So of course Insight’s second virtual EdTech Forum, which took place in July covered many of these topics, equipped with a panel of education funding and solutions experts. The discussion began with funding discussions and ended with plans for future hybrid learning — which we’ll summarize here. If you missed it, you can still catch the on-demand recording here.
Funding was a hot topic of the EdTech Forum 2021, as there is a lot to understand about what the current emergency funding sources apply to. As Molly Haggerty from the Grants office explained, there are 26 funds that schools can apply to for assistance and many of them cover technology. But let’s talk about two of the main emergency relief funds covered in the panel discussions.
The ECF provides schools $400 per device and $250 per hotspots which are two of the main devices being deployed to enable socially distanced learning both on campus and off. The dollar limits were established to be equitable but provide quality devices to as many students as possible.
According to Travis Newton of Samsung, Chromebooks at a little over $200 have been a popular choice for K-12 schools and then you can add a damage repair package or HP Care Packs while staying within the $400 limit. Many students using shared devices on campus or community centers are simply loading web apps and 4 GB suffices — so Chromebooks are a great choice.
However, panelists report distance learners and teachers are using meeting apps and might need more than 4GB, panelists report schools are finding they're exceeding the dollar limit for these audiences.
The ECF also covers modems, routers and technology installation. Places like school buses and community centers and libraries can also utilize funds for building connectivity.
The E-rate program has been around for years, prior to the pandemic providing funding for under-resourced and fiscally constrained schools. Under the E-rate program, schools and libraries are awarded federally funded discounts based on economic need. The discounts range from 20-90% on infrastructure, equipment and services to improve their technology.
The two programs are different, but the application process is the same. So you can double down on effort. However, unlike the E-rate, the ECF does not require a form 470 and it is exclusively for technology relief efforts, so CIOs and tech personnel will not have to compete for line-item contributions in the budget with other departments.
While no one has a crystal ball, all EdTech Forum experts are saying a form of hybrid learning will remain over the next five years. Future pandemic mitigation efforts remain ambiguous, but technology has now become well-integrated into our daily learning habits and practices, and in many ways has served to augment learning at every age.
And panelists agree, bridging the digital divide really was a pre-pandemic issue. The term “homework gap,” coined by FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel, was quoted by Sanford Williams of the FCC to explain how many students have been unable to complete their studies at home due to lack of technology. This problem has existed in low-income areas for decades. So the pandemic highlighted an existing problem.
Dan Rivera of Aruba explained that since the influx of relief funds and purchased student devices, other supporting infrastructure has become necessary for schools, too. Any given school campus might support the following devices beyond tablets:
School network infrastructure needs augmentation to support all this. Questions schools can ask to determine if they’re supporting devices properly are:
Access points should cover the campus with capacity and security to prevent downtime and costly school data breaches.
Lots of wisdom from panelists was provided about how to support the new technology that funds are providing school campuses. Here are the main points:
Depending on when the school last added to their network determines whether they’ll be able to support modern devices. In the past, the main objective was simply to connect to the internet and capacity wasn’t a concern, but now 60% of devices need connectivity.
Additionally, the learning environments may have changed and outdoor learning centers are now important. So building out Wi-Fi is important to meet the current Wi-Fi 5 and 6 standards. The good news is that the E-rate program is great for on-campus connectivity.
Campuses can use hotspots as a less expensive route rather than revamping all the infrastructure. You can connect remotely or on an outdoor part of campus with LTE 3, 4 and 5 to support zoom and apps.
Use mobile device management software and secure the network with authentication and access controls. Many schools are currently utilizing commercial off-the-shelf hotspots they quickly purchased in early 2020. These have opened up a lot of security vulnerabilities and it’s evident enterprise-grade solutions are needed that are purpose-built for secure connection.
Jacob Szezesny of HP shared about the portfolio of secure and manageable devices that protect end users away from school networks when they are the most at risk.
Terrance Ford, Insight Solution Executive shared about endpoint compliance, and wireless assessments that schools can initiate with Insight, and Insight’s policy based endpoint management.
To avoid supply chain constraints, Terrance of Insight said they’re working with their OEMs to drive product development, and time is of the essence for schools to apply to funds and plan purchasing.
Many schools don’t realize you can use available funds for support with a managed service provider like Insight. Our end-to-end lifecycle services offer schools assistance and options with:
In addition, it’s important to choose high quality and durable devices so that IT intervention is minimal.
Panelists agreed that the influx of emergency relief funds is fantastic, and we need sustained funding to maintain the current technology investments and bridge the digital divide.
What’s important for schools is interdepartmental communication and strategy for planning and funding applications. It can be difficult to broach subjects of current needs when each department is struggling, and a third party can be really helpful in assisting with those conversations.
And we don’t have to face these struggles alone. We can communicate with peers in neighboring schools to find out how they overcame challenges. We are all in this together and what we do now impacts the next generation.