Rethinking the blended learning environment for K-12 schools


Brad Saffer is a Global Education Manager at Cisco with over 15 years of experience advising educational institutions on cutting-edge technology solutions.

The pandemic has exposed the shortcomings of many K-12 schools in providing distance and hybrid learning.

Brad Saffer, Global Head of Education, Cisco

In the beginning, in the urgency of adopting and deploying distance education tools, schools naturally favored solutions that were easy to use for teachers, parents and students. Unfortunately, many schools found that limited network access left some students behind, and inadequate security checks made schools and districts more vulnerable to cyber threats.

For many reasons, 2021 will be a turning point for education. As we begin this new year, district leaders should take a step back to think long-term about how their technology investments work together and whether they are equipped to meet the security challenges they currently face.

Bridging the digital divide

When schools switched to distance education, some discovered that they did not have the capacity of the network to accommodate all of their students and staff. The digital divide is acute in rural areas and some urban communities, and these inequalities create additional challenges for teachers and students as schools attempt to increase distance and hybrid learning.

However, school districts have made strides in trying to close the gap by increasing access points to their networks. A large school district in Pennsylvania chose Cisco and Cisco Meraki as partners to provide digital access to its 13 elementary schools, four middle schools, one middle school, and one high school. Together, the district was able to centrally manage its wireless, switching and security coverage without compromising performance.

At Cisco, we understand the importance of digital equity to ensure student success in school. This is why we are developing solutions with our partners to extend school networks to local neighborhoods, so that students can have quality access to secure bandwidth for doing their homework.

Think holistically about distance learning tools

Today, our school partners tell us they need a centralized platform capable of replicating a classroom experience to maintain student engagement, not just in the short term, but in a longer term desire. to facilitate distance and hybrid learning for a post-pandemic learning experience.

Blended learning can keep schools open for future crises. They can also keep students connected to their peers outside of the classroom. And they can help parents and teachers work together more effectively to ensure students are successful in the classroom.

Cisco Webex has proven to be an effective platform for achieving all of these goals. It provides an accessible, reliable, functional and secure solution to online learning by facilitating virtual classrooms and meetings that allow teachers, parents and students to connect from any device, enabling thus learning to take place organically at home and at school. Webex also offers a digital whiteboard, co-authoring, and interactive polls to give teachers additional tools to maintain student engagement.

Equally important, Cisco’s industry-leading security means Webex helps keep distance learning secure and student data private. And it makes it easy for school administrators to customize their own privacy and security policies in Webex Control Hub.

We are seeing cases where school administrators are already considering a future in education that can be more flexible and inclusive. Sometimes it can be a good idea for a child to be online for some classes and on campus for others.

Be in tune with the needs of the community

In addition to these technological needs, administrators are balancing the competing demands for in-person and online education within their communities. The good news is that with key technology investments, schools can offer parents a hybrid education choice. In addition, these investments will make it possible to better equip the districts to continue operating in the event of a new crisis event.

At Cisco, we strive to bring together leaders in education and technology solutions. Our rich portfolio of technology partners is a huge benefit to our customers, who can access a variety of networking and collaboration tools that work together.

Even when everyone is back, physically, in the classroom, we will continue to evolve our ability to provide quality access to students, on campus and at home.

Learn more on how Cisco can help your organization reinvent education and the transition to blended learning.

Editor’s Note: This story was edited on January 26, 2021 to reflect how Cisco works with a school district in Pennsylvania.

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