3 WAYS K-12 SCHOOLS CAN USE MASS NOTIFICATION DURING THE CORONAVIRUS OUTBREAK
As many K12 schools move to distance learning models to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, the way school leaders communicate with their communities is changing. Parents, students, and staff all need to know if schools are closing, and what expectations are to learn from home. While many schools may rely on mass emails to share information, this can be an ineffective way to provide updates. Emails are easy to ignore and when schools need people to take immediate action, they can’t afford to have messages sitting in someone’s inbox.
Many schools leverage mass notification to send alerts during emergency events like active shooters, medical incidents and severe weather. However, many of those alerts are delivered through on-premises devices like IP speakers, desk phones, and digital signage. Just as learning strategies need to adapt for students being remote, so do a school’s alerting strategies to alert people when they are not in classrooms and school facilities. In this blog post, we’ll outline three ways K12 schools can use mass notification while students and staff are remote to share vital information during the coronavirus outbreak.
PARENT AND STUDENT COMMUNICATIONS
The shift to remote learning will require ongoing communications from school leaders to parents and students. Understanding expectations and schedules will be key to facilitating positive learning from home. Mass notification systems can reach everyone in a school community with mobile alerts sent as SMS text messages, push notifications to a mobile app, recorded phone messages, and emails. By utilizing a multi-channel approach, school leaders can rest assured that their messages are being seen. They can even offer the ability for recipients to respond to messages to ensure the entire community has read the information and is on the same page about how remote learning will work. Alerts can also include hyperlinks to helpful resources for remote learning and health and safety tips for families that are practicing social distancing.
VIRTUAL SCHOOL BELLS
Maintaining a familiar schedule can help students have a sense of normalcy as they adjust to their new learning environment. However, it can be challenging to manage schedules for hundreds of students and teachers. Getting students to show up to digital classrooms and have teachers start and end classes at the right times can be difficult without the guidance of school bells. Students that use school-issued laptops for digital learning can set up virtual school bells to appear as desktop notifications. Alerts sent to desktop computers from a mass notification system can be scheduled to go out at specific times throughout the day to signal the beginning and end of classes. However, some students might not have computers or laptops which could make it more difficult for them to engage in online classrooms. Perhaps it would be better for teachers to look into other ways of getting all of their class together online. Some teachers have acknowledged that most students will have a mobile phone. With a mobile, students could use real time messaging software to ensure they can all join an online chat and benefit from whiteboard messaging. This should help students to have an interactive learning experience, even though it is conducted in a way that none of us are used to.
ONGOING INCIDENT MANAGEMENT
The coronavirus outbreak will require frequent monitoring from school leaders to assess how to best respond to the unfolding situation. Mass notification systems can bring key stakeholders into collaboration tools for school leaders to quickly gather and make decisions on how best to deliver instruction. Applications like Microsoft Teams and Cisco Webex Teams can be used to automatically gather an entire school’s teaching staff following a mass notification distribution. This way, everyone can participate in real-time discussions about how to best proceed. For smaller groups, similar functionality can be utilized to automatically invite staff to join a conference call. This can be less time consuming than traditional calling trees many schools use to share information.
BONUS: ENHANCING BUILDING SAFETY
Whether or not schools are able to resume instruction in their buildings this school year remains to be seen. However, with school buildings closed, IT and security teams have an opportunity to enhance security and safety within their facilities using mass notification by fine-tuning their emergency communications strategies. With staff and students outside of buildings, a small crew can work on testing and configuring the system to create an effective notification solution. When students and staff return, schools will be better prepared to handle any threat or emergency they experience with notifications that reach mobile and on-premises devices.