We learned some hard lessons about technology and student engagement when the Covid-19 pandemic temporarily closed schools in 2020. Whether inside the school or not, teachers still needed to present their coursework and students still needed to stay on track with their studies. Virtual learning replaced in-person class time in a variety of forms, and school districts were challenged like they’ve never been challenged before to make it all work.
The good news is, everything we learned will continue to serve educators well in 2021 and beyond. Why? Because there’s no turning back now. The pandemic may be behind us soon, but the distance learning strategies that schools implemented in response to it will likely be around for the long haul.
A New Normal
From K-12, to post-secondary and workplace learning, experts agree that the future of education isn’t in the classroom. In fact, the chief transformation officer at the National School Boards Association called hybrid learning “the new normal” in a recent interview with EdTech.
Hybrid learning is a distance learning strategy that splits student class time between in-person and online learning. Looking ahead, this model has the potential to alleviate K-12 classroom crowding, improve one-on-one interaction and guidance, provide broader access, and help kids prepare for a future of online learning and collaboration.
Hybrid learning depends on remote internet connectivity, and schools learned a lot about that in 2020. So did students. To find out more, The Consortium for School Networking surveyed about 750,000 students from 13 school districts about their broadband access issues. The survey revealed the same types of issues we’ve heard from our own discussions with school leaders: getting everyone online is just half the battle.
Three Lessons for Wi-Fi and Distance Learning Strategies
Distance learning, hybrid learning, virtual classrooms… terms that were buzzwords just a couple years ago are now part of most district’s planning agenda. Fortunately, schools can build upon the lessons learned in 2020:
1. Video hogs the network. Network upload and download speed impacted the quality of student’s learning experience dramatically. Those without reliable high-speed internet in their homes, or who shared their home network with other family members (as most do), had a much different learning experience than those students who had high-speed, uninterrupted internet access. According to the Consortium’s study, video accounted for 85% of remote learning traffic.
2. Students are mobile. A whopping 92% of students use Wi-Fi rather than a wired connection, and they’ll log into their learning apps from a variety of devices and locations over the course of the day. But not all students have easy access to high-speed internet when they’re not at school. By some estimates, that number could be as high as 17 million kids lacking access. For some families it comes down to cost, for others it’s all about location: broadband internet simply hasn’t reached every corner of the US yet.
3. Wi-Fi hotspots can bridge the gaps. Schools had to get inventive to help all their students stay connected to teaching resources. One school district in South Carolina sent Wi-Fi buses into under-served communities, giving students hotspot access and a free meal at the same time. Other schools extended Wi-Fi service to the edges of their school building parking lots. But even good Wi-Fi can be defeated by bad hardware. Students using outdated hardware can’t take full advantage of high-speed bandwidth.
Hotspots at Home
Some school districts were fortunate enough to have 1:1 device programs in place before the Covid-19 pandemic started. West Virginia’s Berkeley County School District was one of them. Students could use their Chromebooks and iPads to log on to the secure internet at school, but many of their rural students lacked internet access at home. Berkeley Schools solved the connectivity problem by sending Mobile Citizen hotspot devices home with their students.
Mobile Citizen hotspots provide a secure connection and consistent high-speed service, so classroom video sessions stream smoothly. Small enough to fit in a pocket, these devices make a big impact in the lives of students in communities across the US. If the pandemic taught us anything, it’s that kids need dependable, high-speed internet access wherever they need to do their classwork.
Mobile Citizen offers affordable hotspot devices and unlimited data plans exclusively to schools and nonprofits to bridge those gaps in home internet access and create a more equitable learning environment for all students. To explore opportunities for your school, please contact our experts in the Mobile Citizen Customer Service Center at 877-216-9603.