Classroom Connectivity and The Year Ahead: What Internet Infrastructure Districts Need To Power 2021

By Bridget Duff, director of vertical sales solutions, education, Cox Business.

Bridget Duff

As the end of second semester nears, a lot has changed in education. Hybrid learning is the norm: students and teachers alike have adjusted to online learning in some form. Yet some things haven’t changed.

According to a recent study by Connected Nation, K-12 schools continue facing a sizeable digital learning gap, with 67% of students (31.5 million) currently in schools lacking the recommended internet connectivity speed of 1 megabits per second per student.

As we look to the year ahead, it’s clear that hybrid and online learning won’t be taking a back seat. If anything, innovation and digital literacy will become more important to educating students for the future. So, how can districts prepare to power the year ahead and beyond? By starting at the source – their IT infrastructure.

The Grace Period is Over

Earlier this year, the digital divide was more apparent than ever. Schools scrambled to connect students and faculty that lacked internet and personal devices at home. Teachers rushed to take their curriculums online and create an engaging learning environment. Districts struggled to maintain student success as absenteeism grew. In short, everyone was working around the clock to pick up the slack – but the time has come for a long-term solution.

A recent study by University of Virginia’s Curry School of Education and Human Development and non-profit EdTech Evidence Exchange found that 86% of educators believe technology needs in schools will increase over the next three years. It also found that a similar majority think students will require more individualized instruction to meet their needs.

As we move beyond COVID-19, we should embrace the myriad applications for hybrid learning that can benefit the classroom. Now that schools have experienced executing virtual learning, they will likely find it useful for   other situations – like inclement weather days, student sick days or to supplement in-class learning for students that need additional instruction and practice. Not only will the need for a robust infrastructure not subside, it will very likely continue to increase.

Bridging the Gap Long-Term

For many schools, a barrier to innovation with ed tech is lack of resources. And though many were able to secure funding through the CARES Act earlier this year, continued access to the resources needed to keep every student connected will be critical.

So how can today’s schools secure the funding to bridge the connectivity gap?

And if you’ve already secured CARES funding and are identifying the best ways to allocate the budget, a good place to start is evaluating your current connectivity speeds and bandwidth to determine how you stack up to State Educational Technology Directors Association (SETDA)’s standards. You’ll also want to take into account any new technologies that you’ve brought in due to COVID-19 or plan to implement in the future. Your provider should be willing to help you identify these needs and make a plan to drive success in the classroom for years to come.

What to Expect in 2021

Though we are beginning to see approved vaccines, COVID-19 and its effects will not subside overnight. Hybrid learning will continue to support students in a variety of ways post-pandemic, and today’s classrooms need to continue to evolve to best serve their students.

Here are a few trends that educators and district leaders should keep in mind as 2021 unfolds:

As educator Cornelius Minor told Tech & Learning, let’s not aim to go back to “normal” in education next year. Let’s use what we experienced this year to address the disparities in education and continue to use technology to close the gap. And as the classroom experience continues to evolve in 2021, ensure that your connectivity is up to the challenge.

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