5 technology tips for K-12 hybrid learning

These five recommendations address the ongoing challenges educators and students face during disruptions caused by COVID.
Adam Garry is Dell Technologies' Senior Director of Education Strategy.
Adam Garry is Dell Technologies’ Senior Director of Education Strategy.

The beginning of the 2020 school year has been anything but predictable. In November 2020 alone, schools in Utah, Minnesota, and Michigan announced a return to online learning following COVID-19 outbreaks during in-person learning.

Nearly a year into an ongoing pandemic, school districts across the United States have been forced to pivot back and forth between remote and in-person learning and, in some cases, hybrid models with elements of each. With COVID-19 cases on the rise yet again, districts across the nation are moving back to remote learning and working tirelessly to make the shift as seamless as possible.

Providing efficient tools for students and teachers is critical to ongoing learning. Yet the shift to remote learning remains a significant challenge. Schools have had to ensure students and teachers have the proper IT equipment and knowledge, alongside adequate support to make digital and hybrid learning a success with the evolving circumstances. Many K-12 leaders are focusing on developing IT skills such as project management and analytical abilities so teachers can achieve success in new environments.

To address these ongoing challenges and ensure students can learn in and out of the classroom, here are five recommendations for K-12 schools to consider as they think about the future:

1. Ensure interactive tools support learning

Creative use of IT tools to ensure students are still able to actively communicate, create, and collaborate through display solutions, strategic digital resources, and gamification will keep students engaged even when they can’t interact with peers face to face.

HyFlex environments take into account truly blended learning models—wherein a number of students may be in the classroom, while the rest are continuing to learn remotely. School districts must consider what these evolving hybrid classrooms will look like. Perhaps they involve large format displays with cameras that track instructors as they speak. They might also include interactive microphones that allow students to communicate with one another, from the classroom or their kitchen table.

More from DA: 3 alternatives to requiring video in online learning

Regardless of its makeup, the classroom of the future will likely include more project-based learning and performance-based assessment—with an emphasis on learning over teaching—and the technology implemented must support each of these components. In a world where everything is digital, and resources are abundant, school systems should implement dashboards and analytics to track investments and truly understand the impact digital tools and software are having on learning and student success. When schools analyze how they use projects and playlists to support personalized learning, they can ensure all learners can learn in unique ways.

2. Strengthen Professional Learning for educators, students, and families

Teachers are seeking to engage students with new instructional tools while working to meet the academic and social-emotional needs of all students. Leaders are not only addressing new and varied needs on a daily basis but are also building a shared vision for what learning will look like post-pandemic. Therefore, learning opportunities that include leadership consulting, curriculum and instruction development, classroom and virtual coaching, and training on specific technology systems need to be implemented to meet the varying needs of educators.

Remote learning has also created a reason to deepen students’ understanding of technology. In addition to ensuring that students are able to use the tools available to readily access content and learning processes, teachers and administrators should consider creating programming electives for students who want to try developing applications and software.

But this furthered education can’t stop with students and staff—as virtual education continues, so too must the support for families. Many parents struggled through digital literacy journeys of their own at the onset of the pandemic, learning new digital skills for the very first time. This continuum of professional learning should aim to incorporate teachers and parents alike and focus on web and media, cyber, data, and hardware literacies. This includes the entire community coming together to provide learning experiences in a wide variety of formats.

3. Ensure staff has access to updated equipment and IT support

On top of these new challenges, we have also seen a rapid transition to a 1×1 learning model amid the pandemic. Today, nearly 80% of students are in 1×1 learning environments, causing an influx in devices that pose questions not only around access, but also equity. While these changes have the potential to create positive benefits, they also present challenges around service models built into contracts, ensuring that students have learning devices—and access to said devices—at all times.

More from DA: How one district made offsite classrooms work

Adding complicated technology to that mix is just another challenge to overcome, but luckily one that district IT leaders can help alleviate. It’s important to incorporate a support package when purchasing new equipment and consider what leased IT solutions are available to provide access to the latest equipment. When the device becomes the primary tool for learning the model for making sure that every student has a device 24/7 becomes an important part of the investment in technology.

It is also important to use this time to ensure that students can obtain certifications in technology fields and have access to great programs that drive STEM outcomes. At Dell we support that with two programs:

  • Student-led tech crews are another option that can allow students to get hands-on experience while helping peers and staff with technology issues.
  • Girls Who Game offers opportunities to girls in upper elementary and middle school to learn about gaming and coding via Minecraft and coding tools. They also meet with female mentors for the technology industry to hear about and ask questions about careers in STEM fields.

4. Establish a security checklist

 According to CoSN’s 2020 EdTech Leadership report, cybersecurity remains the #1 IT priority. For educators, security can seem overwhelming, but it’s critical and can be tackled in a manageable way. One way to address simplified security is to ask questions to ensure a healthy cybersecurity posture, including:

  • Have we instituted policies to make sure that devices coming back on campus are safe and secure?
  • Did the investment in security match the investment in any increase in access our school district has undertaken? Do we have the ability to run reports on said security investments?
  • Is the network prepared to meet the needs of the increased number of endpoints that have become an essential part of the learning experience? Are these endpoints secured properly?
  • Do we have policies in place to resolve any issues caused by a potential ransomware attack?
  • Are we more vulnerable today than where we were before the pandemic? If so, in what areas?

5. Unify the technological infrastructure used for instruction regardless of where the learning occurs

Servers, data storage, network capacity, data management software, and data security are all critical components of educational success. School systems should plan for a future that includes blended environments and strategically invest in the IT infrastructure required to support this environment. But it can’t stop there—communities must also be on board, investing in broadband access to ensure that students and teachers have access both at school and within the home. These components are essential in allowing the educator and student alike to smoothly transition to online learning whenever it’s needed.

More from DA: Hundreds of free K-12 resources during coronavirus pandemic 

With the right technology and proper IT support and resources to deliver and enhance learning in K-12 schools, teachers can educate and safely equip the next generation to thrive in the digital future. Education leaders are an essential part of the leadership team that will ensure the remote learning decisions align with the technology strategy. With excellent collaboration and trust between IT and teaching and learning leaders, we will be able to shift to blended learning environments and utilize technology to enable innovation, adjusting learning models to meet all learners’ needs.

Adam Garry is Dell Technologies’ Senior Director of Education Strategy.  Adam helps define and execute Dell’s strategy for K-12 and higher education. In this role, he is responsible for leading a team of education strategists across North America and defines Dell Technologies Strategy and Point of View for K-12 and higher education. 

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