How can technology help us go back to school, in person and remotely

By and Kathryn Bath | 5 minute read | August 27, 2020

Globally, 1.2 billion students are currently affected by nationwide school closures. More than 70 countries recently announced plans to reopen schools for in-person learning, according to a recent study by UNICEF, while other schools will offer distance learning options or hybrid models. School administrators, teachers, staff, parents and students are facing the challenging task of following current recommendations to reduce the spread of COVID-19 while still meeting education standards around the world.

The spread of COVID-19 in the school setting is still largely unknown. However, institutions will learn and evolve best practices as the school year goes on. For schools seeking to re-open, experts recommend numerous practical and important measures to improve school safety during the pandemic, such as physical distancing, mask requirements, staggering school start and end times, staggering meal times, reducing class sizes through hybrid classes, holding classes in temporary spaces or outdoors, providing handwashing and sanitizing stations throughout schools, improved safe food preparations, and more. These measures require additional time and resources to enforce, potentially detracting from the focus on learning.

In other areas where it is not yet safe to re-open, or districts are unable to invest the time and funding to the above measures, remote learning may fill the void. Online learning now offers increased opportunities for both students and schools at all educational levels. COVID-19 accelerated online learning, which has been ripe for growth in recent years. Global EdTech investments reached $18.66 billion in 2019, and the overall market is projected to reach $350 billion by 2025.

According to new research, institutions with a sufficient remote environment and technology access can offer online courses that increase retention of information. Based on improved learning results, e-learning technologies such as live streaming, online learning software and AI solutions will likely become cornerstones of the global education system even after the pandemic.

Whether a school is returning to class online or in person, investing in the right technology solutions will not only address this critical moment, but help to build a new foundation for learning experiences in the future. Let’s explore five of the key challenges the education sector now faces and the technology solutions that can help mitigate them.

Challenge: Administrators are limited in their ability to monitor social distancing protocol.

Tech Solve: Occupancy monitoring

After months of not seeing their friends, students want to socialize and may not easily follow social distancing requirements. By using technology solutions such as beacons and analytics, occupancy monitoring systems monitor high traffic areas — building entrances, cafeterias, meeting rooms, auditoriums and libraries. Schools can combine monitoring technology with voice recordings to automatically verbally warn students to disperse when exceeding maximum occupancy.

Challenge: It is difficult to police mask usage with thousands of students and staff.

Tech Solve: Facial detection

According to the CDC, wearing a face mask substantially reduces the transmission of aerosol-borne viruses. Although masks are required in many schools, students and teachers may take off their masks or wear them improperly. Additionally, the CDC cautions that masks with valves or vents are not as effective against the virus as other face coverings.

With traditional enforcement methods, school leaders can only intervene when they physically see a person not complying with the mask requirement. By using video combined with real-time AI-based analytics, schools can monitor everyone in real time to ensure they are wearing a mask, using an approved face covering and covering their nose. When the technology detects a violation, the solution alerts school leaders who can immediately intervene, which reduces the potential spread of COVID-19.

Challenge: It is difficult to efficiently execute temperature checks to potentially flag symptoms.

Tech Solve: Thermal cameras

While temperature checks upon arrival help prevent sick people from entering campus, students and staff may become symptomatic during the school day. People, especially young children, may not notice an increase in their own body temperature. However, thermal cameras monitor the temperatures of people in the area and send alerts to school nurses of a potentially ill person on campus.

Challenge: In-person education is not advisable in your region, but teachers are not familiar with remote education tools.

Tech Solve: Online learning platforms

Many schools are relying heavily on technology solutions to provide distance learning options in addition to or instead of in-person learning. Although online learning can create new challenges, such as disparate access to technology or ineffectiveness due to hastily created programs, remote learning offers many benefits to students and educators. Students can learn at their own pace, which allows advanced learners to progress faster and struggling students to spend time fully mastering concepts. Additionally, online learning offers cost savings because it can quickly be scaled to accommodate new students.

By using existing materials and curriculums, educators can save preparation time while ensuring their lessons are designed for online learning. Many businesses offer online education materials, such as Coursera, Udacity and 2Tor. Traditional curriculum providers, such as Pearson, also provide online programs and tools to help students learn in the digital age. Pearson, which traditionally offered textbook-based curriculums, now partners with over 20 universities to deliver online programs and is currently expanding to new institutions. Educators can also use Apple’s curriculums and teaching tools.

Challenge: Near-constant changes necessitate easier and faster channels of communication for staff, parents and students.

Tech Solve: AI chatbots

Announcements by schools of in-person, hybrid and remote learning plans sparked many questions from parents, students and community members alike. By using chatbots to answer questions and manage communication, families get the information they need more quickly, and schools can focus on other areas. Latrobe University in Australia developed a COVID-19 chatbot to answer frequently asked questions with efficient, customized answers about a wide range of topics, including symptoms, federal guidelines, campus safety measures and more.

Resuming education – whether in-person or remote – is essential and urgent. And this school year brings many challenges and more questions than answers. By using technology solutions to support practical measures, schools can focus on educating students while also creating a safe and healthy school environment.

The pandemic highlights the importance to society and families of available and accessible education. By using innovation and technology solutions, schools can meet education needs today and develop an education system that works for future needs.

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