How can you prepare for the next school year when there are so many unknowns? In this Tech & Learning Lunch ‘n Learn webinar, Dr. Kecia Ray talked with school district leaders and industry thought leaders about how they plan to build an infrastructure that supports face-to-face, blended, and online learning, including finding and funding the best tools for any learning environment.
Time of rapid change. “This is our time to shine as edtech leaders,” said Rob Dickson, Chief Information Officer, Wichita Public Schools in Kansas. When we are squeezed as a society and we have to adopt new things, then real change can happen. We have changed how we have meetings, how we work (collaboratively in a cloud environment), how we deliver professional development, etc. And normally, these changes would be implemented over a long period, but the pandemic condensed these time frames. And there are a lot of things to consider systems-wise to support all the changes related to blended learning.
Experience for implementation. When implementing new blended learning processes, it’s important for IT and educators to work together, said Dickson. It’s particularly important to use those teachers who are subject matter experts and do blended learning all of the time because they already know how to deliver the content over the life cycle of the learning experience. That experience can also be leveraged to help restructure remote learning. Focusing professional development on the digital literacy skills of all educators is key so that there’s no slipping back in the fall when school resumes, in whatever form it takes.
Partner with parents. Don’t forget your parents when you build your learning environment and PD planning, said Dickson. Wichita Public Schools has provided parent-focused training and online resources to support students. “I can’t imagine having kids at multiple levels and trying to stay up with all that content,” he said. “Anything we can do to help that is important.” Create an environment in which you can all work together. Having the right communication platforms in place is important as well.
Equity concerns. Many students don’t have the right access or devices to participate in blended learning or collaborate with teachers or one another, said Dickson. Providing devices that offer LTE is now a necessity. Wichita just bought 24,000 LTE-enabled devices with CARES Act dollars, so it’s important to find that funding.
Data privacy concerns. “As a school system, we need to say, ‘What is the data that we need to collect?’ Is this actionable data that will help us make decisions?’” said Dickson. Needs to be done in a way that fits the current remote environment but also works when classes resume in person.
Building community. “During this time of isolation, we especially recognize the importance of fostering community when we can’t all be together in person,” said Kate Baker, Senior Community Engagement Manager for Edmodo. “When we think about community, we want to think about micro communities in classrooms but also radiating out to our schools, state, and national, and international levels.”
Making connections. “Whenever I’m trying to do something new with an edtech tool, I never know who I’m going to reach with it,” said Baker. Students who may struggle with traditional instruction can sometimes awaken through edtech tools. We now have tools at our fingertips that can help us connect with our students and staff, and we need to think about the ways that we can continue using these tools, not just face-to face or online, but together.
CARES Act funding. Fifty percent of school district leaders still aren’t sure how they will be spending their CARES funding, said Susan Gentz, federal funding and policy expert and senior consultant at K20Connect. Many educators don’t realize that CARES Act funding doesn’t expire until September of 2022. Microgrants are also now available, and are distributed in part based on how hard a state has been hit by COVID-19. If you can think out of the box, you may be able to collaborate or partner with other agencies to stretch funds. For example, the Institute of Museum and Library Services, which has $50 million for expanding digital networks and access. Much of the use for the funding available is flexible as the federal government wanted to let district leaders prioritize their funding. “Make sure you use the flexibility to your advantage so that you can buy all the devices you need to for blended learning in the fall,” said Gentz.
Lunch 'n Learn with Tech & Learning
This report is part of Tech & Learning's District Leadership Lunch ‘n Learn Roundtable series, hosted by Dr. Kecia Ray. In this series, districts from across the U.S. share their strategic plans, the challenges they are facing, and the creative solutions they are using to support students and teachers. Access previous webinars and register for our upcoming events here.