In a recent visit to my Mom’s house delivering groceries, I noticed a school bus parked outside the neighborhood community center. She wasn’t aware of what it was doing there and after some digging, we found out that the bus is there Monday - Friday from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. as a mobile hotspot to assist those K-12 students who do not have access or have limited access to the Internet.
I’m sure you have heard these types of stories in your own areas and communities but it was a first for me. Wow - who is thinking of this stuff? COVID-19 is really pushing forward some creative problem solving. I am thankful to have educational administrators working tirelessly to serve the needs of the entire community. However, this issue is not isolated to K-12 students alone. Higher education institutions are also concerned about the digital divide. Now that higher education students have dispersed from campus, the divide that seemed to have been bridged is no longer a divide but an ocean. The last mile of connectivity for many of the rural areas has not made the progress needed over the past decade and students are left without the ability to maintain their connections with their instructors and are also unable to use the learning technology tools required for their coursework. As states, K-12 school districts, and higher education institutions prepare for the unknown, are you ready and prepared to “reach the unreachable?”
In my role at Unicon, I spend my days leading technical teams that are enhancing teaching and learning for our clients. We offer a variety of different services based on their needs. When I think about the projects I’ve worked on recently, a couple stand out as having core requirements that will serve students well within this “new normal” we are experiencing. A common thread for all of them was our focus on solving issues for the least common denominator.
We recently helped a client design and develop a K-12 literacy application with a core requirement to support users with limited bandwidth. This included a seamless mobile experience to make the product accessible to a wider group of users for whom PCs weren’t an option. We performed extensive testing and optimization of the product to account for any network speed and latency issues, including testing down to 3G network speeds. In addition, we evaluated product performance on older devices with limited memory and optimized accordingly. The product release included comprehensive onboarding documentation to provide user guidance and set-up instructions that addressed individual product plug-ins or browser versions and extensions. In the wake of the pandemic, parents are now the audience for documentation and user support. Tailoring instructional and product materials to this new audience in the K-12 space should be part of every product release and back-to-school documentation moving forward.
Meeting students where they are has always been imperative. This is only magnified in the pandemic and post-pandemic environment. These types of considerations should be the new gold standard in product release requirements post-COVID-19. Now is the time to reevaluate development priorities with an eye towards lowering barriers to use. We are looking forward to helping clients focus on these new priorities to ensure their products can reach the widest audiences. Reaching the unreachable is now more important than ever.