Written By: Jonathan Arena, CISSP, ITIL, CSM
President & Founder of White Clay Technology
Students, parents, and teachers throughout the state are preparing for the new school year, but with the COVID-19 pandemic continuing to disrupt daily routines, that preparation looks very different than other years. Most notably, primary and collegiate students alike will start the school year learning from their own homes, in a virtual classroom.
Over the summer months, educators and IT professionals alike across the state have been hard at work to clear several hurdles to ensure all students are able to receive a hybrid, or completely remote learning experience.
The first major hurdle is the accessibility of technology, especially among low-income students. According to the US Census, 78% of American homes have at least one desktop or laptop computer. In families with incomes less than $50,000 per year, that number drops to 39%. Even among higher-income families, a parent may already be working from home on their computer, so without access to a second computer, the student would be left without a means to connect to their virtual classroom.
Through initiatives such as the Federal CARES Act and the Governor’s Emergency Education Relief Funds, schools have been diligently distributing these funds to make technology available for their students in time for the coming school year. Some districts, including the Red Clay School District in New Castle County, and the Caesar Rodney School District in Kent County are issuing Google Chromebooks to all students for a uniform learning experience. Other districts, such as the Christina School District are offering computers & Internet wireless hotspots to those who request it through a survey provided to district parents.
The second major hurdle is high-speed Internet connectivity. High-speed Internet is increasingly considered a utility, just like water or electricity. Most homes that have computers also have Internet access, but high-speed Internet can still be elusive, especially in more rural areas. Companies like Verizon and Crown Castle have been expanding their fiber optic data footprints deeper into Delaware, but this effort will take years to complete. Many areas without wired high-speed Internet are now looking to wireless Internet connectivity as an alternative solution.
Prior to onset of COVID-19, the Delaware Department of Technology and Innovation (DTI) already had an initiative to expand the reach of high-speed Internet connectivity to rural parts of the state using cellular transceivers. These are being installed and operated by Delmarva Internet Service Provider, Bloosurf. Last week, the governor’s office announced another $20 million from the CARES act would be allocated to further this endeavor. These efforts seek to eliminate the majority of so called “broadband deserts” in the state. The remaining deserts will require closer work with Internet providers and may involve the installation of home antennas.
Once students have a computer and high-speed Internet connectivity, the attention turns to the educators to effectively teach their pupils over this medium.
During the summer months, teachers throughout the state have been in professional development sessions where they have been learning how to leverage their strengths as educators, in concert with the new technology, to teach and manage students in multiple locations.
Nicole Schaefer, a 5th grade teacher at Allen Frear Elementary School, feels ready.
“I feel that our professional development has been very beneficial. We’ve been given a lot of great resources to aide us in teaching in an online format.”
At the collegiate level, Wilmington University has been continuously operating in a “cyber day” format since March. All full-time and adjunct faculty received training on remote teaching at the onset of the crisis.
The last major hurdle are the students themselves. How will they adjust to a virtual classroom? How can teachers and parents alike monitor the students so that they not only stay on task, but also stay safe from cyberbullying, cyber threats, or online predators now that they have a conduit to the Internet? To combat this, some Delaware school districts are adding innovative student safety tools like “Securly” on the computers they issue.
Because the school districts have been able to procure computers for their students on a large scale, they can consider integrating their use deeper into the student’s daily assignments. Leveraging this technology will also afford the parents and teachers alike greater visibility over their student’s progress. Students will additionally have an advantage as they enter the workforce because they will have a greater exposure of technology at an earlier age. The districts may also be able to reevaluate how to handle school disruptions, like snow days. Lastly, with high-speed Internet accessibility on the rise throughout the state, businesses considering Delaware will also have an added incentive to invest, grow, and stay here.
Despite the unfortunate circumstances leading to the rapid need for remote learning, Delaware’s digital transformation is in full swing and has taken a large leap forward in these past few months. The investments being made because of the pandemic will yield positive benefits for the state for years to come.
For more information on White Clay Technology, please visit us at https://www.whiteclaytechnology.com
Jonathan Arena is a recognized technology & cyber security expert. He has spent 25 years in the managed service provider segment of the IT industry serving Fortune 500 clients and small business clients alike. He is the President & Founder of White Clay Technology and RealTechPros. Jonathan is also a Technology, Cyber Security & Data Privacy professor at Wilmington University in Delaware.
Jonathan has served on multiple academic boards including the Cyber Security boards for the University of Delaware, Rutgers University and Ithaca College, as well as the Wilmington University Technology Course Advisory Board.
Jonathan is CISSP, ITIL & CSM certified and he holds a bachelor’s degree from Wilmington University. Jonathan was named a “2016 Delaware Achiever & Innovator Under 40” by the Delaware Business Times.
Note: This article originally appeared on Delaware Live (https://delawarelive.com/building-virtual-classrooms-because-of-pandemic-will-help-shape-future/)