What Will Learning Look Like in Fall 2020?
It has been a year of monumental change for teachers, school administrators, and students alike. Lesson plans were thrown out and re-written. Classrooms were emptied. Students learned from home for months. No one saw it coming, but educators across the country, including those in our own hometown of Detroit, rolled up their sleeves to make sure that, even in the face of a global pandemic, the children in their charge received the education they deserved. But now, with many schools wrapping up the academic year by early June, we’re collectively facing a new major decision: What are we going to do next year?
Now is the time to plan for the fall of 2020. Throughout the COVID crisis, our team has spent thousands of hours helping our education clients navigate the complex challenges and opportunities related to hybrid learning. During that time, we have learned a lot and want to make sure you can benefit from that experience. Each school and district will face their own unique challenges, but we believe there are a handful of essential questions that everyone needs to consider during their planning process. If you can answer these questions well, you will be on your way to a strong start in September.
The Four Questions You Need to Consider
As if planning for a normal school year wasn’t enough work, now you need to invent a whole new way to educate children. Every aspect of running a school has been impacted by COVID. But we believe that if you can work through these four primary questions, you can find a new normal that makes the best of a tough situation:
How Will You Track Attendance & Engagement?
Ad hoc solutions work in a pinch, even if that pinch lasts 8-10 weeks. But if socially distant learning becomes part of the new normal, you’ll need a permanent, tested, reliable method to track attendance and student engagement.
What’s The Right Learning Management System For Your School?
We’re not sure what regulations will persist into the next school year. Will classrooms have to operate at 80% capacity? 50% capacity? 25% capacity? How will you continue to reach all your students when some are on campus and some are not? What type of learning methodology will you implement? Synchronous, asynchronous, or a mixture of both? All of these questions matter when determining the correct platform for teaching.
What Devices Do You Need To Facilitate Effective Learning?
If students continue to learn from home, many will need access to computers and tablets. And if you’re not already a 1-to-1 school, how will you make sure they have the tools they need while preserving critical instructional tech for the students onsite? What about tech for teachers and staff working at home? How can we replicate the in-person teaching experience virtually?
Do You Have The Right Infrastructure To Support E-Learning?
Virtual classrooms demand different functionality from your technology environment. Have you considered the changes you’ll need to make to your existing networking equipment and bandwidth if learning at home is a long-term proposition?
For the rest of this post, we’ll look at each of these questions more carefully. They all need to be answered but they are just the beginning of a longer conversation. They’re a sort of jumping-off point for many other considerations that also need to be addressed. As we go through them, we’ll also pose a few potential solutions that may help you get started on your planning process.
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Attendance & Engagement: How Are You Keeping Track Of Your Students?
Our attendance and engagement tracking tools are mostly built on the assumption that students are together, in a classroom, under the direct supervision of a teacher. In a world filled with e-learning, that starts to look very different. Tracking the attendance and engagement of your students is essential. You won’t just need it to justify your funding. You’ll also need it to ensure your students get the education they deserve. No matter what solution you choose, it should meet the following criteria:
- It should provide a simple method for recording onsite vs. virtual attendance and sync back to your SIS.
- It should provide analytics to track and drive insights about engagement across educational platforms.
- It should include at-home content filtering and screen monitoring.
- It should be built on a flexible scheduling tool that holds students and staff accountable to attendance expectations.
Our team has used a number of solutions to help schools track their student attendance and engagement. Our partners at GoGuardian have developed a great way to monitor engagement and filter content during instructional time. When it comes to analytics, the emphasis should not be on more data points but instead on better data points. ClassLink offers the most robust platform we’ve seen in regards to identifying individual student time on task, app usage analytics, spending reports, and more. Staying flexible with regard to virtual vs in-person learning means using a schedule that’s adaptive to changing needs. If you’re a PowerSchool user, we recommend using PowerScheduler which makes it simple to test and publish a variety of scenarios. If you have questions about any of these options, please reach out to our team and we’ll help you decide which one is the best fit for your school.
