How to navigate COVID-19 uncertainty with unified communications

Comment by Neal McMahon, Regional Sales Leader UK&I, Avaya

Parents and children across the country experienced joy and excitement earlier this year when schools re-opened, putting an end to remote learning. However, the reality of the latest COVID-19 outbreak – and the potential of more to come – means that we may not be able to count on in-person classrooms being permanent just yet.

To slow the spread of the latest variant of concern, in-person learning may well have to be disrupted. The uncertainty created by this looming threat is not only challenging for students and parents, but school staff and administrators too, who may have to pivot lesson plans and adopt new requirements with little notice. Technology to do more than teach The UK’s EdTech market has grown tremendously since the start of the pandemic, and will likely reach £3.4bn before the year is up. But technology for education should do more than just enable remote teaching. It should also help with the streamlining of everyday administration and management tasks so that all stakeholders – administrators, governors, parents/carers, teachers, partnering organisations and the IT department – can do their part to ensure the whole school ecosystem runs efficiently and cost effectively.

The right digital tool can go a long way in helping stakeholders navigate shifting online school environments. Digital communications are a great place to start as they are a small change that can have a huge impact, supporting teacher and student practices anytime, anywhere. Cloud-based digital communications solutions have even more to offer, as they bring added capabilities and flexibility.

School-wide communication with one app Cloud-based Unified Communications as a Service (UCaaS) solutions enable schools to securely integrate multiple communications methods through a single cloud provider. School communications systems traditionally included telephone and email, but a UCaaS solution can bring messaging, calling, audio and video conferencing, screen-sharing and task management into the mix, all while securely storing files in one place, accessible from anywhere, anytime, using any device. The best UCaaS solutions should offer a single interface that allows for coordination between colleagues and departments, as well as instantaneous communication with the whole school community, including parents and staff. Not only does a UCaaS system enable easy collaboration between faculty, but it can also assist with event coordination though file sharing and management tools that make it easy to assign and manage tasks. Through built-inanalytics or tailored dashboards, staff can monitor everything, from equipment spending to inventory, or use built-in reports to track budgets.

When it comes to learning itself, UCaaS also allows for the creation of individualised learning programmes, which can even incorporate provisions for changing needs. The right UCaaS will also make life easier for IT admins. Creating experiences that matter Learning from home doesn’t have to be a poor imitation of a classroom – it’s possible to create truly memorable remote classroom experiences which matters for students, teachers, and parents. UCaaS is key to building these experiences, but the right solution will be composable, allowing schools to assemble and combine different education apps and capabilities to achieve the specific outcomes a teacher and school need at any one time. Communications Platform as a Service (CPaaS) technology can achieve this. CPaaS is made up of building blocks which enable schools to extend it, build on it, and customise it quickly to meet shifting needs. In this way, CPaaS acts as a ‘force multiplier’ to elevate the value of UCaaS experiences, bringing the agility and flexibility needed to adapt to changing restrictions and guidelines.

Inside and outside of the education sector, all of us have had to adapt the way we work. Technology has fundamentally changed how we collaborate with one another. The rise of online learning accelerated the education sector’s move towards the digital age. Though many scrambled to keep pace, streamlined and extended communications capabilities will mean richer learning experiences for school children both now, and in the future.

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