Planning an education infrastructure for both in-person and at home learning

Key decisions: From bandwidth to devices to setting expectations

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The pandemic forced school districts around the world to abruptly change how they provide educational services to students. Teachers who may have had rudimentary technology skills suddenly found themselves trying to conduct remote classes over Zoom, some with more success than others.

Now, as a new school year begins, teachers and school administrators likely must embrace a hybrid learning culture that incorporates technology in the design and delivery of courses. The goal must be to ensure different components work collaboratively to support a personalized approach to education that leverages flexibility and enables adaptive learning. And the underlying motivation should be to improve the learning experience for students.

It’s critical that school IT professionals make sure teachers and administrators know how to effectively integrate technology tools for a hybrid learning model. IT directors should work with educators on establishing a common language and common expectations for how the investments in technology are going to support and enhance hybrid learning models.

Building an infrastructure that supports your organization’s flexible education models and educational goals is the next step. And that means determining your technology investment priorities. For example, since the biggest challenge facing K-12 organizations is providing simultaneous remote access to a large population of remote students, guaranteeing sufficient bandwidth should be a top infrastructure priority.

“You want exceptional bandwidth so there are no real drop-offs,” says Eric Sheninger, associate partner at the International Center for Leadership in Education and a longtime high school principal and teacher. “You have to be able to stream content and you need fast downloads. The goal is to provide seamless instruction remotely.”

Determining your bandwidth needs may require mapping where routers are located in school buildings and testing their capacity to handle heavy multimedia streaming without performance lagging. If routers struggle to keep up with traffic, you may need to upgrade them or add more. 

Another key decision involves the types of devices that will be offered to students. The two major considerations here are cost and ease of management.

Nearly all school districts have students who are digitally disadvantaged because they lack a reliable internet connection or they must compete for computers in their households. Educational organizations that want to drastically reduce or eliminate this digital divide might have to buy mobile hotspots for students learning from home, in addition to computing devices.

School organizations should explore innovative ways to deliver remote and campus Wi-Fi service to students. For example, many school districts have Wi-Fi installed in their buses. Some of these districts park their connected buses strategically on school grounds to fill in Wi-Fi dead spots in the building or provide stronger service outside.

Other critical components for hybrid learning are the hardware and software tools preferred by educators. “Outside of infrastructure, you need to look at what adaptive and personalized learning tools are needed by teachers,” Sheninger says. In any event, they need to work for teachers and students.”

Cloud-based applications give schools the best "bang for the buck” because they are more accessible to students, whether they’re in school or connecting remotely, Sheninger says.

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