Last spring, I saw a lot of school districts scramble to transition to remote learning.  As a parent of a high school student, I heard a lot of tough stories from my daughter and other parents. But schools are clearly making strides around curriculum and technology this summer to deliver the best online education they can for as long as they need to.  As a new school year begins, there is a lot of optimism that if in-person schooling is not viable, online learning will be more effective this year.

There is, however, still a lot of angst on all sides. This is the single biggest unplanned experiment in the history of our education system. Even with the summer months to prepare, schools ran into significant challenges implementing the technologies needed to enable 100% remote learning coupled with the teacher development required to successfully use this technology in the virtual classroom. The lynchpin to this preparation was the critical technology that allowed students and teachers to connect and interact in a virtual classroom environment: video conferencing.  

As schools learned quickly when students returned for the first day of classes, remote learning technologies, including video conferencing, can indeed have delays or outages periodically and for a variety of reasons.  These technologies have become  an indispensable part of learning and teaching experiences, and when they don’t work it can cause major disruptions for teachers and students. If you cannot connect with students virtually, your classroom is effectively closed. So how do you minimize disruptions when they occur? Have a backup plan just like you have plans in place for student safety or unplanned teacher absences.

Your plan should dictate the steps you should take if your video conferencing/remote learning service goes down for whatever reason?  It should also include how you will communicate with students and staff, whether via automated voicemail, text, or SMS.  Plus, outlining how outages will impact class scheduling is good to think through in advance.  

Contingency Ideas for Avoiding a Virtual “Snow Day”:

  • Record evergreen lessons or create general tasks like creative writing assignments that are accessible to students online
  • Develop, in advance, a roster of speakers who can use live streaming tools to present age-appropriate lectures to students
  • Temporarily redesignate class time to study hall — teachers could use this time for planning, students can catch up on their assignments
  • Hold virtual office hours and offer several ways for the students to connect with you to ensure that they can reach and connect with you

Another option to keep classes open when your conferencing services are not working is to implement a backup system.  Technology advances and decreasing prices are allowing more educational institutions to deploy secondary services for communications and/or video conferencing.  Companies often use multiple carriers such as Verizon and AT&T, to keep critical communications flowing should one carrier be unavailable.  In remote leaning, video conferencing is just as essential.  Another benefit of using a secondary system is that it might have niche features that you may need sometimes that your primary system does not, such as security and encryption for private conversations between staff or between staff and parents.

Test, Test, Test Your school probably does not think twice about conducting periodic fire drills.  Testing your communications backup plan is important too.  Simulate an outage.  How can your teachers call students or parents to update them on the plan for the rest of the day?  Can they text or send SMS?  If voice or video quality is not acceptable on a particular day, do you tell students to disconnect and connect again in 20 minutes?  Do you tell them to wait until they receive a text from their teacher to reconnect?  Or, if it is near the end of the day, do you just cancel the remaining classes?  Every school has its own needs and priorities.  Working through what those are in your school can help minimize disruption and confusion by students as to what they are supposed to do when things are not working properly at the network level.  Finally, do not forget about your students.  They may be experiencing technical difficulties that may be limited to their Internet connection.  This is not their fault.  Make sure you give students guidance on what they should do when their connection to their teacher is not working. 

Testing includes training. You want teachers to be trained and comfortable with additional tools so any switch can be seamless.  It is also helpful for students to be familiar with a variety of tools.

Teachers know better than anyone that failing to plan is planning to fail.  We know that schools are continuing to work diligently and sacrificing so much to accomplish their missions. Teachers administrators and staff are clearly heroes. 

How 8x8 Can Help You 8x8 has a long history of working with school districts, private schools, and higher learning institutions to provide them with communications services during normal years and this unusual year of 2020.  One of our more significant recent projects helped WeSchool in Italy deliver online classroom services to about 30 percent of the country’s secondary school teachers.  We work with school systems of all sizes to make it easy for students and their parents to communicate with teachers without teachers having to give up their personal phone numbers.  We also offer collaboration tools like chat and 8x8 Meet, our secure video conferencing service that requires no downloads.  It is all about providing an affordable, rich feature set that helps teachers do their jobs more effectively while their students are at home.  Learn more at our video conferencing services or our all-in-one phone/messaging systems.

Teachers know better than anyone that failing to plan is planning to fail.  We know that schools are continuing to work diligently and sacrificing so much to accomplish their missions. Teachers administrators and staff are clearly heroes.  They have invested so much to allow students to learn from anywhere.  It just makes a lot of sense that if you have a virtual learning program so critical to classroom operations, you create a backup for when you temporarily need it.

Additional Reading:

Have a question or comment? Drop us a note at