Unified communications can help navigate COVID-19 uncertainty and beyond

Converged communications can help organisations – including education institutes – find new and innovative ways of working

A collective sigh of relief could be heard from parents as children returned to school earlier this spring. However, the reality of potential new COVID-19 outbreaks means that the transition back to the classroom might not be permanent just yet.

It’s very possible that different classes, year groups and whole schools will continue to experience disruption as health dictates. This uncertainty is not just a challenge for students and parents. The arrival of new guidance, practically every day, means administrators, teachers and senior leadership staff are frequently having to change lesson plans and adopt numerous new administration requirements, sometimes at very short notice.

Technology beyond the classroom

In the UK, the edtech market is on track to reach £3.4bn by 2021. But technology for education isn’t just about supporting teaching; it’s also about streamlining day-to-day administration and management so that all stakeholders – including administrators, governors, parents/carers, teachers, partnering organisations and the IT department – can help run the whole school ecosystem more efficiently and cost effectively.

In the current uncertainty, the right digital tools can go a long way in helping navigate continuing online school environments when required and the eventual return to normalcy. Digital communications – particularly cloud-based communications – are a great place to start as they are a small change that can have a huge impact, supporting teacher and student practices anytime, anywhere.

Unified Communications as a Service (UCaaS)

Traditional communications for schools are telephone and email but cloud-based Unified Communications as a Service (UCaaS) is a secure and compliant way for schools to integrate multiple communications methods through a single cloud provider. Think messaging, calling, audio and video conferencing, screen-sharing, task management, presence and more with all files and communications kept in one secure place that can be accessed anywhere, anytime, using any device (desktop, web browser, mobile phone, tablet).

“From a single interface, it’s simple to coordinate with colleagues and instantaneously communicate with the whole school as well as parents and staff”

From a single interface, it’s simple to coordinate with colleagues and instantaneously communicate with the whole school as well as parents and staff. A UCaaS system enables easy collaboration with faculty via calls, private or group chats, or in the same virtual room via an app or browser. Events run more smoothly thanks to file sharing and management tools that make it easy to create, assign, and manage any task. Teachers and admin staff can monitor everything through built-in-analytics and tailored dashboards to track things like equipment spending and inventory or use built-in reports to track budgets. UCaaS also allows for the creation of individualised learning programmes and incorporates provision for changing needs and the right UCaaS will also make life easier for IT admins.

Head, teacher and student use case

A head teacher needs to communicate daily with multiple stakeholders, connect with students and parents, lead professional development among staff, and more. There are often problems that arise which need immediate attention and it’s important to be constantly visible and accessible as timely responses are crucial. UCaaS means a head teacher can make and receive calls regardless of where they are, what device is being used, or what form of communication works best. Customising voice greetings by time of day and setting up calls to ring sequentially or simultaneously across different devices also helps keep a busy head teacher on top of everything.

For most of the past year, secondary school teachers have had to rely entirely on video for conducting classes and meeting with parents and colleagues. With UCaaS, only one app is needed to initiate video and content sharing meetings anytime, anywhere. During classes, a teacher can chat and screen-share with students in real-time, as well as create and manage groups where students can collaborate on projects. Videos can be pre-recorded and held for use and student tasks can be created and assigned using task management features. The best UCaaS solutions allow integration with a school’s Learning Management System (LMS) and offer 100+ integrations including Blackboard, Canvas, Office 365, and Google Workspace.

UCaaS gives a sixth former everything required for an immersive communications experience on a phone, laptop, or device of choice – and it’s all available 24×7. Automated notifications regarding assignments and reminders can be scheduled by teachers to help students stay on track with distance learning, which involves using multiple collaboration solutions for receiving assignments, communicating about coursework, and turning in assignments, which can be difficult to keep track of.

Building the best experience

The new experience economy reaches into schools and learning culture. For schools to deliver the best online learning experiences possible, they need to create and deliver memorable experiences, which can be done by assembling and combining different education apps and capabilities to achieve the outcomes a teacher and school need at any one time. This is best achieved using a CPaaS technology platform, made up of building blocks enabling schools to extend it, build on it, and customise it quickly. In this way, communications platform as a service (CPaaS) acts as a ‘force multiplier’ to elevate UCaaS experiences.

Whether in the education sector or not, the way we all work has evolved, and technology has fundamentally changed how we communicate. There have been many lessons during the past year but streamlining the way a school communicates no matter where everyone is located, must be one of the top learnings.

You might also like: The importance of gathering evidence of edtech impact


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