Ask any K12 IT director and they’ll likely tell you that they have no intentions of returning back to “normal”; i.e., the old ways of instruction where laptops are kept in carts locked away in a closet. However, new data suggests quite the opposite. In fact, technology is being utilized in school districts like never before.
That’s according to a new report by the U.S. Department of Education Office of Inspector General that set out to shine a light on how local educational agencies (LEA) are leveraging ESSER funds for education technology. According to the data, an overwhelming majority of school districts have purchased edtech to expand instructional opportunities during the pandemic.
Based on responses from 300 surveyed school districts, an estimated 92% of LEAs used ESSER funds to purchase “hardware, software, connectivity, or related products or services to continue instruction remotely during the coronavirus,” the report reads.
“LEAs reported that they initiated or expanded to programs that provided all students in their schools or districts access to digital devices for schoolwork and purchased hotspots that resolved or mitigated the challenges of ensuring that all students and teachers had adequate internet access,” the report reads.
“Additionally, they purchased instructional software that offered teachers flexibility when creating remote learning environments and technology-related training that was both a challenge and an unexpected opportunity to improve teacher and student use of technology.”
According to the data, more than two-thirds (68%) said ESSER funds were essential in allowing them to support remote learning when the pandemic forced districts to close schools. Specifically, 93% of LEAs reported using such funds to purchase hardware necessary for continuing instruction (93%), connectivity (70%), software (66%) and other products and services (43%) like training.
However, these solutions came with their fair share of challenges. When asked about their most significant barriers to using pandemic relief funds for educational technology, 79% of respondents overall said they experienced “significant challenges.”
According to the data, the most common issues that arose when using ESSER funds to purchase educational technology included:
- Shifting instruction (91%)
- Internet access (76%)
- Purchasing (54%)
- Maintain/repair (43%)
- Training (39%)
- Safeguard (39%)
- Cybersecurity (32%)
- Assess needs (22%)
Furthermore, LEAs reported that ESSER funding helped them to a “great degree” achieve instructional support in four specific areas crucial to remote instruction during the pandemic:
- Hardware (62%)
- Software (71%)
- Connectivity (63%)
- Educational technology (64%)