Responses by Adam Garry, senior director, education strategy, Dell Technologies.
With cases of COVID-19 rapidly increasing this fall, many schools have decided to continue a remote or hybrid learning environment instead of returning fully to the classroom. K–12 and higher education institutions must be ready to quickly pivot between remote learning and classroom or on campus education, or provide a combination of both.
It’s easy to jump in quickly and select technology based on what seems to make sense in the moment, but the infrastructure and other technologies schools invest in will make a significant impact long term. Schools should start by creating a strategy that addresses these questions: What do we want teaching and learning to look like? Where are the resources? How do we make a model of this? This involves a combination of devices, infrastructure and professional learning.
We’re supporting higher education and K–12 by helping them unify their technological infrastructure to support daily teaching whether remote or in the classroom. This includes servers, data storage, network capacity, data management software and data security. Additionally, we are supporting technology transitions to ensure IT teams are up-to-date on new equipment and can support any backend or user issues if they arise.
How are you guiding them? What issues are schools facing with their IT?
Since the pandemic we have seen a considerable increase in the number of devices that have come online off the school or university network. This creates two challenges for these institutions: make sure the devices are safe and secure when they come back on the network and make sure the network is ready for the additional device load. The threat to education institutions is real and the FBI has now issued alerts around increasing ransomware attacks With an increase in endpoint users and network access points and generally stretched IT teams, schools can find it difficult to properly respond once an attack occurs. We always recommend that security is baked in, not bolted on, so security is integral to the technology itself.
Responses from Adam Garry, senior director of education strategy, Dell Technologies.
Because most schools have moved to virtual learning environments in response to COVID-19, what are the likely long-term outcomes of this?
A: A likely outcome is that schools will realize that virtual learning should be a component of every student’s learning journey, but fully online will not work for most. In the rush to move online, many educators are learning that what they had to do in 14 days should really take months. The K–12 school systems that already solved for access and moved toward blended learning had a much easier time shifting. As a result, we will likely see a strong push for access and blended learning going into next school year. School systems and higher education institutions will build for the future with blended environments as a core component of design and this will allow for the educator and student to have a smooth transition into fully online learning whenever they may choose.
Also, moving forward the technology leader will be seen as an essential part of the leadership team, if they haven’t been already. Administrators are realizing that learning simply can’t happen without the support of IT and, therefore, we should anticipate technology leaders in education will have a voice to support all decisions that impact the vision and the day-to-day work. These leaders will need to look beyond just the devices and think about the infrastructure needed to support learning anytime, anywhere.
Will more schools embrace distance learning once we’re beyond the pandemic? If so, what will that look like? Will some educational entities move beyond physical classrooms altogether?
This is a question that came up on one of our recent CIO chats that we host and the answer is maybe. I don’t think that it will be embraced as it is being designed right now because most school systems and institutions are rushing to get something created to support their learners and likely would do things differently with more time.
But I think we will see collaborative work happen across the education spectrum to create courses and curriculum that can be implemented in ways that take advantage of face-to-face and online learning. This will allow schools and universities to redefine how they use physical space and tailor more toward the actual learning.
For example, students working in a collaborative group on a project might need a smaller space in the library with a white board, laptops, internet connection, and a screen to share. While other students are in a lecture hall getting new information via a Socratic seminar. Also, we might rethink how we use projects and playlists to support personalized learning that defines mastery with application of learning, so all learners have an opportunity to show learning in unique ways.
There will likely always be an element of classroom learning at a physical school, however, that will likely look very different in coming years as pedagogy and technology continue to evolve in new ways to empower learners.
In-classroom learning remains essential until we can solve the issue of equity. We still have students and teachers that do not have the correct devices or broadband access for virtual learning. We’re seeing schools grappling with how to conduct special education or help ESL students with a balance of synchronous and asynchronous virtual learning.
Additionally, in-classroom learning provides additional social and societal benefits including school lunches, after school programs and a safe space for children in less ideal home situations.
It also remains essential because learners are social, and the physical building creates opportunities for collaboration and learning that wouldn’t be possible if we were all working in remote locations.
In essence, what is the future of classroom-based learning and the technology that plays a role in providing instruction?
I am not sure that the vision for the future has changed; I just think we have a new sense of urgency. School systems and institutions are still moving toward a definition of personalized learning that gives students some voice and choice in the learning process. This requires access to technology and the internet at home. If we can solve the inequities that exist today for our learners, then we will be able to shift to environments that provide true blended learning and remove time and space as the barriers. Learners will be involved in competency-based models that allow them to learn at their own pace. The university will become a hub for life-long learning and students will move in and out based on short and long term goals that they set with an advisor. In the end, we will utilize technology as the platform to enable great innovation and shift the model of learning to meet the needs of all learners.