According to the National Center for Education Statistics, only 21 percent of public schools and 13 percent of private schools in the United States offered any courses entirely online [1] prior to COVID-19. In the wake of a global pandemic, learning institutions had to change their instruction overnight with IT decision makers tasked with identifying solutions that could best connect teachers with students. These unsung heroes had to act fast to address a diverse set of users with varying degrees of experience with technology. Today, we spotlight a success story in the Pennsylvania School District along with top tips to help learning institutions ramp for another school year where distance learning will undoubtably play a starring role.

Beginning March 23, Governor of Pennsylvania, Tom Wolf ordered a number of counties to stay at home as the state braced itself for the spread of COVID-19. By April 1st, Wolf announced shelter in place orders to be enforced statewide [2]. Although these orders dramatically impacted everyone, many K-12 schools throughout the state ‘really felt the pinch’ [3] of needing to quickly move their students, teachers and staff online— however, some were prepared to meet the shift.

Lancaster-Lebanon Intermediate Unit 13 (IU 13) is an education service agency dedicated to delivering K-12 services to schools and communities across the state of Pennsylvania and beyond. IU 13 wears many hats when it comes to the services they provide for students, their families, and their educators and has always been an early adopter of new technologies to provide its services. We had the opportunity to sit down with Roy Hoover, IU 13’s Network and Telecommunications Coordinator who has been leading the charge equipping his organization with the resources and telecommunications solutions he tailors to the needs of educators, facilitators, and administrators.

The front of IU 13 building

Hoover uses his expertise to provide products and services not only to the 22 public schools within Lancaster and Lebanon counties, but also to non-public schools, education agencies, parents, preschools, adult learners, businesses, municipalities, and more. Everything that IU 13 does is ultimately meant to support their core mission of improving student learning — and, from where Hoover stands, that means staying ahead of the curve on the latest technology.

A Track-Record of Innovation

IU 13 first created its own bridge using Poly (then Polycom) in 2007 with the reception of a grant. Hoover chose to outfit each of the participating schools in the district with Polycom HDX video conference units (the newer iteration of this product is the Poly G40-T). Later on, in 2011, the transition to a voice over IP (VoIP) phone system prompted the purchase of Poly (then separately, Polycom and Plantronics) handsets and headsets — a move Hoover described as, ‘a big step back in 2011.’ This shift to softphones would turn out to pay off in a big way during a time of crisis.

G-T40 Bundle

The Poly G-T40 Small/Medium Room Systems for Microsoft Teams

Early Adopters Stay Ahead of the Game

While speaking with Hoover, one of the prevailing themes to our conversation was the notion of IU 13 being an early adopter of new technologies. This enabled IU 13 to be ready for this moment thanks to some of the moves they made in the past that provided less of a barrier to digitalization and integration when it came time to move operations online.

Hoover reflected on the transition away from traditional desk phones to soft clients positively, stating, “Now, in the time of COVID-19 […] we found out that [transitioning to VoIP] was a really good decision, because the day we closed (for COVID-19 health and safety precautions), we told everyone to “take your computers with you.’” Hoover continued, “Now, everyone is using that same set-up […] we’re working the same way we were before, now we are just doing it from home.”

When it came time to shelter in place, Hoover underlined that not all schools were as lucky as the ones in his district, as some ran into a multitude of roadblocks because they never enabled certain ‘telecommuting’ features. Issues such as their phone systems not allowing for off-prem use, needing to provide trainings for headsets and VaaS platforms like Zoom and Microsoft Teams have led to many schools struggling in the remote transition. Hoover explained that it’s a painless process to add capabilities like voice once you’re already up and running on a collaboration platform like Teams.

Top Tips for Educators

IU 13’s early adoption of collaboration infrastructure poses a great case for equipping workforces with technology that is both flexible and agile in that, it has the ability to seamlessly transition between traditional and remote working environments at the drop of a dime. However, emergency preparedness was far from the main reason Hoover chose Poly to power IU 13’s network. The key factors guiding the decision boiled down to: consistency, user friendliness, interoperability with different collaboration platforms and devices, integration with Microsoft collaboration platforms, and high-quality voice and video.

