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Why Remote Learning is Still a Challenge

by Emah Madegwa

March 11, 2021

A brief discussion with Emily Cook, Category Manager at Trox

The unexpected shift to remote learning revealed that many educators are still struggling to incorporate technology into their teaching methods. A recent University of Phoenix survey of more than one thousand K–12 teachers found that nearly 50 percent were unprepared for online instruction. ( 1 )

At the same time, more devices are being used for teaching and learning than ever before and new software features are being released quickly to accommodate the continued effects of the pandemic on education.

Helping educators find and use the right tools to navigate remote learning is crucial. Education technology adoption is no longer just about the IT department – IT directors are now key enablers of a school district's differentiation and growth.

We spoke with Trox's category manager, Emily Cook, about the remote learning gaps that have emerged and the trends that are now driving opportunity and which IT directors cannot ignore.

Question: What are the remote learning challenges facing school districts?

Emily: Imagine, if a school district was going to transition to be fully remote, it would take several months of planning. In an instant, schools were focused on transitioning without much information about how long it would last, what would happen to enrollment and what funding would be available. Even in ideal circumstances, remote learning is hard to implement successfully. The pandemic forced school districts to source new remote learning devices and the demand for technology outweighed supply so much that many schools couldn't buy the devices they needed. For a long time, there was an enormous backlog for Chromebooks, iPads, tablets and laptops. This resulted in districts keeping and using older devices – even Chromebooks that may have reached end-of-life – because they needed every single device on hand to accommodate all students.

Question: So, what can schools do in the meantime to overcome the shortage?

Emily: IT directors can work with technology partners that have the stock to handle any size deployment. They can also get value in their unused or dated technology by trading in unused devices for cash or credit through buyback programs. These programs are becoming more popular as part of a long-term tech plan as schools continue to invest in remote learning technology.

Question: What about the management of so many devices? Are there any challenges?

Emily: School IT departments are struggling to manage their growing device fleets. If you compare a business with 10,000 devices to a school district with 10,000 devices, the business's IT team will be significantly larger than the IT team in the school district. This means school IT teams are constantly looking for ways to save time and increase efficiency.

Question: What recommendations do you have to help schools manage their technology ecosystem?

Emily: IT teams can alleviate their administrative burden and simplify the day-to-day responsibilities of managing fast-growing device fleets with the following management software.

First, asset management software, which is used to track every asset.

School districts are using more devices and software applications today than ever before – and managing this can be time-consuming and overwhelming, especially when remote learning is exploding. Between maintaining device fleets, software licenses, managing warranties, submitting claims and coordinating repairs, there is so much to do on top of creating exceptional learning experiences every day.

Asset management software helps IT directors stay accountable and keep track of who has what devices throughout the year. The software stores user details, hardware specs, technology fee payments, return dates and more. Asset management platforms also provide virtual helpdesk capabilities that students and teachers can use to let IT know when their devices fail.

Next, they should have mobile device management software to support every device.

Many years ago, school computer labs consisted primarily of Windows computers. Since then, computer labs have been transformed into hands-on learning environments like Makerspaces. Now, schools operate by wheeling in Chromebooks in carts, transforming a classroom into a computer lab. In classes where creative skills are needed for music, graphic design and video production, Mac computers become an option. To support every need, almost every school district has a mix of Chromebooks, Windows laptops and, in some cases, Macs or iPads.

IT directors use mobile device management solutions (MDM) to remotely manage all the devices in their inventory from one central hub. This is particularly important if school districts are using multiple operating systems.

Using MDM, IT teams can deliver standard security protocols, support patches and new applications remotely to all devices, no matter the operating system. At a time when millions of students are learning from home, this type of functionality is crucial. Mobile device managers can also geo-track devices to locate missing assets. IT directors can configure alerts when devices leave certain areas, which ultimately helps cut down on the number of devices that need to be replaced.

Data analytics tools should also be used to save money.

Understanding which technology is most effective at improving student outcomes and what types of software are being used by staff and students is extremely beneficial in helping administrators budget for their schools. Picture this. A school has 10,000 licenses for a piece of software, but only 2,000 of those licenses are being used. IT directors can use this as an opportunity to save money by reducing the number of active licenses. With purpose-built software solutions, IT teams can quickly scan all devices in their districts and identify every website, application and software in use. They can then cross-reference this information with licensing data to see where they waste precious budget on tools that teachers and students aren't using.

