The Digital Revolution in Schools: It’s Not Just Remote Learning
The Covid-19 pandemic has forced change on everyone, perhaps none more so than teachers and students. Education, that central pillar of civilization, was forced to go digital essentially overnight.
The most visible aspect of this remote learning, with its evident tradeoff: Everyone in the world can now access the foremost expert on a subject – but the cost is the loss of easy interaction.
The pandemic will wane, and most educational activity will return to the schools. But some of the new ways will be adopted, where they are useful.
Indeed, schools have long lagged behind in the digital revolution, whether due to costs, conservatism, or bureaucracy. The past year may be remembered for helping bridge that gap – and there is much more to this than remote learning.
Here are some of the issues that will be with us to stay.
Virtual teaching also called for virtual resources, placing pressure on schools to digitize fast. Studies suggest that by digitizing educational curricula, you allow students to engage on their own terms and possibly more deeply. Digitization also grants students remote access to quality education.
Many schools faced challenges in finding, sorting and sharing necessary documents and paperwork. As school buildings closed entirely, faculty was cut off from critical information stored in filing cabinets.
School nurses who had not digitized their files were unable to access student medical files, severely restricting their ability to perform their job. Most states require that schools keep student and employee records for decades. This has made the jobs of human resources professionals in the K-12 worlds incredibly difficult to do remotely. How can you access an employee file from your living room if it’s locked in a file cabinet in the basement of a school?
Teachers have also reflected on the scramble of going digital as one of the more stressful adjustments, especially those who had always relied on paper copies.
The overall goal moving forward should be to drive smarter technology integration that makes educators, administrators and students lives easier and more accessible. By digitizing files, forms, and paperwork, you not only increase preparedness for remote education but also centralize information making it available at the push of a button.
Nimble Evaluation of Digital Tools
In a list of ways the pandemic will forever change schools, the top spot was innovating with technology.
Platforms such as Zoom and Webex reaped immediate benefits of the sudden switch to virtual communication. CNN Business reported that Zoom’s revenue soared as much as 169% in just the first three months of the pandemic. Zoom’s success led to the rise of many platforms with similar functions.
The range is daunting, including the familiar tech of Google Classroom, Microsoft Teams, Skype and WebEx to the more bespoke products like Blackboard Collaborate, Bloomz, BlueJeans, BrainCert, Buncee, Electra Live, Edmodo, Eliademy, EZ talks Webinar, LiveBoard Interactive Whiteboard, Virtual Classroom and WizQ.
How, then, to choose? According to Edweek, there are nearly 13,598 K-12 school districts in the U.S, all with different curricula and needs based on their individual constituencies. More complicated, however, is the individual procurement structures for each of these districts.
Schools and government procurement processes are not designed to quickly evaluate new technologies. Most of these structures were put in place for good reason — to add transparency to how schools spend their public funds — but these can present roadblocks to adopting the latest digital tools.
Looking towards the future, with more and more operations moving to remote, schools would be wise to adopt more agile procurement processes to allow them to evaluate and deploy new tools quickly, before they become obsolete.
The growing use of remote access naturally gives rise to cybersecurity concerns. And while most in-person learning may resume in 2021, some K-12 operations may very well stay remote.
American School and University Magazine wrote, “Public K-12 education agencies across the nation reported 348 cybersecurity incidents during 2019”, this number nearly triples the reported number from 2018 and is predicted to be far worse now.
Doug Levin, founder and president of the K–12 Cybersecurity Resource Center, told Education Week that with more teachers and students online and from different locations, “in many cases, all it takes is for one person to make a mistake in a school community for a school district network to get infected, or a data breach to happen.” Phishing is one of the largest cybersecurity threats in schools. EdTech Magazine advises that, “school leaders must also keep privacy compliance top of mind as they increasingly rely on digital platforms to share information with each other.”
This issue pushed many schools to invest more money and pay more attention to IT. A piece in Security InfoWatch discusses how the use of platforms like Zoom, Google Meet, and Microsoft Teams created immediate threats to cybersecurity stating that it “became quickly clear these apps never had features in place to support K-12 school districts and the minors using them.”
Going digital is far more than just creating a virtual classroom. With the distribution of a vaccine underway, there is hope that traditional in-person schooling will resume soon. But just as with remote work, some of the pandemic model will remain – largely because the infrastructure is now in place and the public has grown accustomed. K-12 leaders should take the lessons learned from this challenging time and use them to inform their long-term planning.
Greg Copeland is the founder and president of FileBank Inc., a family owned enterprise content management company.