It’s Back-to-Learning, Whether in Classrooms or from Home

By Lou Serlenga, Senior Vice President, Americas Sales and Field Ops, Aruba, a Hewlett Packard Enterprise Company
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Back to school

With two children in high school and the opportunity to work with many school districts, there is no doubt that back-to-school this year is like no other. Enthusiasm for getting back to learning is tinged with anxiety—for students, parents, and teachers alike.

Just a few months ago, schools pulled off an incredible feat to get computers and internet into the hands of students at home. The pandemic exposed the shocking extent of the digital divide. Statistics like half of Americans don’t have high-speed internet access at home were brought to life when millions of children did not have the computers and internet they needed to learn.

The technology access inequity created serious challenges for teachers and administrators as they rapidly shifted to emergency remote instruction. Now with the new school year, communities are driven to seek additional technology support as they transform lesson plans crafted for the classroom into virtual education delivery as well as a hybrid approach.

An Unprecedented Need for Flexibility

Teachers and school administrators everywhere have been working hard all summer to support new ways of teaching and learning. Unprecedented flexibility is demanded. Some schools will start completely in-person and quickly pivot to remote learning if the virus begins to surge. Other school districts will start with remote instruction and shift back to the classroom as hot spots abate. Further, some schools have created inventive hybrid strategies to allow different groups on campus safely.

Schools need to be ready for both on-campus and remote learning and be able to rapidly adapt to changing circumstances. That puts a lot of pressure on school IT directors, as they are asked to execute on a new strategy in a short amount of time and with limited funding. Technology has always been vital to learning, but now, it’s absolutely essential. IT leaders are called on to do a yeoman’s job, but it’s also a unique moment to create value that has a lasting impact on student success.

The stakes have never been higher. Without active remedies, a generation of students could be left behind, warns McKinsey.

6 Ways to Take Action

At Aruba, we are committed to supporting the education community in their heroic efforts to deliver high-quality remote instruction, bring students back to campus safely, meet kids’ social emotional needs—and seemingly everything in between.

I’d like to share some of the ways we have seen our customers rise to meet the current challenges.

1. Extended high-quality Wi-Fi at school sites. Classrooms are popping up in courtyards, sports fields and parking lots. Auditoriums and cafeterias are being set up as socially distanced classrooms. Earlier this spring, the Bentonville, AR school district blanketed its parking lot with Wi-Fi to provide students and their families a place with plenty of internet and fresh air to do schoolwork.

2. Extend high-quality Wi-Fi to teachers’ homes. “Get off the internet, I’m on a Zoom call!” was shouted in more than one home this spring. But when multiple people in the same household are trying to learn and work remotely, consumer-quality wireless internet doesn’t cut it.

Instead teachers, staff, and students can use Aruba’s remote access points (RAPs) for enterprise-grade wireless internet at home. Best of all, users experience the same network performance they would have at the school site—they can simply use all their digital resources as if they were in their classrooms. Now live instruction won’t be disrupted by bad Wi-Fi.

3. Get all students connected and learning. School districts are working to ensure that all children have laptops or Chromebooks and internet at home to enable remote learning. At Aruba, we’ve seen huge demand for our remote access points (RAPs), which can be easily set up in students’ homes so that they have high-quality wireless internet to support active learning. And with Aruba RAPs, providing wireless internet is simpler than managing hundreds or thousands of individual mobile hotspots.

4. Take security very, very seriously. With remote instruction, school CIOs suddenly are managing a very large distributed network—not just multiple school sites, warehouses, and other facilities—but devices in thousands or tens of thousands of student, teacher and staff homes. There are more points of compromise than ever, and unsurprisingly, online crimes reported to the FBI quadrupled since the pandemic began.

As Derek Moore, CTO of Palo Alto Unified School District said: “We don’t care where you are; we care who you are. As long as you identify yourself on the network, you will be assigned the right services to use our network.”

When students, teachers and staff connect, Aruba ClearPass automatically puts them on the right network, with the right access. Security policies are enforced consistently wherever people are and whether they are using a personal or school-issued device. And that protects privacy, application access and ensures compliance with COPA, FERPA and privacy mandates.

5. Leverage the network to slow the spread. The network, as it turns out, provides a wealth of data that can help with contact tracing. Aruba customers can take advantage of new contact and location tracing tools that leverage the Wi-Fi and Bluetooth in their existing Aruba network. Aruba is working with technology partners for additional solutions that monitor social distancing and group sizes and generate contact tracing trees of potentially exposed individuals.

HPE Pointnext and Aruba’s technology partners can also deliver contactless thermographic solutions that measure the forehead temperature of groups of people simultaneously. That’s ideal when excited kids stream through the doors of schools in the morning!

6. Tap into funding. Funds available in the Coronavirus Aid, Recovery and Economic Security (CARES) Act can help elementary and secondary schools prevent, prepare for and respond to coronavirus. Relief funding is available for educational technology, including hardware, software and connectivity, to aid in educational interaction.

Aruba has always operated under the “Customer First, Customer Last” philosophy, and we continue to support our customers during this time. In addition to CARES funding, the FCC made some major changes to the E-rate program for FY2020 and beyond. Under the new rules any Category Two funding, which funds connectivity within schools and libraries, that is not used by the end of FY2020 will be lost.

Learn how your peers at other schools are responding to learning during the coronavirus pandemic. Download “Network Navigation: An IT Director’s Guide to School Reopening” from THE Journal.

More Ideas for Back-to-Learning

Pandemic Spurs Drive-up Access for Online Learning

School District’s Response Brings Wi-Fi Access to Community

Academic Continuity: The New Normal Isn’t Normal

Classroom Reimagined: New Back-to-School Requirements During Covid-19