Online learning tools like Zoom (ZM), Instructure’s (INST) Canvas, Cisco System’s (CSCO) WebEx and a host of other ed tech companies are coming to the aid of schools across the US as they suspend or shift classes online due to the coronavirus outbreak.
Columbia University, Amherst College, the University of Washington, and Harvard University are among the growing list of universities that have announced that they will provide online classes, as campuses temporarily shut down in response to the contagion. More than 500 K-12 schools have also made the shift.
Jamie Candee, CEO of Edmentum, said that since the outbreak of the coronavirus in the US in January, the company has seen a surge in interest in its online educational tools. On March 9, the company had over 140 districts register for its online platform in under an hour. Renee Patton, Cisco’s global director of education, said that sign-ups for its WebEx video platform are soaring. "We've actually seen a 700% increase in adoption of WebEx specifically since then, since the outbreak," she said.
Patton said the outbreak has prompted more schools to develop emergency plans. “I think many schools and universities, unfortunately, wait until a crisis hits before they think through plans. I’m not saying that universally, but I think this has given them a chance to kind of figure out how do we address continuity of learning, and what are some of the things that we can do to make sure that we stay up and running,” she said. Melissa Loble, chief customer experience officer of Instructure’s Canvas, an online course platform, said the company is ready to handle the added bandwidth.
“The platform automatically scales to support a wide range of concurrent users, and we are ramping up our engineering and support in order to scale much higher if needed. We have worked with Amazon Web Services for years to ensure that we develop our applications to deliver a great experience for students and teachers, whether they are viewing web pages, using our mobile apps, watching a video, or taking a quiz.”
Making sure all students have access to the tools is a concern. The University of Washington (UW), which had already incorporated online elements into its regular teaching curriculum, recently upgraded to a Zoom Pro license for about $200,000 in an effort to ensure that all students will have access to the platform.
UW is also making sure that students have the hardware they need to participate in online course offerings by providing laptops to students who need them. Students can also access the platform on their smartphones.
Edmentum’s Candee thinks that the temporary shift to online tech adds another tool in teachers’ toolboxes. “We know that technology will never replace a great educator. But we also know that students in our school systems have grown up with technology. This is not a difficult concept for them to learn. And kids want choice in terms of how they learn.”
Reggie Wade is a writer for Yahoo Finance