Skip navigation
EAB Logo Navigate to the EAB Homepage Navigate to EAB home

3 strategies to enable secure and productive learning online

March 18, 2020, By Sharon Rosenfeld, Director, Research

Chris Brown, Director of Technology at Fremont County School District #1 in Lander, Wyoming, has been working with his team to prepare for a district-wide shut down. ‘

As a small district in a rural state, Fremont #1 faces some unique challenges—fewer wireless providers, limited connectivity—but much of the advice that Chris has to offer is relevant for districts of all sizes across the country as they prepare to support an extended period of mass remote instruction.

Below, Chris provides shares three strategies with detailed guidance to accommodate teacher and student needs for online learning while keeping the network safe.

  • 5-10%

    Of Fremont County students do not have internet access at home

1. Reconsider specific policies for devices and accessibility

Rethink your student smartphone usage policies

A smartphone can be a powerful learning platform that can access your LMS and other applications if no other device or internet connection is available. Remind parents to check if they have usage limitations on their data plans.

Ensure technology accessories go home with students

If you are a one-to-one district or school that doesn’t normally send devices home, be sure that accessories such as chargers, headphones with mics, and external iPad keyboards go home with students.  Let parents know ahead of time what will be coming home with their student.

Note that while most districts should have a solid inventory of what devices are at each school, this information may reside only at the school itself. Consider tracking your inventory when releasing devices to students who normally wouldn’t take them home.

Plan for distribution of hotspot devices for student use

If your district has hotspot devices for student use, plan for their distribution and consider restricting non-educational website access on them to “stretch” your data plans.  This is particularly important in regions of the country where broadband access is constrained by lack of vendors or infrastructure, and the district is paying for a set amount of data each cycle.

Consider your device management policies

Consider your device management policies and make changes if needed. For instance, you will want to allow students to connect to other wireless networks besides your school’s and remove any limitations on camera access for video conferencing. Also, be sure to remove any policies that prohibit students from accessing applications that are typically restricted but have now become necessary for delivering instruction.

Verify correct access on your content filtering solution

Verify that your content filtering solution will allow all students to access necessary sites and content from home. Fremont #1’s filtering solution allows for staff and students to make on-the-fly requests for a site to be unblocked; monitor these requests and quickly resolve them to keep student learning moving forward.

Write clear instructions for elementary students' parents

Elementary students are likely to need additional support in connecting with school apps from home, so write clear instructions for their parents. These should include basics, such as how to sign in, how to navigate to each application, and other helpful information.

Consider printing login information (username and password) for each student, as younger students may not remember their credentials when outside of the school environment. If you use an alternate login system, such as Clever, provide QR codes for those using District devices at home, or log-in credentials for accessing your authentication portal.

2. Address privacy and security concerns

Ensure cybersecurity and privacy protections are in place

Cybersecurity and privacy protections should always be in place, no matter where the student is situated for learning. District-owned and managed devices hold a distinct advantage when it comes to security and privacy. For example, you can limit sign-ins on managed Chromebooks to only grant access to those with accounts within the district’s G Suite domain, even when used at home.

At Fremont #1, we also choose to prevent student access to non-district email providers, so all communications sent and received on a district-owned device will go through the school’s domain where they can be archived and retrieved if necessary.

Create clear instructions for shared home computers

For students who are using home computers shared by other family members, clarify in your instructions that students should sign out of their applications when finished. This is important, especially when multiple students live in the same household, as it’s easy for family members to accidentally send email from the wrong account or make edits to assignments that are not their own.

3. Keep equity and accessibility in mind

Make sure the students without internet access at home don't get left behind

Equity is an important, but challenging, consideration when it comes to online learning. In our district, students and parents self-report that 90-95% of homes have internet access. That is a good number, but we need to make sure that the 5-10% doesn’t get left behind with online instruction. “Going to the library” may have previously been an option, but likely not right now.

Possible workarounds for this limitation include may include working offline in G Suite and reconnecting when connectivity is available, saving online class videos in your LMS for access anytime, using USB flash drives to transfer content, or even reverting to paper-based content. If you do need to resort to flash drives or paper, someone will need to coordinate resources (for instance, access to copiers in a closed school).

Provide services for students with disabilities

Guidelines released in 2009 state that if a school makes online learning available for all students during a closure, it will need to attempt to provide services for students with disabilities.

If individual students are not capable of accessing online learning or cannot receive homebound services, the student’s IEP team or Section 504 team must determine whether the student requires compensatory education to make up for skills lost while school was closed. Certain Special Education services would be either very difficult or impossible to provide online.

Many of Fremont #1s applications have built-in accessibility tools (for instance, G Suite’s voice-to-text) and we are sending out reminders to teachers about these tools.  However, some accessibility tools and solutions are designed more for a classroom environment and may not be as useful (or necessary) in a home setting.

There is no doubt that the coming weeks will be an unprecedented, challenging time for us all. But there are deliberate steps that every IT team can take to enable teachers and students to stay connected in a manner that is safe and secure.

Meet the team at Fremont County School District #1: Lander, WY

  • Chris Brown

    • Technology Director
    • 25 years of experience as a technology director in mid-size Wyoming school districts (2,000 students or less).
  • Kassy Jarvis

    • Technology Assistant
    • 5 years with the Tech department
  • Kristy Nelson

    • Instructional Facilitator
    • 20+ years teaching and facilitating experience working with students and staff at all grade levels and content areas

Sharon Rosenfeld

Director, Research

Read Bio

More Blogs


Weighing the benefits and risks of enterprise CRM

Review lessons from institutions that are implementing an enterprise-wide CRM solution, aiming to consolidate data within a unified…
Data & Analytics Blog

What campus IT can learn from Uber, Lyft, and Google Maps

Rather than have central IT play catch-up to campus demands, integration must be a campus-wide strategic priority to…
Data & Analytics Blog

Bring VR / AR technology to your campus without breaking the bank

Higher education technology leaders are asking themselves "Is virtual reality worth the investment?" Here's two ways you can…
Data & Analytics Blog