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Megan Amrich headshot

EdTech Companies Easing the Transition to Distance Learning in Wake of COVID-19

By Megan Amrich
Distance Learning

It is the start of my family’s second week of at-home schooling. My husband, a high school science teacher, is conducting class from his computer in our home office. My three-year-old son and I have just completed this morning’s “virtual” distance learning session using Zoom. In the afternoon, we will review some of the e-books, websites and videos his preschool teachers have recommended for this week. This is education in the age of COVID-19.

As of press time, UNESCO reported more 1.3 billion children around the world were out of school due to coronavirus closures. As governments, school administrators, teachers, parents and students continue navigating this new reality, several educational technology (edtech) companies are offering expanded or free products and services. Here is a look at four organizations hoping to ease the transition to distance learning.

Google: On March 3, Google announced it would be offering free advanced video-conferencing capabilities for all G Suite and G Suite for Education customers until July 1. Highlights include conference calling for up to 250 participants, live streaming for up to 100,000 viewers, and the ability to record and save meetings to Google Drive. This offer could save organizations between $13 and $25 per user per month, The Verge reports.

Google also updated its Teach from Home Hub, which provides educators with additional assistance in creating and implementing lessons within Google Classroom. There are tutorials and advice for everything from building a class website to livestreaming lectures to staying in touch with fellow teachers.

Khan Academy: Edtech nonprofit powerhouse Khan Academy has been offering free online distance learning courses on everything from math to reading to science for over a decade. Before schools began closing in early March due to coronavirus, Khan Academy had 18 million monthly users and 10,000 available classes. By March 16, after most schools in the U.S. had switched to at-home learning programs, the website saw a 50 percent increase in traffic.

Recognizing the need for more online-learning guidance during this time of transition, founder Salman Khan has produced a series of free daily schedules and articles to help families and teachers create a routine during this pandemic. Khan Academy is also offering a series of live streaming and webinars to address specific concerns people may have regarding learning during school closures.

VitalSource: Many schools closed so suddenly in the wake of the coronavirus that students were unable to take their textbooks home with them, even though the semester is only half over. VitalSource and its network of partners are addressing this problem by offering students and teachers access to electronic versions of their textbooks and classroom materials.

From March 16 to May 20, college and university students can access a library of free textbooks through the VitalSource Bookshelf app. Participating publishers and retailers include Barnes & Noble Education, Pearson Education, Macmillan, McGraw-Hill Higher Education, and more.

Zoom: Videoconferencing app Zoom is certainly having a moment right now. Many schools are using it as part of their distance learning plans. Last Thursday and Friday, it was the third most downloaded free app in Apple’s App Store. And Zoom-related memes abound.

Zoom CEO Eric Yuan made news last week when he announced he was lifting the 40-minute conference time limits for any K-12 school in areas affected by COVID-19. (Normally the unlimited conference time feature is reserved for paid Zoom accounts.)

“I told the team that with any crisis like this, let’s not leverage the opportunity for marketing or sales. Let’s focus on our customers,” Yuan said in an interview with Forbes earlier this month. “If you leverage this opportunity for money, I think that’s a horrible culture.”

Image credit: Annie Spratt/Unsplash

Megan Amrich headshot

Megan is a writer and editor interested in sharing stories of positive change and resilience. She is the author of Show Up and Bring Coffee, a book highlighting how to support friends who are parents of disabled children. You can follow her at JoyfulBraveAwesome.com.

Read more stories by Megan Amrich