Shannon Flynn is a freelance blogger who covers education technologies, cybersecurity and IoT topics. You can follow Shannon on Muck Rack or Medium to read more of her articles.
With the right technology-driven approach, educators can enhance learning for all students. Over recent years, educators all over the world have tried countless ways of integrating technology in the classroom. Some strategies work better than others, but the key to finding what works best may come down to starting with the right pedagogical approach.
Ask “How”, Not “What”
When educators approach using technology in the classroom, there can be a tendency to dive right into what technology or devices in particular will be used. However, when the goal is to truly enhance pedagogy, this may not be the best way to approach things. Experts suggest that the question educators need to be asking is “how should I integrate technology in the classroom?” rather than “what technology should I use?”
The key to designing a technology-driven approach to pedagogy is focusing on needs in the classroom or needs of students that can be met using technology. Concentrating on the tech first can pull the focus off of the concrete benefits that students will experience. Instead, by identifying specific needs first, educators can design a tech-driven approach with clear goals.
For example, a history teacher may be having consistent trouble getting students interested in learning about the past. Virtual reality would be a great tool for addressing this challenge by allowing students to experience history and historical places from an immersive, first-person perspective. Experts have stressed the importance of embracing change and imagination in education in order for schools to grow through challenges. Trying out new technologies, such as VR, with clear goals in mind is an excellent way to accomplish that.
Engagement and Communication
There are some specific challenges and aspects of pedagogy that technology is particularly useful for improving. While technology can’t solve every problem a teacher may face in the classroom, it can be the perfect tool for addressing certain things. Some prime examples include engagement, interactivity, communication, visibility, and goal setting. These specific areas of education are well suited to the benefits that technology can offer.
Shannon Flynn is a freelance blogger who covers education technologies, cybersecurity and IoT topics. You can follow Shannon on Muck Rack or Medium to read more of her articles.
Though tech is a requirement for today’s students, it’s not a universal luxury. The recent spotlight on tech equity has brought the issue to the forefront of public discourse, opening up an important conversation about the need for new policies.
The pandemic has only brought more attention to the growing disparity among students. Though many had access to digital resources through their school’s library, these tools disappeared when they were asked to learn from home.
An EdWeek Research Center survey helped contextualize the issue. Only 62% of education leaders in districts with poverty rates below 25% said everyone who needed home internet access had it. In those where poverty rates exceeded 75%, the rate of access was 31%.
How can district and school leaders manage the digital divide, and how does tech equity reflect a larger systemic issue?
Understanding the Hurdles Ahead
It’s difficult to argue that technology has made a negative impact on education. However, its absence presents a clear issue — one that continues to increase in proportion to the country’s poverty levels.
Almost 30 million low-income students currently depend on their school for breakfast or lunch. These same children are expected to have digital resources that fall outside their family’s budget, already strained by a pandemic economy.
With these factors at play, tech equity may seem ambitious. Parents may be engaged with other problems, and students don’t have the means to amend their situation. Furthermore, districts are contending with internal challenges.
Educators are planning to build on hard lessons from full-time remote learning, and any gaps in that strategy will soon become clear. Is total online schooling an effective teaching strategy? Will the deficit in tech equity compound into something larger?
Fortunately, there are strategies that offer a potential solution.
Worldwide, schools and universities are now, like never before, dealing with a large-scale disruption in education. With restrictions still in place, many schools are still closed or functioning at a reduced capacity or with socially-distanced classes, which makes it challenging to have a stable schedule. Everyone is affected: students, teachers, other school staff, parents.
This unprecedented situation calls for a flexible hybrid learning approach in order to minimize further disruption and ensure that high-quality teaching and learning can continue. Hybrid (or blended) learning takes any classroom a step further to the virtual learning environment, but it still allows for face-to-face interaction and communication, albeit less than in the regular classroom.
Using all sorts of edtech (educational technologies) teachers can create engaging and interactive online learning experiences for students of all ages and across grade levels, provide personalized support, keep track of and assess each student’s progress, and so much more!
Theoretically, online education eases the job of teachers and enhances learning for students. Practically, it comes with a catch. Or more. First, there are so many ed tech tools out there, that it’s impossible for any teacher to test them all and see which ones are the best for their classroom. Secondly, the available technology is often misunderstood and underused, so results are, sadly, quite poor. Thirdly, and most importantly, transitioning to the virtual learning environment can be extremely hard for both teachers and students.
One of the key things we’re seeing is that district IT departments are now involved with all tool and solution purchases, including classroom-level items. Previous to the pandemic and the immediate and ongoing push to at-home learning, IT groups and leaders would typically only be involved with back-end purchases like infrastructure and 1:1 devices.
