When the Classroom Has Left the (School) Building

The pivot in education over the past year could turn ‘learn from home’ to ‘learn from anywhere.'
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It’s hard to believe it’s been a year since the pandemic turned our world and classrooms upside down. The school year and uncertainty may be far from over, but I think we should pause for a moment and reflect on the enormous tenacity, grit, resilience and heroism our educators and students have shown navigating constantly evolving circumstances.

Overnight, in the midst of a global crisis, teachers and administrators moved curriculum online and worked to come to grips with how to use technology to connect with students. Students and families rapidly set up space, tools and schedules for learning from home. As tech partners in the trenches, we immediately had two priorities – finding out what the most urgent needs were and how we could help.

The power of the pivot

There are so many inspiring stories. Lubbock ISD, for example, anticipated the likelihood of having to move to remote learning prior to spring break last year. They made the pre-emptive decision to facilitate a move from a cart-in-classroom model to sending each student in first grade and above home with a Dell Chromebook. Teachers shared that being able to provide students with a device they were already familiar with to receive and submit classwork was invaluable.

With timelines for returning to the classroom uncertain, equally important was understanding how technology would need to evolve in response to this increase in learning from home. We engaged our education customers who shared concerns that poor connectivity would be a barrier for many students. And we responded quickly, bringing to market our Dell Chromebook 3100 with LTE in just eight months. This LTE-enabled device, available March 9th, will provide broad mobile carrier support, offering connectivity for those learning from areas that don’t have reliable (or any) internet access.

Educators also needed to keep an eye on what was coming next and prepare for blended/hybrid learning models. To help, we partnered with the State Education Technology Directors Association (SETDA), sponsoring a committee with state directors to redefine the blended/hybrid learning model and provide resources for every state. The technology and tools that have been put in place could prove valuable for the future. Post-pandemic there will be more situations that require a hybrid approach. Texas knows this well as storms recently stopped the state in its tracks. Next time, hopefully, embracing a ‘school from anywhere’ approach means less school interruptions (although this may be unpopular with students!).

Resiliency will endure

Now that the time has come to start thinking about emerging from the pandemic and our children going back to school, technology will continue to play a role in the success of students – both inside the classroom and out. The ability to engage with technology and use it to further education, develop new skills and eventually pursue careers will be critical in a post-pandemic world where the digital economy will have transformed industries like never before. That’s why it’s particularly concerning that an estimated 12 million kids in the U.S. alone currently lack adequate internet or computing devices at home. For these children, not having access to basic tools means they are unable to fully participate in remote education, which puts them at risk of falling behind.

When we look at this issue, it’s clear that it needs to go beyond the classroom to address the broader community needs. Research demonstrates that just handing out devices to students doesn’t lead to improved learning. Once students have these important tools, they need the digital literacy skills to engage fully with the online curriculum and educational applications which will enable them to learn from anywhere. We also see the opportunity to go beyond – providing in-demand technology skills and curriculum to open doors to the jobs and careers they may want to pursue in the future.

It has been a year of challenge and change, but also one of exploring new ways of working to deliver education in a completely new ways. Let’s make sure that we continue to push even further to ensure what we’ve learned can drive even greater opportunities for equitable access for students for today and the years to come.

About the Author: Adam Garry

Adam Garry was formerly Dell’s Director of Global Education Strategy.
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