Tips for Choosing the Right School Technology for Online and Hybrid Learning
While online learning opportunities are now better understood, this new phase of education had a rocky start. Because of the abrupt transition from in-person to online education demanded by COVID-19, schools faced a steep learning curve as they developed online and hybrid learning experiences. Although not ready for the change, schools were forced to adapt or risk losing all connection with students. Many districts stepped up to the plate, and practically overnight, figured out a makeshift plan.
This new approach to learning also presented rigorous challenges to students, parents, and educators. And yet, studies show that even post-pandemic, online learning will retain a strong foothold in the education ecosystem. According to experts in economics and education, a confluence of forces will likely fuel continued demand for online teaching. While most schools already have at least temporary means for providing online education in place, it’s imperative to reevaluate those solutions and develop an ongoing school technology and infrastructure strategy to continue supporting online and hybrid learning.
In this article, we will explore the challenges and benefits presented by supporting online and hybrid learning, and the technology that can help students, teachers, and schools be successful.
The Challenges of Online Learning
As every school district has realized, online learning is not without its challenges. Here are some of the top struggles that districts have faced.
1. Keeping students engaged. The shift to online learning happened quickly. Teachers, many of whom had never taught online, had to adapt lesson plans for digital instruction. Students needed to adjust to a new method of learning, and for many, it was harder to pay attention to a screen than in-person instruction.
2. Figuring out technology requirements. With the quick shift to digital, many districts hadn’t mapped out their technology needs, such as network requirements, which hindered their ability to create a plan and select and implement a technical solution.
3. Securing sensitive information. Security is always a top concern for school districts and many were left unsure of how to secure sensitive information and protect portals to their networks.
A Blended Approach to Learning: The Hybrid Model
Perhaps the biggest challenge of online learning stems from the misconception that technology, alone, can transform education. Adopting a blend of online and in-person instruction helps schools seize the opportunities that online learning has to offer, such as asynchronous learning, self-paced lessons, additional one-on-one instruction, better testing and accountability, and more.
San Antonio Superintendent Pedro Martinez says, “I think the right mix is the reverse of what we have now. My ideal is when we can have 70 percent of students in-person and 30 percent remote.”
Enter the hybrid learning model.
And San Antonio isn’t alone. Ten percent of district leaders surveyed by the RAND Corporation last fall said they had adopted or were considering a hybrid instructional model. Another 19 percent said they were at least considering offering ongoing online instruction.
Online learning is here to stay. While there are some undeniable challenges to online learning, potential benefits are equally impossible to ignore.
The Top Three Benefits of Online Learning
Online learning provides many opportunities for both individual students and entire districts. Here are some of the top benefits of online and hybrid learning.
1. Flexible learning and preparation for future employment. Some students have selected online learning as their education format of choice. With digital instruction, students can pursue asynchronous learning, which is when students can learn at their own pace and on their own schedules. It works well for self-motivated learners who do not need guidance to complete their assignments.
Online learning serves students beyond the classroom, too, because it prepares them for remote employment opportunities (a growing trend even before COVID-19). By mastering digital literacy skills required for online learning, such as video conferencing technologies, PowerPoint, and Excel, future professionals stand out in a competitive job market.
2. Bridging the distance between districts. The current education ecosystem is divided into two types of districts: focus districts and non-focus districts. Focus districts are defined by the RAND Corporation as agencies wherein the student population is 50 percent Black or Hispanic/Latino, or wherein at least 50 percent of students qualify for free or reduced-price lunch. Focus districts often don’t have the same resources as non-focus districts, such as AP classes or a wide range of language class offerings, which puts their students at a disadvantage when it comes to learning opportunities.
Technology, along with online instruction, can level the learning field. For example, schools can share resources with one another, connect with students across districts, and conduct those lessons remotely. By using remote education to bridge the distance between districts, students now have the opportunity to explore subjects otherwise unavailable to them.
3. Opening the classroom to all students, regardless of ability. Online, students can learn from the comfort and safety of their own homes. With online and hybrid instruction, students who are comfortable with a subject won’t be forced to slow down for the students who are struggling. With asynchronous learning, teachers can pay closer attention to each student’s performance and better support the students who need more help with one-on-one, individualized instruction.
Making the transition to online learning is important, but finding the right technology is key to enabling teachers to teach and learners to learn.
Five Questions to Help You Find the Best School Technology for Your District’s Needs
As we’ve noted, there are two major philosophical approaches to virtual learning: the hybrid model, which involves both live and online classes, and self-paced computer-based learning, done totally online, with a teacher proctoring and tracking progress. Regardless of which philosophical approach your school takes, successfully moving to an online learning model requires the right school technology to support the transition. Because online learning is different from traditional face-to-face learning, it requires different strategies to keep students actively engaged. Although engagement is a monumental challenge, the right school technology solution can help.
When considering an online learning model, here are questions a district needs to ask in order to select the best school technology solution:
1. How many classes are going to use an online learning model? This is critical for selecting a scalable solution.
2. What subjects will be offered online? Teachers can require very different solutions to support teaching styles and subjects. Evaluate if the instruction is going to be conducted while sitting or moving because this can create audio and video complexities. For example, a math class is going to be more stationary while a science class may incorporate an experiment and require movement and multiple cameras to provide important views. Choose a technology that enables, rather than hinders, learning.
3. What grade levels will be using this technology? Each age group may require a different approach to achieve active engagement. For example, what engages a third-grader will be quite different from what engages a tenth grader.
4. Will this technology support users? This is a nuanced question. From students to teachers, it’s important to make sure that everyone using the technology is comfortable with it. Including staff training will better set your school up for success. Make sure to also consider students’ learning speeds and environments, as well as the various levels of parental engagement to support students.
5. How do we pay for this? Figuring out funding can seem overwhelming, but don’t forget that many resources are available, such as funding options offered by select vendors and TPA COVID-19 relief money. As an example, at the end of 2020, Texas voters approved a $90-million bond to pay for new technology—including cameras and microphones—that will be used to broadcast teachers working from their classrooms into the homes of thousands of students.
While determining the right school technology solution requires the consideration of many variables, the best solution should be scalable, engaging, and accessible. If you need help selecting your school technology solution, figuring out your network requirements, or want to ensure that you’re keeping your information secure, talk to a professional.
That’s where Crux comes in.
CTA: Crux can help
Building a virtual learning environment that actively engages students, helps level the educational playing field, and protects information is a daunting challenge. But you don’t have to do it alone. Crux is here to help you understand your options and help you create a safe, connected environment. Our team is equipped to assist with connectivity, LTE network, budget, and more.
Connect with Crux, and together, we can create a roadmap for your district’s success!