While summer is in full swing, the back-to-school season is closer than you think, but this year it might feel a little different — and by different, we mean “sort of normal.” After the truncated 2019-2020 school year and the mostly at-home 2020-2021 school year, it looks like students and teachers will, for the most part, be going back to in-person learning. And while discussions about masks and vaccines continue to take place, other changes are taking place, and many of those will require changes to the way children learn and teachers teach, and the tools and technologies that facilitate those activities. Here are a few things to think about when enabling school safety and better interactive learning
While summer is in full swing, the back-to-school season is closer than you think (just visit any large retailer’s seasonal section and you will see what we mean), but this year it might feel a little different — and by different, we mean “sort of normal.” After the truncated 2019-2020 school year and the mostly at-home 2020-2021 school year, it looks like students and teachers will, for the most part, be going back to in-person learning. Assuming the Delta variant that is currently making news is under control by September, the CDC’s most recent guidelines note that “Students benefit from in-person learning, and safely returning to in-person instruction in the fall 2021 is a priority.”
But that’s not to say that it’s going to look like 2018 in the nation’s classrooms. The COVID-19 pandemic did happen, is still happening, and will continue to shape the way we do things for the near future. While discussions about masks and vaccines continue, other changes are taking place, and many of those will require changes to the way children learn and teachers teach, and the tools and technologies that facilitate those activities.
Enabling school safety
The CDC recommends that schools maintain at least three feet of distance between students, and stresses screening, handwashing, cleaning and other fairly common-sense activities to curtail germ transmission. These measures, of course, apply not only to classrooms, but to all school personnel in administrative as well as classroom settings. So how can you help encourage common sense?
Temperature screenings. One of the first steps in managing a healthy environment is temperature screenings. We’ve all gotten pretty used to having temperature scans when entering certain buildings – medical offices and the like. It’s extremely non-invasive and I think we can all take a moment to be grateful for how far temperature-taking technology has come. So, having thermal screening technology that provides fast, reliable readings for all students and faculty with no touch needed is a great first step toward a safer school environment.
Touch-free copiers. While it seems the air is a bigger COVID transmission vehicle than surfaces, you’ve probably heard the old statistic about a computer keyboard being 100 times germier than a toilet handle (or something like that). That’s the type of thing that has likely been on most people’s minds when they started to envision returning to the faculty room and sharing the copier touchscreen. Fortunately, voice technology has extended to print and copy commands — it is now possible to use Alexa to create classroom handouts. Not in the mood to talk to anyone, including the copier? That’s OK too – smartphone apps mean the only touchscreen you need to have contact with is your own.
Remote concierge. Schools are busy places, and one of the most high-traffic areas can be the check-in desk. With a remote concierge you can have visitors interact with a real person without any health risk to the admins staffing the desk, making one of the most high-risk positions in the school a lot safer.
Digital workflows. We know teachers spend a lot of their own time doing paperwork. Whether grading, planning, or doing administrative paperwork, there’s a lot to keep track of – and that usually means a lot of hands touching shared surfaces. Why not make things simpler and safer by digitizing all that paperwork? By doing so, not only are processes streamlined, the paperwork is available in a central, secured repository from any location (with the correct credentials, of course) and there’s less need for actually physically handling things.
Enabling interactive learning
Collaboration displays. Remember chalkboards and overhead projectors? Okay, we’re not asking you to dig that far back – those things do still exist in some classrooms, but let’s face it, they’re pretty outdated. (Also, here’s a hidden hazard of the chalkboard – remember how that chalk dust could make you cough?!) With all this new technology, isn’t there some better, faster, more efficient way to share information? Well, of course there is. Interactive collaboration displays connect to computers for instant sharing of the laptop screen and can integrate with a lot of existing educational software. They’re collaborative, allowing multiple people to share input. Touch displays allow them to function much like a classroom chalkboard, but cleaner. And many displays have webcams and speakers built in. Good luck finding a blackboard that can do that!
Unified communications. This is just a way of keeping up with coworkers, students and classmates, facilitating learning both remotely and in the classroom. We’ve all gotten pretty good at finding new ways to chat over the last year, so integrating Microsoft 365 collaboration tools into the classroom experience should flow seamlessly. Just as offices around the world have depended on integrated voice, chat and video conferencing tools, schools at every level can also benefit.
And while we’re focusing on in-person learning, virtual learning will continue in some forms, of course – for colleges and universities, virtual classrooms existed pre-COVID, and they will continue to do so, as will virtual K-12 schools. One of the good things to come from the pandemic is that techniques have been refined, new technology has been created and, in many cases, old technologies have been repurposed or streamlined – all of which help enable virtual learning. Many of the items we’ve touched on can aid in virtual learning as well. And by providing the tools and support to make sure everything runs smoothly – laptops, for example, as well as IT support for the solutions and infrastructure – educational institutions can be sure that everyone has the tools they need when they need them.
Back to school this year will be an interesting combination of the old and the new – but with the right tools and partners, it will be the best of all worlds, and even better than ever.