By Valerie Cimarossa, vice president of marketing and technology, University of Advancing Technology.
In what will likely be the most unpredictable and complicated school years on record, only one thing seems certain — with technology being such an integrated element of education (now more than ever) university, school and district IT departments will be expected to support their administration’s decisions. School technology staff will play a more crucial role than ever in creating and sustaining a successful educational experience for students.
First, the most important thing is to prepare for the students who aren’t comfortable coming back, and to be ready for a permanent shift in expectations. Humans, though they hate change, are adaptable. We’ve now acclimated to having virtual what we used to have solely in-person, and though many will want to come back, it would be detrimental to disregard the population that has established the expectation that they don’t need to leave home to learn.
Unfortunately, giving students the option to choose how they want to attend inherently means not giving teachers and school support staff the same choice. Of course, while we wish health and success to everyone, the likelihood that plans put in place in August and September will change before the end of 2020 is very high, and being prepared (mentally, at the very least) to deal with that, is the key to keeping morale at a remotely tolerable level.
For those who have staff at home there are a handful of other things to consider and have plans for. Foremost, security. A recent flood of ransomware attacks targeted specifically at schools have cost districts and universities tens of thousands of dollars or forced multi-day closures.
These attacks have only increased in frequency since the workforce has distributed onto less-secure home networks. One of the easiest ways to protect your institution’s private data is to ensure all staff members who are working at home are regularly performing their system updates and have some kind of malware protector installed.
If you own the devices your employees are using at home, you can administer the malware protection yourself for an added element of control over the situation. If you don’t, there are plenty of free options available for download. If your employees are downloading and administering their own updates and malware protection, it’s a good idea to update your technology usage policy to include the details what kind of update and scan schedule you’d like them to maintain.
If you don’t have a technology usage, access policy or anything of the sort in your employee handbook yet, write one. There is no greater legal protection than a written policy.
A less frightening, but often unexpected complication is poor internet service in staff, teachers’ and students’ homes. Most home internet bandwidth does not come close to matching what is available in a commercial space, and many households are at or exceeding bandwidth because so many are at home using it. While this likely something that your IT department will not be responsible for remedying, anticipating the issue and encouraging your school/district’s administration to prepare for it could save hours of frustration and lost class time for your teachers and students.
Finally, remember this: a black and white plan only works when there are no shades of gray, and this will probably be the grayest school year of your life. Processes will fail, plans will change, all-or-nothing administration won’t be possible.
People will make changes in phases; you will be asked to do things and then almost immediately asked to un-do them. You will wait and wait and wait for direction, only to be handed “urgent” and “immediate” requests. IT teams will be the backbone of the 2020-2021 school year. Take time to breathe and appreciate yourself, because those who need you most will forget to, and you will be the one who saves this year for our students.