As schools scramble to find ways to reach their entire school population during the continuing COVID-19 pandemic, more districts are finding creative, low-tech ways to make the remote learning experience a better one for students.
The first hurdle that most schools must overcome when considering online learning options is that many families—about 21 million according to the Federal Communications Commission—don’t have access to broadband internet. However, some research groups estimate the real number could be twice that, meaning that lack of reliable internet access is a primary concern for reaching students through virtual learning.
In some states, nearly a quarter of the population is without internet services and, with fall semester just around the corner, schools and administrators are finding ways to bring lessons to students that can overcome the connectivity and technology barrier.
Accessible Remote Learning Solutions for Educational Institutions
Fortunately, schools in need are receiving funds from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act to help with the purchase of necessary equipment, services, and materials needed to continue serving children while the virus is still at large. Another funding source, E-Rate, assists schools in obtaining affordable internet and telecommunications services by providing discounts of up to 90%.
Taking these funding sources into account, two of the most common ways schools can connect teachers and students in a virtual classroom environment while observing social distancing are the purchase of Chromebooks (ideally with built-in 4G connectivity), or the extension of Wi-Fi services outside the building to allow students to connect to the school network from the parking lot or other nearby locations.
Let’s examine both of these choices in more depth:
Chromebooks with Built-in 4G
Chromebooks are a staple in many schools already and can bridge the gap between students with no home internet and those with broadband connections. The notebook computers are simple to use, with no need for external dongles or adapters.
However, providing a Chromebook for every child, even with funding assistance, may prove prohibitively expensive for schools that are incurring other virus-related costs. And even if funding isn’t an issue, product availability may factor in. With more schools than ever before attempting 1:1 devices for their students, suppliers are having trouble keeping up with the higher demand for laptops—Chromebooks included—and other portable learning devices.
Outdoor Wi-Fi Services
Extending Wi-Fi coverage outdoors makes good sense, since students can participate contact-free from outside the school building, but still on or near school grounds. The school won’t need to spend time dealing with scores of notebook computers, and even in-person meetings can be held over Wi-Fi with safe social distancing protocols in place.
The only modification that might need to be made includes new equipment or upgraded network and internet connection that may be necessary to accommodate the higher bandwidth used by lessons in a live-stream format. Students will also need some form of shelter from the elements and a place to plug in devices with low batteries.
Teachers broadcasting lessons may also need an interactive whiteboard or other presentation equipment such as a camera and microphone.
Fortunately, many schools and colleges are already using outdoor Wi-Fi to provide hotspots for students and teachers to connect. Students can even use this system to form study groups, while safely social distancing in separate vehicles.
Let CDS Help Your School Reach More Students—Faster, Better, and Safely
We know how hard it can be to reach your students in a world full of new risks and challenges. While parameters regarding how classes are taught have changed due to COVID-19, there is a bright side: Federal funding does exist to help schools make the changes needed to succeed.
At CDS, we have a team of telecommunications and wireless LAN experts that can assist your organization in creating a powerful, accessible outdoor Wi-Fi environment that can serve all your students, regardless of their home internet accessibility.
We work with many top brands—such as Aruba, Cisco Meraki, Unifi, and more—to provide best-in-class products that will help your school securely connect teachers and students with the technology they need to interact, learn, and succeed.
While we think the wireless LAN option is the best choice in terms of ease of use, affordability, and integration, if your school wants to explore the Chromebook option (or even just purchase a few extra Chromebooks on an as-needed basis) our team can help with that, too.
Ready to help your school take COVID-era education to the next level? Contact a CDS representative now and learn how easy it is to get a powerful, easy-to-deploy outdoor Wi-Fi signal broadcast into your school parking lot.