7 education communication and technology trends that offer benefits for the future

Schools are returning to more normal routines, but that doesn’t mean the effective, tech-enabled habits adopted earlier in the pandemic need to be left behind.
By: and | January 5, 2022
With online learning continuing, edtech coaches intend to help teachers create remote lessons that keep students engaged. (GettyImages/MEDITERRANEAN)GettyImages

Andrew M. Marron

Jason Borgen

When the pandemic hit, districts had to change many of the ways in which they operated. Some changes, such as advances in technology use, have had a positive effect beyond the continued operation of schools. For example, both our districts turned to technology to help strengthen and deepen communication with students’ families and the general community.

Although the Santa Cruz County Office of Education in Santa Cruz, CA, serves approximately 40,000 students and Winchester Public Schools’ student population is 5,000, they both saw the same opportunities and trends. Now that districts continue to shift between remote and in-person learning, we’ve identified seven trends that we’ve seen in both our districts and others that we believe we all should keep:

  1. Using technology to make learning work for more students. The shift to remote learning in early 2020 was unplanned, but some students thrived in the online environment. Granted, students typically need to be present in the classroom for funding purposes, but schools should consider maintaining a remote learning option for students who’d perform better online. Additionally, schools can leverage remote learning technology to provide expanded asynchronous access to classroom lesson material, expanded access to student support, and flexible district communications in the event of weather-related or other emergency events. Students in physical classrooms will also benefit from having reliable internet connections expanded to school hallways, gymnasiums, and outdoors as well as at home connections. All this would require having the right technological resources in place, so educators may want to consider continuing the distribution and use of district devices and hotspots.
  2. Accelerating technology adoption. Previously, some educators felt that they didn’t have the bandwidth to adopt unfamiliar technologies. While the pandemic-induced school closures and subsequent rapid shift to remote learning were a baptism by fire for them, the upside is that many are now comfortable with the technologies implemented during the closings. Schools can continue to leverage that new mindset (and their teachers who are “digital pioneers”) for future technology implementations.
  3. Modifying IT departments’ roles. When schools turned to remote learning at the onset of the pandemic, most IT departments, including ours, no longer focused on helping school staff only. Instead, we shifted to an all-hands-on-deck approach, hosting virtual office hours and family help desks to support students and their families with tech requests. Just as school systems should continue to use technology to help all students thrive, IT departments ought to maintain their new role and the strides they’ve made regarding technical support and improvements. We now provide parents and families ongoing support, from keeping students safe online to sharing best practices in updating hardware and connecting to peripherals.
  4. Placing more emphasis on cybersecurity. Remote and hybrid learning has required students and parents to access more cloud-based services, creating risks and vulnerabilities to computer networks. Memberships in associations that share cybersecurity best practices, e.g., the Multi-State Information Sharing & Analysis Center (MS-ISAC), can help schools and districts address this issue. Additionally, IT departments should teach staff and students about the dangers of online security breaches and ways to protect themselves. Districts also need to create greater governance of all school-to-home communications.
  5. Offering virtual meetings. To accommodate parents and caregivers, schools can continue to live stream important public meetings such as PTA meetings and board of education meetings. They can also offer web-based alternatives for private teacher-parent meetings such as IEP meetings and parent conferences. Parents usually find it more convenient to join a Zoom call than to physically drive to school for an in-person event.
  6. Investing in technology that meets every parent’s communications needs. It’s important to use equitable technology that allows parents and learning guardians to receive communications when and how they want. Whether it be on a computer, tablet, phone, text message, or email, communication should be optimized for the recipients’ preferences. Conducting a continuous needs assessment on communications strategy can ensure that a district knows families’ needs.
  7. Letting data guide school-to-family communication efforts. Having data that allows districts to know how parents and other stakeholders access communication is critical. Using a communications platform like ParentSquare enables educators to quickly identify the families they’re not reaching through regular channels so that they can figure out alternative modes of communication. This technology can also be used to conduct annual registration processes and information audits; share health forms and ensure that communications are accessible by school staff and teachers; and analyze results to pinpoint what is and isn’t effective.

Think like end-users to refine technology and communications

As we move closer to normalcy, tech leaders are examining what they’ve learned over the last 21 months and are holding onto the positive lessons. One of the most important lessons is that we need to put ourselves in the shoes of end-users such as teachers, students, parents, and learning guardians.

Thinking like an end-user allows for fine-tuning both the technology schools and districts use and the way they communicate. On the communication front, we discovered that there are basic tenets that remain the same regardless of how we deliver messages. For successful electronic communications, schools should keep the messaging brief, include hyperlinks for those who want to learn more and work to support two-way translation for more personal and equitable school-to-home communications.

We discovered these principles by keeping the end-user in mind and observing what worked. As we shift towards a post-pandemic world, we encourage tech leaders to examine what they’ve learned throughout the last two years and hold onto the very best of what worked.

About the Authors: Jason Borgen is Chief Technology Officer at Santa Cruz County Office of Education in Santa Cruz, CA and Andrew M. Marron is Senior Program Manager of Operations & Planning at Winchester Public Schools in Winchester, MA.