Pandemic-Accelerated Innovation

The COVID-19 pandemic spurred a quantum leap in digital adoption across virtually every industry, from retail and healthcare to fintech and education. According to McKinsey, the pandemic accelerated the digitization of supplier and user interactions in many industries by several years, and respondents to a recent survey stated that they are three times likelier now than before the pandemic to expect at least 80% of their user interactions to be digital. This applies to education as well, where students and teachers underwent a year-long experiment involving remote and hybrid learning that is still underway in many pockets across the country, forever altering our understanding of the role of technology in education – both inside the classroom and out.

The Growth of Ed Tech Service Companies

Over the past year, educational management, services, and curriculum companies have seen unprecedented demand for their digital offerings.

According to the New York Times, global venture and equity financing for ed tech start-ups more than doubled in 2020 to over $12.5 billion from under $5 billion in 2019 – for example, Norway-based Kahoot, which is used by millions of teachers, raised over $200 million last year. At the same time, laptop and tablet shipments to primary and secondary schools in the United States nearly doubled, and spending on digital education apps in the United States shows no signs of slowing.

In the US market, a great deal of investor money has gone to digital tools that assist with grading and holding online discussions, such as Newsela, an instructional content company, and Nearpod, a video lesson app. Nearpod usage rose 600% last year, and Newsela supported 11 million paid student accounts in December of last year, a jump of almost 90% from 2019 levels. Newsela also raised funds earlier this year, closing roughly $100 million in new funding, and is now valued at $1 billion.

Even companies that provide free education services are seeing surging demand, such as Google Classroom, a free class assignment and grading app from Google, that added over 100 million users over the last year, and Zoom Video Communications, which says it provided free telecom services to over 125,000 schools in 25 countries during the pandemic.

Industry experts agree that there is no turning back, and the pandemic simply accelerated the digitization of education that was already on the horizon.

Digital Tools Transforming Education

In addition to the apps and tools mentioned above, what other digital education solutions have become popular – or even indispensable – during the pandemic? Here are a few of our favorites.

  • Parlay is perfect for discussing texts with students. It allows you to remotely connect with students, moderate discussions, and see who is contributing and how the conversation develops. Built-in tools can be used to assess the frequency with which students answer as well.
  • Flipgrid is great for facilitating the creation and assessment of digital projects.
  • Edpuzzle can be used to create interactive video clips and administer assessments.
  • Pear Deck brings Google Slides to life with interactive videos, features, and polls.
  • Prezi makes it easy to create short lectures and customize them with other forms of digital content such as text and images. Ease-of-use is a hallmark of Prezi, one that has made it a favorite for millions of teachers.
  • Mural and Jamboard are two tools that help teachers visually capture the collective responses and expertise of a group. The tools make use of virtual ‘sticky notes’ that can be easily shared and revised – without having to redo an entire discussion or meeting.

In addition to the tools listed above, a robust learning management system (LMS) is key to bringing these digital components together into a seamless teaching and learning experience. The right LMS can help you organize everything in one place and make the most of the individual features of each solution. Canvas, Schoology, and Google Classroom are three of the best and most popular LMS platforms out there, and each can help you stay organized and on top of things even when dealing with many different students, classes, and expectations.

Choosing the Right Tools

When choosing a specific tool, it is important to understand how, when, and where you will use it. Before finalizing your choice of any tool, ask yourself the following:

  • What is the purpose of the tool? What measurable goals will it help you and your students achieve? Make sure you are focused on the benefits that the tool in question can provide and that you are not simply choosing to use a tool for the sake of doing so.
  • Where will it be used? In the classroom, at home, or somewhere else? Student resources and connectivity – or a lack thereof – play a role in how effective a tool will be. Kajeet extends the classroom with robust and reliable student connectivity solutions – including WiFi hotspots, LTE-embedded devices, and school bus WiFi. Learn more about Kajeet for education.
  • Are you or your students currently using other tools that can potentially provide the same services as the new tool you are considering? Are there overlaps in your students’ inventory of tools that you may have overlooked?
  • Is the tool meant for teacher-student interactions, student-student interactions, or individual vs. collaborative work?
  • Do you have the resources, funding, stakeholder backing, and district buy-in to acquire and use a new tool?
  • Is any sort of user training required to use the tool you are considering?
  • Is the tool customizable to the unique needs of your district or individual students? Will it provide the data, analytics, and usage information that is critical to gauging efficacy and empowering results-based decision-making?

Your answers to the questions above will help justify a purchase decision and can also help secure the backing of stakeholders that is often critical before embarking on new digital initiatives at the school level.

Additional Guidelines

In addition to the above, teachers and district-level leaders should not think of their digital initiatives as occurring in a vacuum. A great deal of benefit can be generated by taking a holistic approach to education and basing ed tech tool decisions on a wider set of educational goals. Consider the following:

  • Investing in stress-tested services and strong leadership can help your school navigate novel challenges should any arise at any time after the deployment of a new educational tool. Many plans and projects fail because of a lack of conflict and crisis resolution skills of our leadership teams.
  • Identifying mission-critical, value-added opportunities vs. those that add only marginal benefit can help you direct efforts and resources to the highest ROI initiatives.
  • How are teaching and learning decisions currently made? Are they based on data and analytics? If not, what changes do you need to make to address this gap in insight moving forward?
  • What resource limitations might you face before, during, or after the deployment of a solution?
  • Can you curate the student experience? How can you improve engagement and create a sense of belonging with the tools and apps that you would like to use?
  • Are there any low-hanging digitization initiatives you can embark on that can raise the bar for current or future digital efforts?
  • Are you prioritizing diversity, inclusion, and access in education? What impacts could specific tools have on the digital divide in your school or district? 

Final Thoughts

We are all adjusting to a new normal, and a wide range of ed tech tools have already found what is likely a permanent home in our schools and classrooms. As we move forward into an increasingly digital future, it is up to educators and other school leaders to understand the diverse needs and challenges of their students and teachers and to make smart, goal-oriented product decisions based on the unique profiles within their district.

From assessing the efficacy and cost of different solutions to determining which tools require different levels of connectivity and have different levels of access, ed tech decisions must be arrived at after a thorough deliberation on the needs, constraints, resources, and desired outcomes of individual students, families, schools, and districts.

To learn more about how to choose the right education connectivity solution for your students and how to devise a program rollout, speak with a Kajeet Solutions Engineer today. Visit us at https://www.kajeet.net/contact-us/ to set up an appointment.