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Rethinking Remote Education

By Rob Enderle TechNewsWorld ECT News Network
Jun 8, 2020 10:37 AM PT
lenovo's lanschool is a unique remote learning program developed by teachers

In these trying times, kids have to deal with a lot of stuff they weren't prepared for: a significant loss of weeks of education, damaged GPAs, and no assurance they'll be going back in the fall.

However, some schools were able to pivot because they already had implemented remote programs that were mature, easily implemented, and designed by teachers for teachers. That's because some school districts have a critical mass of students who are widely spread geographically, or for other reasons can't make it to school.

These schools deployed LanSchool, a little known tool and service that Lenovo recently -- perhaps prophetically -- bought. As a result, they are doing fine.

I'll share some observations about this approach to education and close with my product of the week: Lenovo's new VR Headset that offers the performance and ruggedness needed for use in education.

The Problem With Remote Education

Faced with an unanticipated lockdown, the only tool many schools could use readily was something like Zoom, which turned out to be woefully unsecure even though it was impressively easy to use. Another issue with Zoom is that it was never designed to be an education solution -- it merely allows one person to talk remotely with many others.

That undoubtedly is part of the problem. To keep kids focused and interested in remote lessons, it's critical to have tools that go beyond ordinary communications to help teachers ensure better student attention and performance.

The problems with remote schooling are similar to those associated with working from home, with a few exceptions. Students usually aren't as mature, and most lack the attention span of an adult. They don't have their careers to or income to worry about, so they tend to be less focused, in general, on accomplishing their tasks.

With a solution like Zoom, which is just a communications tool, it's likely that the lessons won't work, because the students aren't engaged. The level of acting out in the classroom will make it virtually impossible to hold class, let alone instill any knowledge.

Tech companies sell to schools, but they typically don't create focused educational tools. Generally, they sell PCs that are priced lower for the market but are specified by the school itself, and there isn't much engagement beyond that.

Lack of engagement makes it difficult for those companies to offer effective help when a school has to pivot to remote operations, because their answers typically will be to buy new Windows PCs, Chromebooks or iPads. While these tools are critical to remote learning, they fall well short of what a solution should be.

Lack of engagement speaks to why so many schools, after trying to operate remotely, gave up. Their programs weren't working.

Lack of engagement likely impacted sales to the education market as well. Lenovo came up with the idea of buying a company -- LanSchool, created by teachers for teachers -- and selling its product to schools to increase engagement. Lenovo realized that while technology was becoming more prevalent in schools, the OEMs weren't advancing as quickly in understanding the changes affecting education and weren't positioning effectively.

Approaches to education have changed a great deal in recent years. Teachers' responsibilities have shifted from teaching core STEM to helping students develop life skills like critical thinking, collaboration and digital literacy. (Schools also are teaching kids to use technology -- which means that older folks typically will rely more on younger ones to help them get their tech to work.)

Lenovo also knows from market data that schools were moving to the cloud to reduce costs and improve security. They already knew that schools were using Chromebooks heavily in K-12 (16 percent penetration) but that purchasing was problematic. When many schools recently tried to buy PCs at once, they found they were unable to.

The LanSchool Approach

LanSchool is a classroom orchestration solution provider. Classroom orchestration goes well beyond managed hardware to include all aspects of education. LanSchool is a complete offering that was created from scratch over time, specifically to address the problems school districts and teachers faced with remote learning. The teachers who were in the middle of the problems developed the approach.

Those teachers, particularly in disaster areas, learned the hard way that continuity was essential. Their experiences made them uniquely qualified to set up a program designed to ensure that schools not only stayed operational but also remained effective.

LanSchool has 12 million global users. It operates in 75-plus countries, and supports 14 languages. Thanks to its international scope, lessons learned both from schools that had to shift to remote early, as well as from those that have shifted back to their traditional models, have propagated across borders to help others prepare better.

Many teachers using the system have expressed that the most significant benefit to them is that they feel like teachers again instead of like failing babysitters.

The software in the program empowers teachers to accelerated the application of technology in these new virtual classrooms. It avoids the need for aggressive behavior management by using a combination of interaction tools and security monitoring, providing a decent balance between instruction and technology.

What is interesting is that based on teacher testimonials, it is so easy to use that it takes the fear of technology out of the process, liberating teachers to focus on teaching.

Individual components of the solution include a comprehensive, secure communications suite for personal and group communications across a variety of mediums. The teacher can even control the students' hardware remotely, doing things like blocking websites and blanking their screens when they are misbehaving, or just to get their attention.

Collaboration tools include easy-to-use screen sharing, digital material distribution, quiz and poll administration, and methods to reward students for outstanding work. Multitasking tools enable teachers to manage multiple classroom activities. There are customization options to addree the unique needs of the teacher using the system.

One recent change was the launch of LanSchool Air, which better supports education's move to the cloud and is particularly well suited for schools to continue providing students with an education despite having to shut down their campuses.

Wrapping Up: Kids Are Our Greatest Asset

Our kids are our greatest asset, and they have been hard hit by COVID-19. With all of the other drama going on, it is easy to forget that we are not ready for our kids to return to school. We know that most of the remote learning shifts that we attempted at the end of spring failed. We can assume that unless the problem is approached more capably, trying again without better working tools will have a similar outcome.

School districts suddenly sweating bullets should consider an approach like LanSchool. Efforts to meet the challenges of remote learning on their own could increase the odds of another failure.

Rob Enderle's Product of the Week

Virtual reality headsets mostly have been junk, with complex installations, high prices and low resolution. They have the added "benefit" of not being very robust either. In other words, they sucked on all fronts.

Now VR is essential to education, because the headset ties the student more tightly to the teacher, who can control what the student sees and hears almost absolutely. If you need to engage deeply and command the full attention of younger students, a VR solution is compelling.

However, if the headset optics are of low quality, children won't be able to wear it for long -- nor would you want them to. If a headset is fragile, kids being kids will end it. In short, most headsets in the market suck at what they are supposed to do, and they'll break doing it -- but that may be a positive feature.

The Lenovo Mirage VR S3 is designed for the professional market. It is robust enough for multiple users, it has optical performance that is in line with best-in-class (4K), and it has a hands-free control that is ergonomically designed and can be held by young or old hands.

Lenovo Mirage VR S3 Standalone Headset with ThinkReality
Lenovo Mirage VR S3 Standalone Headset with ThinkReality

It is wireless, so there are no cords to break or trip over. It has a hygienic faceplate -- kind of critical for multiple users right now -- as well as integrated sound and three hours of battery life. It's not a good idea to stay in VR for longer than three hours.

The price is US$450, which is not that much more than the cheap VR headsets we've been seeing in the consumer market. Because the Lenovo Mirage VR S3 headset is an excellent tool for the education market, it is my product of the week. (Now you can justify getting one.)

The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ECT News Network.


Rob Enderle has been an ECT News Network columnist since 2003. His areas of interest include AI, autonomous driving, drones, personal technology, emerging technology, regulation, litigation, M&E, and technology in politics. He has an MBA in human resources, marketing and computer science. He is also a certified management accountant. Enderle currently is president and principal analyst of the Enderle Group, a consultancy that serves the technology industry. He formerly served as a senior research fellow at Giga Information Group and Forrester. Email Rob.


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