Consistent and User Friendly

With so many endpoints facilitating both classroom and distance learning sessions throughout the two counties, consistency plays a huge role in ensuring the best experience for teachers and students alike. Additionally, tools that are easy to use and are interoperable with other endpoints such as, headsets, phones, video conferencing equipment tend to garner better adoption rates and source fewer troubleshooting calls to IT.

When asked what considerations were made with the end-user in mind, Hoover explained, “When we looked at Poly headset devices to outfit our IU, they worked well and had the right charging and wearing style options that just worked for folks.”

A Complete Microsoft Experience

The partnership between Poly and Microsoft is essential for any organization committed to delivering the richest and most complete collaboration experience. Meanwhile, the partnership between Microsoft and education runs equally as deep. Hoover explained, “Microsoft is sort of the 800-pound gorilla. Microsoft’s education site licensing is extremely attractive and is just kind of a no-brainer for a lot of schools.” Poly, which has the broadest range of devices that work with Microsoft Teams was the obvious choice.

Interoperability

Hoover noted the ability for devices to ‘play nice’ with other tools and platforms as another significant factor. “Platform interoperability is critical; we need devices that can scale across many online platforms and collaboration tools” said Hoover, “I need something that, as an IT administrator, I can put in a conference room and know that regardless of who sent the invite, or what form factor or platform it was on, that people will be able to use that device and conduct a meeting” he continued.

Quality Endpoints

The above-mentioned attributes can hardly make an impression without quality endpoints to deliver the experience. Poly prides itself on providing a comprehensive, end-to-end portfolio of collaboration tools for the education sector — students, teachers, and administrators. “When I think ‘Poly’, I think great audio and video. Poly has done such amazing engineering feats with things like Acoustic Fence and the cone of silence, that’s why I buy Poly products,” explained Hoover.

Poly Solutions for Education

Poly provides next generation learning solutions for the road ahead. Empower your educators to deliver exceptional, high-impact learning experiences with Poly’s signature video, voice and content sharing solutions. Additionally, school staff and administrators can save time and work better together using Poly solutions for voice, video and content sharing.

Be Prepared with Poly

Smiling teacher taking notes while using laptop in the classroom.

With Poly solutions for education, you can rest assured that your organization’s telecommunication infrastructure is prepared to adapt to in-office or remote working scenarios as needed. Our priority is to provide a comprehensive portfolio of collaboration endpoints that work beautifully where you need them, when you need them. For more information about Poly’s solutions for education contact a Poly representative.

Additional Resources

How-To: Video Conference Programs

Search hundreds of video conferencing programs from different providers. The database provides content providers, educational outreach programs from organizations such as zoos, museums, authors, experts in the field and much more. Learn more.

Brochure: Poly Grant Assistance Programs (PGAP)

We know that finding and getting a grant can be time-consuming and overwhelming. That’s why Poly provides assistance in every aspect of proposal preparation, funding selection, and submission of grant applications. Let us help you find funding to implement voice, video, and data communications solutions. Our team of grant and industry experts will help you create a funding solution package to meet your specific and unique needs and achieve your project outcomes. Download brochure.

Brochure: Academic and Instructional Training

To ensure successful implementation and adoption of video conferencing and collaboration, our services are designed to fit your administrative, instructional, or other needs. Download brochure.

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[1] National Center for Education Statistics, Fast Facts, Distance Learning. https://nces.ed.gov/fastfacts/display.asp?id=79
[2] Mervosh, Sarah, et al. “See Which States and Cities Have Told Residents to Stay at Home.” New York Times, 20 Apr. 2020, www.nytimes.com/interactive/2020/us/coronavirus-stay-at-home-order.html.
[3] Kilmer, Liz. “Emergency Funding on the Way to Help Pennsylvania School Districts Struggling during COVID-19 Pandemic.” 11 New Wpix, 14 May 2020, www.wpxi.com/news/top-stories/emergency-funding-way-help-struggling-pennsylvania-school-districts/FIJNFUVIGRGHFCPZXPE6N3H73E/.