Safe and Flexible Education with Microsoft Cloud

Katie John

It was a normal weekday morning in October, and my day began with quiet, unassuming routine. The smell of brewing coffee gave me the inner strength to get up, throw on my slippers, and stumble out of the bedroom to make sure my two teenage daughters were on track to get to the bus stop on time. I ran down the mental checklist of things they tend to forget to ensure they would be ready for the day. Teeth brushed? Lunch packed? Stray biology textbook and homework gathered up and stuffed into a backpack?

After the sixthexasperated, “YES, Mom!” I put them on the bus with a quick wave and a sleepy mumble, “Love you, guys. Make good choices!” I shut the door, shuffled to the coffee maker, and sat down at my desk to get ready for the workday. Five minutes later, the phone rang, jolting me out of my spreadsheets and data reports, and that was the end of anything resembling normalcy that day.

The call was an automated message sent to all parents from our school principal stating they had been alerted to a school shooter threat planned for that day. They were working with the police to investigate whether the threat was authentic or a prank. Once the buses arrived at the high school, all the kids began hearing the same message over the intercom. The morning spiraled into a chaotic whirlwind of rumor, misinformation, fear, and stress.

Over 2,000 parents descended on the school campus in a panic. Traffic was backed up for miles as parents tried to get to their children. I spent most of the day texting with my daughters to make sure they were safe, and to keep them calm while trying to keep myself calm and clear-headed at the same time. A lot of things happened that day, but I can tell you the one thing that didn’t happen was any sort of academic learning. It did turn out to be a prank threat, and thank goodness, the culprits were found and arrested a few weeks later. As I later reflected on the events of that day, I was struck by how easy it is to steal education away from children with one simple fake social media post or anonymous fake tip.

If you are a parent, a teacher, a student, or a school staff member, the sad reality is that you’ve probably been through either a vaguely similar or exact same experience at least once, if not multiple times in the past year. I wish I could say this was the only time this happened to our school. Unfortunately, the day I just described has happened to us three times now. It shouldn’t be this way, and we have much work to do as a society to make both our K–12 and higher education systems safer for our children, grandchildren, and future generations. While there is no one single magical fix, I do believe in the power and potential of technology and cloud adoption as one piece of a larger solution.

Imagine a school where teaching and learning could happen from anywhere. What might our family’s day looked like if the principal could have sent that automated message before the school buses arrived? What if her message was not simply to inform us of a threat, but also to inform families that in response, on-campus learning was cancelled for that day, buses were turned around, and education for the day would seamlessly pivot to live remote learning? What if teachers were able to initiate virtual classrooms and continue the same real time class instruction that they had planned for that day, using technology tools they are proficient in, while students logged in from home? What if education was not so easily threatened or derailed? How much more learning can happen when young minds are not consumed and preoccupied with tremendous fear and stress?

Human connection is essential. We were not designed to do life alone. The recent pandemic clearly showed us the truth of this, as so many children struggled with depression after months of quarantine, remote learning, and separation from friends and extended family. Full-time remote learning may be necessary for some unique situations, but it isn’t the best solution for all students. There is value in brick-and-mortar schools and the sense of community and connection they bring. However, teaching and learning should not be confined or limited to a school building. Flexible education is essential.

As businesses are shifting to a hybrid work from anywhere model, education also needs to shift to a hybrid and more flexible learn from anywhere model. Many schools are already beginning a cloud journey toward this future. What many of our customers are discovering this year is that cloud adoption with Microsoft solutions can open so many doors for education and learning, such as:

  • An increase in digital equity and inclusion
  • Access to massive compute power for research and projects
  • Accessibility tools through Microsoft assistive technologies to meet the unique needs of every student
  • Secure and connected campus environments

Having the ability to provide this learning platform for our students, no matter where they are located, can give school administration the freedom and confidence to be able to decide with a moment’s notice, “There is a security risk at our normal learning location. Let’s continue learning today from somewhere safe.”   

Along the journey to a cloud-based platform, there are very real and undeniable challenges that schools are facing:

  • Limited budgets and funding
  • Time and resource bandwidth constraints for IT administrators to manage thousands of users, devices, and large amounts of data
  • Lack of training for both teachers and students to successfully utilize the technology available to them
  • Security concerns around user identity, data, and information

In a collaborative partnership with Microsoft, Connection’s Public Sector division is successfully addressing each one of these challenges to help both K–12 and higher education institutions overcome hurdles and build a cloud platform for better learning outcomes now and for the future.

We have teams working with schools daily to provide help in so many ways:

  • Funding experts who are well versed in current available funding and grant programs available for technology in the classroom
  • Cloud Advisors who provide no-cost consulting, guidance, and cloud architecting for our Microsoft customers
  • Our Microsoft Customer Success Team can recommend the most cost-optimized licensing paths and purchase programs
  • Our Managed Service Provider program alleviates the burdens placed on IT teams of managing your environment and keeping your users and data safe with robust 24×7 security monitoring
  • Microsoft Innovative Educators (MIEs) provide professional development customized to your unique school needs through technology training academies and classes for staff and teachers

I think we all agree there are very complex challenges around education in our society today. Threats to safety is one of them. There are no easy answers or a quick fix. But cloud-based technology is no longer just a fancy “nice to have” accessory. It is a viable solution to several of our most difficult challenges. Microsoft has invested an incredible number of resources into developing tools for education and has made them widely available to help every student and teacher on the planet achieve more. Adopting these technologies is not beyond your school district’s ability to achieve. Contact us, and we will work hard alongside you to help build a secure learn from anywhere environment for better education outcomes and safety for both teachers and students.

Katie is a Senior Product Manager and helps to manage and execute the overall marketing and enablement strategy for Microsoft Solutions at Connection. Throughout her career, which has included various roles in IT sales, Enterprise account management, Microsoft solutions support, and now Product Management, she has been purposefully driven by a love for helping people solve problems—bringing clarity to IT complexity and leading with empathy. In her free time, Katie enjoys reading, taking day trips and weekend getaways with her husband and teenage daughters, and volunteering with non-profit organizations that provide outreach to at-risk children and the foster care community.