The Covid-19 pandemic threw schools, students, and technology providers into a tailspin. We were reacting to an urgent and unforeseen need to teach students in an entirely new way. With so little planning and training it’s no wonder the full potential of remote learning wasn’t always realized. Now many in education are in recovery mode and virtual learning is at risk of being shuffled to the bottom of very long priority lists.
That may be understandable, but it’s also short-sited. Even when the pandemic is well behind us, online educational tools and strategies will allow exciting opportunities for growth and engagement in education at all age levels. Many parents, schools, and communities recognize that virtual learning has its benefits, despite the frustrations and difficulties they experienced over the past two school years.
In 2022 we have the opportunity to both recover and reimagine the future of education.
Wi-Fi Hotspots Close the Gaps in Home Access
Emergency funds allowed schools to equip teachers and students with learn-from-home technology, but consistent internet access across the student population proved to be a tougher obstacle. For school districts with rural and underserved learners, Wi-Fi hotspots played an integral role in remote learning, bridging the divide between students who had internet access at home and those who didn’t.
Going forward, these simple wireless internet devices will continue to support the equitable expansion of virtual instruction. Not only do virtual tools provide a way to avoid future learning interruptions (from weather, illness and other events that keep students away from school), they add incredible flexibility to how schools can engage students in meaningful, personalized and equitable learning interactions.
Henrietta Fore, the outgoing head of UNICEF, and World Bank Group President David Malpass put it this way: “By investing in learning technology wisely, it is possible to use the pandemic experience as a catalyst to improve education for all children. They need access to well-designed reading materials, digital learning opportunities, and transformed education systems that help prepare them for future challenges. Well-qualified teachers and effective use of technology are fundamental to this process.”
Diverse Learning Options
Many states have modified their education funding to encompass a wider range of public and private K-12 programs than in the past. In fact, 22 states added or expanded school choice programs in 2021. With more tax credit scholarships, better charter school transportation, and open enrollment options, families have more choices. This will pressure public schools to become more innovative in how they retain and engage students both inside and outside of school walls.
One way to keep students engaged is to continue supporting diverse online learning approaches—not necessarily as a replacement for, but as a supplement to in-classroom learning. In a February 2022 article in EdTech Magazine, Joe Simone said essentially the same thing we’ve heard from school administrators and IT directors, “There is no going back.” Simone continued:
“Once students realize that asynchronous learning allows them to absorb new information at their own pace, once teachers can see where a student is struggling and quickly respond in real time through a learning management system, and once parents can connect with their children’s teachers through Zoom, it’s hard to retreat to past practices.”
Making Remote Learning Work
Now schools have time to reimagine education systems that are equitable, resilient, and able to engage students whenever and wherever they learn best. Technology training and tools will be critical for educators in this new era of learning, as will state policies. A handful of states still have policies in place that make it tricky for school districts to leverage remote learning. In Texas, for example, districts forfeit state funding for each day of virtual learning, and in Connecticut, schools can’t count a day of virtual learning against their required 180 days of instruction. Fortunately, more than half the states give their school districts total control over when and how to leverage virtual learning. Another ten allow virtual learning under certain conditions.
Recently, two schools in West Virginia used remote learning for reasons unrelated to Covid-19. The West Virginia Schools for Deaf and Blind in Romney, WV shifted to remote learning after its administrative building was destroyed by fire. Shortly after that, Mingo County schools moved to remote learning temporarily because a rockslide blocked a main road through town. These examples demonstrate how important home internet access is and will continue to be for students.
The Berkeley County School District, also in West Virginia, made their first purchase of hotspot devices from Mobile Citizen in July 2020. They’ve since deployed nearly 1,000 hotspots to help their students connect from all corners of West Virginia’s Eastern Panhandle region. Mobile Citizen hotspots provide a secure connection, with built-in content filtering and consistent high-speed service to students who wouldn’t otherwise have internet access at home.
Get the Most Out of Your Hotspots
In our Wi-Fi hotspot usage guide, we outline a few easy ways school districts can get the most out of mobile hotspot investments, including sign-out programs, usage tracking, battery cycling, and redeployment.
If your carrier charges overage fees, you will need to carefully track data usage across devices. Mobile Citizen is one of the few companies that offers wireless internet service with unlimited data (to nonprofits, educational entities, and welfare agencies exclusively), so if you have Mobile Citizen hotspots, you don’t have to worry about overage fees or bandwidth throttling. Even so, it’s still a good idea to track your devices and pay attention to how they’re being used. This way you can redeploy underutilized devices and use them to their fullest potential.
More Ways Hotspots Can Be Deployed
Hotspot devices are easy to deploy and redeploy, and there are countless ways they can be leveraged by school districts beyond distance learning. Here are some of the ways schools can utilize their Wi-Fi hotspots:
• Power public, private, online, and charter school education
• Outside activities such as band practice or sporting events
• Off-site classes, meetings, and afterschool programs
• Mobile bus Wi-Fi hotspots
• Emergency connectivity after storms or other disruptive events
• Remote meetings and special events
• Connection during volunteer activities and check in
• Outdoor ceremonies
• Hybrid learning, remote study, and educational activities
• Library hotspot lending programs
• Network and backup solutions
Nurture Digital Equity
Internet is as much of a utility as electricity, and encouraging digital skills is nearly as important as teaching the ABCs. Just because the pandemic is waning, now isn’t the time to put remote learning on the shelf. The flexibility and innovation empowered by remote learning investments will make education stronger, bridge the digital divide, and prepare all students for a promising future in our always connected, tele-everything world.
Mobile Citizen provides low-cost mobile internet with unlimited data plans exclusively to nonprofit organizations, educational entities, libraries, and social welfare agencies. Championed by a national collaboration of EBS (Educational Broadband Service) licensees, Mobile Citizen’s internet service is available nationwide.
Affordable internet from Mobile Citizen helps schools bridge gaps in home internet access to create a more equitable learning environment for all students. It can also be used to enhance staff productivity, power charter school education, and support all types of mobile study needs and remote programs. To explore opportunities for your school, please contact our experts in the Mobile Citizen Customer Service Center at 877-216-9603.