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Schools need flexible, secure networks to support remote learning and teaching

Donna Johnson

Schools need flexible, secure networks to support remote learning and teaching

LTE-enabled wireless edge solutions can help districts adapt to the new normal in education

Distance learning, remote instruction, in person with social distancing, hybrid approach, partial reopening, staggered schedules, classroom instruction for remote learners — no matter what choice a school district makes, there are going to be challenges. Not only the challenges to safely implement the model they’ve chosen but the very real possibility that this model will need to change over the course of the fall semester. If one word could be used to summarize the response of education to the global pandemic, it’s uncertainty.

In Indiana, 31 school districts report they are currently relying only on virtual instruction and “Of the schools in the state that have resumed in-person instruction, at least a dozen have reported students or teachers testing positive for the coronavirus since the school year started,” according to a recent article in WFYI Indianapolis. This will necessitate a transition to some amount of remote learning or remote teaching.

And yet, IT decision makers at the state and district level need to decide now what technology will be used to help students, teachers, administrators, and families navigate the fall semester. The task is daunting. In California alone, where 5 million students are expected to start the school year with distance learning, 350,000 students lack Internet access at home, according to Mary Nicely, senior advisor to California Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond. “School will open in just a few weeks, and we know most of our districts will open with distance learning. We have to really move quickly to continue to make a dent in the number of folks without a computing device and hotspots and we need to have a longer-term conversation about the need to build infrastructure.”

The Internet isn’t everything, but it’s definitely a critical piece

The one common factor in all the proposed models, outside of traditional classroom instruction in a school building, is the need for Internet access. While the Internet can never replace the work of a teacher, it does provide access to that work as well as to educational tools and resources. And lack of reliable broadband Internet access at home is contributing to the “COVID slide,” as described in a new article in Wired Magazine:

“This year, the gulf between students on either side of the digital divide could widen further. The ‘summer slide’ refers to a long-studied period of learning loss among K-12 students over the summer months, resulting in disproportionate declines for low-income students who may not have access to supplemental summertime learning opportunities that higher-income students do. With the onset of the pandemic, some researchers have already begun warning of a ‘Covid slide’ that could intensify learning loss for already-underserved students.”

Pew Research conducted a study in April and found that amid spring school closures, “36 percent of low-income parents reported that their children were unable to complete their schoolwork at home because they did not have access to a computer, compared with just 14 percent of middle-income parents and 4 percent of upper-income parents.”

A quick look at some common tools used by schools and teachers shows why access to a computer and Internet matters. Google tools are used extensively including Google Classroom, Google Hangouts, Google Docs, and Google Forms. Other applications used on a daily basis include video services such as Loom, YouTube, and Skyward; communication tools like Flipgrid, Webex, Slack, and Zoom; learning management systems like Schoology; administrative tools like Skyward; and specialized websites like Kahoot! and EdPuzzle. There are two things all these software tools have in common: a commitment to education and an absolute dependence on Internet access.

LTE can help districts support the needs of their community

Providing Internet access to those who lack reliable access at home can be accomplished in several ways, and each school district will face unique challenges and may choose different solutions. Because of its flexible nature and use of LTE, Cradlepoint uniquely extends a highly reliable and secure network so teachers, students, and administrators can continue to function uninterrupted, security and compliance are not compromised, and the support costs are contained and controlled. This eliminates dependence on home connections such as DSL or cable or personal phone hotspots and allows Internet access from anywhere.

Just as no one solution will be used for every district, individual districts may have a mix of solutions for different situations. Some examples are:

  • Students who need connectivity at home can use the Cradlepoint’s NetCloud Service for SOHO and LTE routers to connect to the Internet via a cellular connection. This removes the need for them to have a home connection and allows them to access online classrooms and learning resources
  • Teachers who need connectivity at home can use the Cradlepoint’s NetCloud Service for SOHO and LTE routers to connect to the Internet via a cellular connection. This removes the need for them to have a home connection and allows them to conduct classes with higher quality and reliability
  • Students or teachers who need connectivity in public areas outside their home such as parking lots can achieve that using Cradlepoint’s NetCloud Service for Mobile and vehicle-mounted LTE routers in school buses or other vehicle. This vehicle can be parked throughout the district to offer Wi-Fi to groups while maintaining social distancing.
  • Students and teachers who need connectivity in multi-tenant buildings can be provided access through Cradlepoint’s NetCloud Service for Branch and high-performance LTE routers, which can extend Internet to multiple families in that building.
  • Administrators who want to open classrooms in new locations or temporary locations can use Cradlepoint’s NetCloud for Branch and LTE routers to create connected classrooms anywhere, allowing for additional classrooms or space to enable lower density learning.
  • Districts that want to provide a geographically extended Wi-Fi network to serve their students and community can use Cradlepoint’s solutions for Private LTE, which use shared or unlicensed cellular spectrum to create a large network that can be used by teachers, students, or administrators without incurring cellular data costs or a large infrastructure upgrade.

The importance of security and CIPA compliance

While these solutions provide essential Internet connectivity, security has to be considered as well. If school-issued laptops are compromised or students visit risky or inappropriate websites, school districts will bear responsibility. Relying on consumer-level hotspots for connectivity may expose these risks. All the solutions mentioned above include an integrated firewall and centralized cloud-based visibility into security issues. And with every solution, there’s an option to use VPNs or content filtering to help with CIPA compliance.

Education in 2020 isn’t easy, but Cradlepoint can help

Solving the problem of Internet access is just one step toward being able to continue education safely this fall, but it is a crucial step. Cradlepoint has a range of solutions that will help you take that step easily, along with attractive programs just for education. Purchasing can be simplified through NASPO ValuePoint for select states. Learn more about all the options and which is the best fit for you at Cradlepoint.com/education.

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