They’re now examining all hardware and software purchases to ensure that the new solutions can fit into their back-end infrastructure seamlessly. This often leaves them in a bind with regard to day-to-day support and routine maintenance tasks as their workload has increased, but their staffing budgets have not. They are looking to managed technology services to help fill the gap. We’re working diligently with them to identify the services they need and prepare targeted service engagements to help.
Another gap that the pandemic has exposed is in 1:1 initiatives, where every student gets a device. During the spring, larger districts snapped up devices, leaving smaller districts in a bind with regard to supply. They’re still struggling with their supply chains for hardware. We’ve been able to help with device purchasing, using our broader purchasing power.
We’re also discussing device-as-a-service options to help with their hardware needs, but that’s a tough sell in K-12 because of the way K-12 budgets and funding for IT infrastructure is handled. Most districts prefer to purchase rather than lease, as their student and teacher hardware budgets can be hard-coded into a capital expense model, rather than an operational expense model and district accounting can be slow to change.
Within that framework, network infrastructure and student devices to support remote learning are the areas where we’re seeing the highest spend as districts continue to work to support remote students and teachers.
With regard to funding, districts need to consider changing the way they fund IT. As noted above, districts tend to use a capital expense model for most spending, IT included. However, many of the most effective secure, modern IT offerings (such as device-as-a-service, cloud hosting, virtual desktops, MS/Office 365.etc) are based on an operating expense model, where hardware and in some cases software, is not directly purchased but is leased.
Responses from Tapan Mehta, industry solutions marketing, Nutanix.
Education (both K-12 and higher education) has been impacted significantly becuase of the COVID-19 pandemic. Educational institutions and students around the world are trying to cope with the new norm whether that be via a hybrid learning model or in a completely virtual setting. In fact, the current pandemic is forcing global experimentation with remote teaching.
There are many indicators that this crisis is going to transform many aspects of life with education being one of them. The current pandemic could potentially have a long-lasting impact on both education providers and learners to deliver and learn in the new virtual environment. For example, do students really need a four-year residential experience? What training efforts are required for faculty and students to facilitate changes in mindsets and behaviors?
How are you guiding them?
The suddenness of requirements to quarantine and social distance forced rapid shifts to online/distance learning with little time to vet all the options. We continue to work very closely with our education customers by providing the right solution to support the database, application, and security needs for learning in real time.
The ease of use of the Nutanix infrastructure platform enables them to provide media-rich course offerings in a secure and responsive environment, even as the number of students greatly increased. For example, we were able to help Florida Virtual School to immediately scale to the full 2.8 million students.
Responses from Heather Paunet, senior vice president of product management, Untangle.
This year has brought to light so many barriers from school districts, educational entities, colleges to universities when it comes to comprehensive IT security. One of the main pieces was secure access to online learning platforms. When every school, college, and university transitioned to remote learning many administrators quickly realized that this was going to create a large scale network vulnerability issue.
Typically, schools find that their networks are just as complex as large-scale enterprise businesses. With students on campus bringing their own mobile devices, smart classrooms, teacher devices and administrator offices, a school network can quickly get almost as complex as a network for a large city. Many times, personal devices are segmented onto a secondary network, minimizing any access a hacker may have to their main network, but also as a way to increase the bandwidth shared by other school-related applications. Another aspect of school networks is the segmentation of user groups, teachers being allowed access to certain items on the Internet, while students are closely regulated, blocking access to harmful content or flagging words that could potentially lead to something else, such as “bullying” or “self-harm.”
Each school network was built, tested, and audited to maneuver through the needs of students, teachers, and administrators – however, when everyone was sent home, these policies and protocols many times did not follow them. It wasn’t until schools realized how many students needed setting up with safe and secure access to school resources that IT administrators reached out to companies like Untangle to work through remote connectivity issues. IT administrators needed solutions for getting students devices that would help them continue learning, and use virtual private networks, or VPNs, to extend those safety protocols to these devices, regardless of where they were located.
How are you guiding them?
Untangle has long worked with school districts, individual schools, colleges and universities to create safe networking solutions for their students and teachers. We understand that access to a variety of VPN connectivity options, along with a multi-layered security approach, can reinforce the network and minimize vulnerable access points that can be exploited by cyber criminals. Once the main network consists of user-defined access, advanced web filtering protocols, and credentialed-access to any platform containing student data, using a virtual private network solution helps extend these to student, teacher, and administrator devices.
In a higher education setting, concepts such as experiential learning, group interaction and student experiences are essential for learning critical thinking skills and honing problem-solving techniques. Unfortunately, ad-hoc distance learning programs at colleges and universities across the country are relying on traditional video conferencing and online presentations to replace in-person classes.
