- COVID relief funding provides schools with an unprecedented opportunity for broadband expansion to serve the underserved.
- Upgrading their digital learning platform is a priority for many schools, districts, and campuses.
- A unified communications platform can Improve internal and school-to-student communication.
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Federal COVID relief funding presents many opportunities for schools, districts, and colleges to complete critical infrastructure projects. In particular, the emphasis on digital technology and broadband expansion enables room for state-of-the-art internet and communications platforms.
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How to optimize COVID relief funding
Beefing up online learning platforms and digital communications solutions are top priorities for many schools. The following is a look at things you can do to optimize the benefits afforded by COVID relief funding in these areas.
Serve the underserved
Closing the broadband gap is a key purpose of COVID relief funding earmarked for technology infrastructure and $7 billion Federal Communications Commission for K-12 broadband projects. The November 2021 Bipartisan Infrastructure Bill also put $65 billion toward broadband. That amount includes $42.5 billion in deployment grants for rural families and businesses and $14 billion so low-income households can acquire broadband internet.
Lower-income populations have less access to reliable internet than people who live in higher-income areas. The access gap also has a greater impact on minority groups. Your school or district is more likely to gain access to funds if you can demonstrate a project plan that helps close the digital equity gap.
Deficiencies in reliable internet access lead to another gap called the “homework gap.” Students who don’t have reliable internet have a harder time accessing digital content and submitting homework assignments on time. These issues lead to larger-scale problems like class failures and dropouts.
Schools should take immediate steps to prioritize projects to close these gaps before federal funding disappears.
Hybrid learning solutions
Online learning increased in popularity during the COVID pandemic, and many schools now realize a hybrid approach might work best. Hybrid learning is a blend of traditional classroom learning with digital education.
In some cases, the blend occurs with all students receiving part of the course instruction in class and part digitally. However, classrooms are being remodeled on some college campuses to allow instructors to teach students face-to-face and virtually during the same class session. Virtual students can even participate in group activities and projects with students in the classroom. These class formats give live-lecture access to geographically dispersed students or help students avoid missing out when they can’t attend class on campus.
Students often access reading material, supplements, and other resources through an online platform in a hybrid structure. They also submit assignments, complete extra activities, and take quizzes and exams online. In addition to the flexibility afforded by digital tools, you can mitigate problems caused by absences. Hybrid learning also allows instructors to provide more advanced resources and activities for students who want to work ahead.
Digital platforms also provide opportunities to facilitate virtual team activities and projects, which teach students real-life skills that have become common in the workplace.
A key challenge to achieving these benefits is the expense of implementing and maintaining a quality online learning system, including supplemental apps and tools. COVID relief funds make it the perfect time to make this investment to establish a long-term digital tech foundation for your students.
Here are some additional reasons an upgrade to your hybrid learning system makes sense in conjunction with broadband expansion:
- Stable delivery of virtual lectures
- More widespread access for students
- Reduced demands for limited physical classroom space
- Ability to provide streamed/downloaded video content
Digital communications solutions
Reliable broadband is just one component to support hybrid learning effectively. It is also necessary to have a robust digital communications infrastructure. COVID relief infrastructure funds have some flexibility, as long as your projects fit the broad scope of allocated funds.
Unified communications systems complement reliable internet access to establish an optimum digital learning environment. Online learners need the ability to easily contact instructors and others in the educational system with questions. A unified communications system allows for seamless, cross-channel interactions.
Some schools offer 24/7 access by combining live agents with virtual chatbots. You can program chatbots to respond to common questions or provide resources during off-hours. Doing these things reduces the burden on teachers during regular hours. It also allows students to resolve some issues and get evening and weekend assistance following absences.
Collaboration is also improved with a digital communications solution for your school district or school. You can host meetings with participants in different locations using different platforms. Notes from meetings or conversations are tracked and organized for easy access. This feature helps eliminate redundancies and wasted time.
Like other employers, schools and districts functioned with remote workers during COVID. Many classes were taught remotely. And, also like other employers, many institutions plan to continue with remote or hybrid work structures (employees working remotely some of the time) for some staff and faculty roles when practical. Optimized digital communication is even more critical with a dispersed workforce.
Here are some additional reasons an upgrade to your digital communications system makes sense in conjunction with broadband expansion:
- Staff and students have universal access to stable digital connections
- Demand for cross-channel access on popular digital platforms is high
- Fewer connection/stability issues that disrupt virtual meetings
RingCentral provides digital communications for the connected campus
The money available from COVID relief has provided a rare opportunity for schools to improve their infrastructure, particularly their digital technology. Combined with increased broadband internet access, a powerful online learning platform and top cloud-based communications solution brings your school, district, or campus to the forefront of modern education.
RingCentral offers a top cloud-based digital communications solution and hybrid learning platform for education with best-in-class security. With RingCentral, your educators and staff can interact seamlessly with colleagues and students across all popular communications channels. It is easy to track interactions, coordinate schedules, and deliver information when needed.
See how it works and put your school, district, or campus at the head of the class!
Originally published Apr 19, 2022