we had G-Suite and GG4L for almost 12 years, so we had the software infrastructure and the tools built in. We were able to come up with a continuity plan and deploy these tools en masse.” – Uma Hankar
The Alachua County district was ahead of the curve. They had already implemented GG4L as their SSO platform, so they already had all of their instructional materials, supplemental materials, and enterprise productivity tools going through the platform.
The Challenges in EdTech Presented by the Pandemic
While Alachua County and Kansas City had been planning for some sort of crisis that would force them to shift quickly to distance learning, not all school districts – or families – were prepared.
Lack of Devices and Access to the Internet
Some schools didn’t have devices for their students, prompting GG4L to launch a new initiative, 1 Million Devices. Others had the devices, but the students had no access to the internet.
“Devices and internet access are critical,” explained Aaron Harnly. “With usage of our platform, there was a steep drop off in usage at first, then a flood of support calls from teachers. Usage has gone way up as schools have adjusted; usage times have also spread out from peak in the middle of the day to all day, including early morning and late night, as students work around their parents and their own schedules. But there are also areas where there’s literally no usage – where there’s inequity in devices or internet access.”
Access to the internet was an issue in Kansas City. “About 23-25% of students do not have internet access at home, so even though they had devices, that had no way to access materials,” Joe Fives explained. “We had to print education materials and put up hot spots.”
In Kansas City, they may have had a device for every student, but K-8 students had already been sent home, and those devices were still at school. “We were partially ready but not fully. Our high school students have had MacBook Airs that they take home; they were already using Google classroom and other tools – but that was only 6500 students out of 23700. All of the rest – more than 20,000 students – needed our help. We were lucky we had the devices, but they were at school. We had to get them ready to deploy,” explained Joe. “The next challenge was that the IT staff doesn’t know the students. We had to implement a school-based curbside delivery, where each school was responsible for handing out devices to their students.
The Future: Challenges and Opportunities
What will the future of education look like? It will not return to a “pre-pandemic normal.” Most experts predict a continuation of distance learning into the fall or at the very least a hybrid learning system and split schedules to minimize the number of students at the school at one time.
Devices and access to the internet will remain critical needs. Aaron Harnly has identified a number of additional areas that will be crucial, including high-quality holistic diagnostics that allow districts to measure academic learning loss and social and emotional wellbeing; tutoring; and better remote learning tools.
There will be challenges – teacher attrition, budget shortages, accessing CARES Act funding for edtech, and ensuring equity among students. But there will also be an evolution in education in which EdTech can play a larger role in ensuring the playing field is leveled and all students have access to a rich and diverse learning platform. But Rob Abel sees this as an opportunity to improve distance learning and education in general. He explains, “For two decades we’ve been preparing for the scaling up and thoughtful use of education technology. The standards themselves were proven to scale already – so what would have been a nightmare 5-10 years ago are proven and scalable, but this has given us an opportunity to identify gaps – to look to what it will take to make it even better in the future.”
One thing is certain: non-profit and public benefit corporations like IMS Global and GG4L have a huge role to play in ensuring that schools, teachers, and students have access to secure, open source, agile, and comprehensive solutions to their ongoing and everchanging educational needs.
GG4L mission-driven to achieve goals based on research. We want to make it easy for schools to make this digital transformation and be the catalyst of the transformation. Membership is free for schools. Join us today.