Learning Management: A Seamless Experience From Home to School
Zoom and Google Hangouts helped many of us make it through the school year. What we really need going forward is a robust Learning Management System that creates a seamless transition between classroom and virtual learning. A platform that not only creates a uniform experience no matter where students are, but also archives and presents lessons in a succinct and searchable manner. Some things your Learning Management Solution should include are:
- Seamless two-way communication to support both assessment and feedback that feels just like being face to face.
- The ability to organize your lessons and courses in a syllabus format.
- The ability to organize and search lessons in a synchronous or asynchronous format.
- No file size limits or restrictions on common file formats.
- A Microsoft Teams or Slack-type tool to help teachers collaborate and socialize.
We think it’s also important to consider how you will track progress, solicit feedback, and assess areas of needs for different students. A lot of schools may be utilizing free resources like Google Classroom because it is simple. But many haven’t thought about how that would impede or enhance their learners’ ability to move between A/B scheduling and other reactive circumstances that may disrupt continuity next year. Teaching one to many is okay for now, but when kids take tests in the future, synchronously and asynchronously, Google Classroom may cause some problems due to its simplicity.
We also have experience with a variety of Learning Management tools such as SeeSaw, Schoology, and Canvas. Each platform has its own unique features that may appeal to different schools. For help choosing the right Learning Management System for your school, just contact our team of EdTech experts for a free consultation.
Hardware Requirements: The Required Teaching Tools
During the last few months, we’ve all realized the importance of 1-to-1 computing. It empowers students to learn whether they’re in the classroom or at home. If learning from home becomes more of a long-term, new normal, more children will need access to laptops and tablets. For effective e-learning, we recommend that:
- You provide a device for every student who needs one to participate effectively in your desired learning outcomes.
- All devices have a webcam and a built-in keyboard.
- You find a way to provide internet access to every family who needs it.
- You have an efficient distribution plan for deploying and fixing devices when someone raises their hand, or an unforeseen closure moves everyone 100% online.
Unfortunately, not everyone has the budget, especially these days, to buy hundreds or thousands of expensive machines. So how will you make sure your students have what they need to learn effectively outside the classroom? Chromebooks are an affordable option for many schools, and refurb shops are an alternative if brand new devices aren’t in the budget, and the 1 Million Project is a large organization dedicated to helping students get equal access to high speed internet. If you need help, our team is here to help you source hardware and develop creative solutions to solve challenging problems.
Bandwidth & Streaming: Taking Network Capacity To The Next Level
Sharing and viewing a few videos during class is one thing. Supporting High Definition Video streaming for hundreds of students and dozens of teachers all day, every day is a whole different animal. If remote learning continues into the fall, especially if teachers start teaching from the classroom, your internal network will need the capacity to handle data like never before. To avoid interruptions or failures in the system, you’ll need:
- To know the maximum bandwidth your ISP provider is currently issuing.
- To have infrastructure in place to support a high capacity network.
- Custom traffic rules to prioritize your bandwidth for virtual learning tools.
- Resources to help staff connect from home.
And to provide clear, reliable instruction, you’ll also need video platforms that provide:
- Seamless two-way communication including gallery view modes and ability to view both the speaker and the speaker’s screen.
- HD quality streaming to emulate live, in-classroom instruction.
- A video recording feature for saving lessons.
- High quality audio solutions to account for teachers using masks.
- Portable audio and visual options for pop-out classroom structures.
And should you decide to deploy our Robo Teachers, our team can help make sure all the settings are correct and that your internet hardware is configured to manage this new capacity and demand.
Let’s Make Next Year A Great Year, Together
The fall of 2020 will present every school with unique challenges they never thought they’d have to face. Our entire education system was built on a foundation of close, personal instruction and community learning. This new disease has short-circuited that system and forced us all to develop new teaching models and innovate our educational practices more radically than ever before.
As you and your staff begin planning for the next academic year, take time to review and answer these questions. If you’d like to discuss them in more detail with our team of Education Technology experts, please reach out using the contact information below. We look forward to speaking with you and helping you make next year a great year no matter what challenges you face.