Perhaps more importantly, IT staff can drill down to the individual student level to see where learners invest their time and connect that information to performance data. Then, administrators can make inferences about what appears to be working well for remote learning and scale those specific solutions to improve student outcomes across the board.

Finally, filtering solutions should be used to keep students safe.

IT directors are accountable for what students can access on the web, both at school and home. Aside from protecting students from inappropriate material, filtering solutions can alert administrators or staff when students conduct concerning online searches. For instance, your platform could send a notification whenever students look up content on bullying or suicidal ideation. Of course, this is incredibly important and a worthwhile investment for the safety of your students.

Question: How about safeguarding device fleets? We know that IT directors are facing challenges diagnosing faulty equipment and sourcing replacement parts for device fleets. Are there any protection plans?

Emily: Accidental damage rates have skyrocketed over the last 12 months as remote learning devices spend more time in transit and at home with students. Districts are struggling to handle their new repair volumes, particularly from a financial standpoint. Money is tighter than ever, making dealing with unforeseen repairs even harder, especially when schools only allocate 10-20% of their budgets ( 2 ) on tech-related costs.

IT directors can take advantage of accidental damage protection plans that prevent schools from paying out-of-pocket for routine repairs. In addition, some solution providers, like Trox, offer extensions on original equipment manufacturer (OEM) warranties. IT directors can take advantage of our SHIELD Protection Program to make life easier (and less costly). With the SHIELD program, we offer extended OEM warranties, accidental damage coverage, repairs in under 10 days (subject to parts availability), free shipping to and from our repair facility and much more.

Question: Let's talk about empowering collaborative learning. Are there tools available for students to collaborate in rigorous, creative learning environments?

Emily: Managing a digital classroom is much different from managing a real classroom. Getting a real-time view of students' screens, restricting access to off-task websites and applications and generally keeping all students on task from behind a screen is challenging. Digital classroom management capabilities are crucial for eliminating distractions and creating nurturing virtual classrooms for students to thrive. School districts need to invest in classroom management software that teachers can use to block certain websites, control individual devices and mute students when others are speaking.

Also, the sudden onset of remote and hybrid learning has dramatically impacted teachers' abilities to engage their students. They seek ways to encourage collaboration through rigorous yet creative learning experiences by integrating STEM and Esports into the curriculum. Teachers can use collaborative learning programs to split students into virtual groups and create spaces to work together away from the rest of the class. They can also use collaborative platforms to conduct pop quizzes, run polls, project virtual whiteboards and share presenting privileges - all of which encourage interaction.

Question: Lastly, are there opportunities that educators can take advantage of around professional development?

Emily: Staying current on the technology used for teaching in remote and hybrid learning environments can be challenging for school districts. Whether you have a one-to-one initiative, are using interactive technology, collaborative tools, or AV equipment, IT directors should improve the experience of technology adoption and increase user confidence with customized professional development (PD) services for teachers and trainers.

Enabling Learning Without Limits

Trox is committed to driving transformative change in education by enabling learning without limits. We provide tools and technology to ease the burden for IT directors so they can focus on what really matters. Our team operates across the US and Canada and partners with multiple software providers, enabling students to collaborate, engage and stay focused. We'll guide you as you design, purchase, integrate and install your EdTech solutions and turn ordinary classrooms into extraordinary learning environments.

Watch for Part Two of this Lifecycle Management Services blog series as we dive into the EdTech asset lifecycle – a sequence of stages that an organization's education technology asset goes through during the period of its ownership. We will discuss the questions IT directors should ask when making EdTech investments.

Sources

  1. University of Phoenix, April 2020. Virtual Teaching Academy Research, Research Findings, Edelman Intelligence, 2020
  2. Classcraft, May 28, 2019. What is the real cost of technology in education?, 2019

About the Author

Emah Madegwa is a senior marketing communications specialist at Trox. She is responsible for researching, producing and editing digital content to communicate our competitive advantage on a wide range of marketing and communication channels for both external and internal audiences. Before joining Trox, Emah worked as a communications specialist in the IT and pharma industries and for the United Nations (UN). Emah's background and profile can found on LinkedIn.