And it’s just not cutting it.
After scrambling to finish up the last academic year, higher ed professionals are under a microscope to do better this fall. After all, the cost of higher education hasn’t gone down, and the lackluster experiences parents and students alike have been anecdotally sharing among their peers aren’t painting a positive value proposition.
The New Normal Demands Better Communication and Collaboration
Schools, especially higher education institutions, have been slow to adopt new technology strategies and initiatives. Distance learning demands that colleges and universities step up the pace of embracing technology as the way to bridge the gap between in-class, in-person education and remote connectivity.
The first step is to recognize that putting slides online for self-learning is not a lesson plan. A video conference call is not a substitute for group interaction. These technologies completely disengage the remote student and do not come close to mimicking the classroom experience.
Most online classes today are just linear PowerPoint presentations of class lecture notes. Where this style of teaching may have worked in times past, rote learning and passive consumption is no longer acceptable. Simply screen sharing lesson plans doesn’t allow remote students to engage any more than watching TV.
Realizing that neither students nor educators want a lackluster learning experience, the teams at Vizetto and Baanto have created radically innovative technologies which enable groups of students to debate, argue, contrast different ideas and share thoughts naturally. It literally takes the distance out of distance learning by breaking down barriers that being remote causes and creates an experiential learning platform.
The disruptions to our society due to the coronavirus pandemic include significant impacts to education. Universities and colleges around the world have had to adjust to the reality of remote learning, at least for the foreseeable future.
The nation’s largest four-year college system, California State University, announced in May that instruction will primarily be conducted online this fall, and many other institutions are following suit. It’s now estimated that 70% of students are currently engaged in some form of online education.
This shift to digital learning has introduced a steep learning curve that many institutions that were unprepared for. Schools are working quickly to not only build the curriculum and content necessary to support online courses, but to also build the distance learning infrastructure needed by faculty and students to ensure simple and seamless remote access to this content. The challenges are, how to do this at scale, and how to do it securely.
The need to provide distance learning, and to do it quickly, has introduced new risks for educational institutions while creating potential opportunities for cyber adversaries. Schools have long been a target for cybercriminals. According to the 2019 Verizon Data Breach Report, education continues to be plagued by human errors, social engineering and denial of service attacks.
The changes brought about by the pandemic only compound those existing challenges. Based on recent information released in the latest Global Threat Landscape Report from FortiGuard Labs covering the first half of 2020, education comes in third, only after telecommunications providers and managed security service providers (MSSPs), in the percentage of institutions detecting ransomware.
Making Distance Learning Secure
Cyber adversaries have refocused their criminal efforts to take advantage of the new remote work and education environment resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic. They’re targeting the vulnerable devices and home networks of remote users looking to use those systems to open a back door into the core network.
This is evidenced by the significant increase in attacks targeting such things as consumer-grade routers, personal IoT devices, and components such as DVRs connected to home networks detected during the first half of 2020. Threat researchers are also seeing a spike in older attacks designed to exploit vulnerabilities in the often unpatched devices on home networks.
In fact, 65% of detected threats were from 2018, and a quarter of all detected attacks targeted vulnerabilities from 2004.
Naturally, the ability to securely support a remote learning policy is an essential component of any continuity and disaster recovery plan. However, to ensure that networked resources of colleges and universities, as well as those of remote faculty and students, are protected, these new realities need to be taken into account.
By Matt Yeh, Senior Director of Product Marketing, Delphix
Nearly ten years ago, Marc Andreesen, one of the world’s most influential investors, famously proclaimed that “software is eating the world.” At the time, no one understood the magnitude of what that meant. But today, the world’s most powerful and prosperous companies are software companies that have brought a tidal wave of digital innovation and disruption to almost every industry from retail and banking to manufacturing and insurance.
And the next frontier for software? Education.
In the midst of the COVID-19 global pandemic and mandated “social distancing” measures, the demand for digital services and software has skyrocketed. Schools across the country have begun planning for what just weeks ago was an unthinkable scenario: a fall semester without students on campus.
As educators prepare for what could be a dramatically different start to the upcoming school year, students and teachers alike need much more than “Zoom University” (which is going through its own coronavirus growing pains) in providing high-quality online learning experiences.
From K-12 to community colleges and public and private universities, the education industry needs to adopt a new playbook for the digital world. For example, the automotive industry is undergoing a tremendous shift towards digitally-enabled car-sharing, ride-hailing and autonomous vehicles.
In order to transform their road to success, organizations in this industry have had to transform how they leverage data and software to meet new business models.
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.