When it comes to ed tech, teachers live in a wildly new reality these days. Even though many educators have returned to the physical classroom, we have established new possibilities for how we can conduct class. In other words, the digital classroom and all its accompanying tools mean that hybrid learning has transitioned from an emergency response to a staple in education.
So, given that all these ed tech gadgets are here to stay: What are we supposed to do now?
Technology for Social–Emotional Learning
There’s often a misconception that technology is cold and robotic, that social media distracts us from real connection, and so on. While it can certainly be true that too much digital communication can impact in-person social interactions, sometimes it’s remote interactions that provide those real connections. This has always been true of those separated from family or those who want to find others with similar interests. Now, in the midst of the pandemic, it’s especially true.
Technology is a tool. It can be used for good or ill. When it comes to education, teachers of course want to find a way to use it as a tool for good. For children spending this part of their formative years in quarantine or with reduced physical interactions, it’s important to be able to teach social–emotional learning through digital classrooms. It’s a challenge, to be sure, but not an insurmountable one.
Some teachers have been using games and apps to give their students practice working together or competing in a healthy way. Other school districts, such as the one in Cajon Valley, California, have begun to promote engagement with students, teachers, and faculty through:
- Listening sessions: These town-hall-style meetings allow students and educators to share their experiences and give honest feedback, even in the midst of conflict and contention. These opportunities to understand others’ viewpoints can help better equip teachers to meet the emotional needs of their students.
- Wellness teams: Wellness teams might consist of an attendance clerk, social worker, parent facilitator, and school administrator who come together to assess the social, emotional, and technological needs of a school. Their goal is to take care of the whole child while lightening the burdens placed on educators in the classroom.
- Care and connect centers: Students come to school with a variety of needs. Maybe they need tutoring, maybe they lack technology at home (or the knowledge of how to use it), or maybe they need emotional support from a trusted adult. These care and connect centers are an in-person space where students can come in and make their needs known so schools can work to solve them.
Improving Tech Support
If there’s anything the past year has taught us, it’s that moving everything online is not as simple as it sounds. It’s not just a matter of setting up a Zoom call with your students or fellow teachers. Most teachers had no experience with remote learning before the pandemic, and the vast amount of tech needed to create digital classrooms proved a daunting challenge without the right technical support.
Now that many 2021 classrooms are partly in-person and partly online, tech support requires even more careful coordination. IT departments have been a must for schools for many years, and because of the increased demand over the last two years, many IT departments that were once just a handful of people have expanded to scale to the current needs.
Online meeting tools also don’t always meet the needs of a classroom. They can be limited in terms of screen sharing and in terms of getting assistance when technology inevitably falters. Even after a year of remote learning, tech could be improved by:
- Offering remote IT support: Remote IT support would allow IT to assist with any technical issues without having to be present for a meeting and without having to physically touch the computer. Many larger companies already use remote support tools, and schools are beginning to catch up.
- Faster identification of tech issues: In education, tech issues mean lost learning time. Many schools are working to streamline the process of running diagnostics and identifying the issue, so the IT team can set about fixing it.
- Remote support for all types of devices: It’s not just old Windows 10 desktops that will need technical support. In fact, most schools have moved to tablets for remote learning. Students will have all different kinds of devices, as will teachers, which is why it’s important for tech support to be cloud based so it can access multiple different devices.
- Scaling support to meet needs with the IT you have: Not every district can afford to hire a fleet of IT professionals or buy massive new software systems. Scaling support doesn’t necessarily mean enlarging the IT department as much as it means streamlining it. If IT has remote support tools, the professionals will be able to access multiple issues at once.
- Boosted security: Security is a major concern for parents, teachers, and admins alike in this world of remote learning. It can be too easy to breach personal information with free versions of many current products out there. If schools plan to use remote learning long-term, then they should factor in the need for more security as well.
Looking Toward the Future
With vaccinations on the rise, we may begin to see the light at the end of the proverbial pandemic tunnel. But the way we approach education has forever changed, and in some ways for the better. In fact, 20% of school districts are considering adopting a plan for remote learning even after the pandemic. Remote learning provides a way for students and teachers who are sick to still attend class, as well as a way to find educators from around the world to fill niches that might be lacking in your region.
According to K-12 Drive: “Long-term, however, pandemic-era tech investments could enable districts to expand students’ opportunities to engage with a wider variety of coursework.” We may see these digital classroom elements to ed tech going forward after the pandemic. Even in physical classrooms, working with tablets could save paper and save money when it comes to school supplies. Interactive games can still help to boost cooperation and social learning. And through wellness teams and other ways of checking in on students (not just in times of crisis), school can become a safer environment for students going forward.