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On-Demand | Inspiring and Empowering the Future of Learning

Oct 15, 2021

Tune in for a joint webinar with EisnerAmper and Lenovo, a prominent technology solutions provider transforming the way institutions operate through cutting edge software and equipment.


Rahul Mahna:Thank you, Bella. Good morning, everybody. Hope you're doing well. I'm really excited about today's webinar.

Rahul Mahna:A little bit of background and introduction, I've been involved in the technology industry for almost 30 years. A good chunk of that has been working with public sector clients, school districts in particular. And through that process, we've seen a lot of evolution in the industry. So, thinking back to testing and No Child Left Behind, moving forward with esports and where the industry's going, we've always been part of it as a solutions team, finding and creating these solutions for education. And I thought it'd be really interesting to bring one of our partners, which is Lenovo, who we've often worked with to develop these solutions, and bring one of their subject matter experts to talk about the trends that he is seeing in education, where the industry is going, and maybe leave you with some ideas that can be used in classrooms, in public sector, and maybe even in nonpublic sector. So, with that, Rich, I would welcome you and thank you for your time this morning.

Rich Henderson:Thank you, Rahul. Hey, I really appreciate being here today. So, I started my career in education, I started working for the North Carolina Autism Society working with students. Let me think back, that was almost 30 years ago now. But I've been a classroom teacher. I was even an elementary school janitor for one summer. So I've been in a lot of the seats that you guys have been in. And what I wanted to talk about today is really kind of what are we seeing, what trends are we seeing on a global level? What challenges are happening? And then how we can actually use those to overcome obstacles and really inspire our future learners. So, thanks for having me today, Rahul.

Rahul Mahna:I appreciate, Rich. And with that wonderful background that you have, and I often say that you have to know the smell of the school to say that you actually understand the education industry. And clearly, being a janitor, you literally understand the smell of the school from many years ago. So with that, as an aside, why don't you start off and just tell the group and the audience what you're seeing over, so macro trends and what's going on in education.

Rich Henderson:Of course. Yeah, so I've been leading the education solutions group at Lenovo for the last five years. But this last year has just been absolutely incredible in terms of what we're seeing happening globally. You may have seen here in the US national teacher shortages and substitute teacher shortages. I literally see posts about this on Twitter every day and my heart is breaking for these teachers who are trying to cover for other teachers that can't get subs. But we're actually seeing this at a global level. I can't remember the number off the top of my head, but I think we're going to be short 20 million teachers in the next 10 years. So, in India, in China, we're seeing these national teachers shortages. And it's actually driving new ways of delivering teachers to remote areas, so this master teacher concept where you might have your best teachers available and broadcast those lessons out to remote areas where you might have kind of assistants or tutors that are available remotely to help the students. But we're definitely going to see this as an ongoing challenge.

Another one is now that devices are in the hands of every single student, we're seeing this one-to-one device going worldwide. So teachers have devices, students have devices. And that means from an IT standpoint, securing those devices, protecting them, student safeguarding, filtering, device controls, that is a kind of common language, and we're going to talk a little bit more about that today.

COVID and kind of being locked out of schools created some really challenging social and emotional learning gaps. So if you think about those peer to peer connections, those mentoring opportunities with teachers, a lot of that was blocked during COVID. And so now we're looking for ways to increase social and emotional awareness and connections.

We talked about digital citizenship and use of devices. But at the workforce prep level, we're seeing just tremendous change in higher education. We've already seen the de-emphasis of these standardized testing going into college applications. But honestly, it's really starting to become a conversation about skills-based credentialing. So I got my undergraduate degree I think 25 years ago, '99, so not quite. But I got my undergrad then, and it was all about the undergrad. But 30 years later almost, I don't really need that undergraduate degree anymore. It's about the skills, it's about the modern tools that I have. And so we're seeing this change for adult education and skills-based credentialing. And you've got that middle school student who is just an absolutely whiz at a certain skill, we should be encouraging that and driving programs for that student through CTE or whatever to have them kind of choose their own skills-based path. And then finally - Yeah, go ahead.

Rahul Mahna:Just to pick on that, I'm sorry to interrupt, but I feel like this is such a hot topic that you're talking about with skills-based learning. And there's some recent articles and some folks that I've talked to with our education clients that they become teachers, but they're carrying massive amounts of debt, and how can they sustain being a teacher with this kind of debt. And to your points about remote learning, and as I think about these teachers that we talk to often that are our clients, I'm just curious, what do you think is the future of degrees and traditional learning to become a teacher with all the shortages in mind, the debt that's created with the teachers, skills-based learning, just curious of your perspective, where do you think it might go?

Rich Henderson:That's a good question. I think at the core of it is credentialing. So that is just a required essential element to have proof of knowledge, proof of certification. There may be different ways that we do that. And we've talked about actually blockchain in terms of tracking where someone took that class and that kind of follows them as part of their skills profile. But I think what I've seen that's been the most exciting is kind of the comeback or let's call it the Renaissance era of the community college and the technical college. Because students are realizing now that they don't need to go spend all four years at a super high level institution. They could go get an associate's degree. They could go get a technical degree. That may lead them to a four year degree or even advanced education later. But in order to get started, that traditional move out, take out loans and everything, that model is changing over completely. So I think what is the most important thing is that we do have the right credentialing.

But I think a lot of students are realizing that path doesn't have to be getting a four year degree in something they're not going to use. I don't know how many- My wife is an English major. I'm a communications major. We both don't really do what our degree was in today. And so wouldn't it have been better if we could have invested that money into something that's driving what we're doing now instead of going and getting that kind of journalist degree. So I do think there's significant change coming.

Rahul Mahna:Yeah. I can't agree with you more. And I don't want to take away the thunder for the rest of your presentation. But I think COVID has accelerated this and going to be the facilitator to a lot of this change that's going to happen. So very exciting times.

Rich Henderson:Yeah, absolutely. And in fact, to that point, this idea of digital transformation in schools is not new. We've been working on this for- In higher ed, we've been working on it for decades. In K-12, it's a little bit newer. Chromebooks came out in 2011, something like that. It wasn't until then that we really moved away from the lab setup in schools into kind of individual student devices. But all of this kind of remote learning, new modes of learning, this has been moved forward dramatically. When you have students that are remote and you have to teach them remote, the one common factor is that you need technology. It actually requires technology to reach those students and to get them access to the class. And so what we're seeing is that this COVID-19 epidemic has really accelerated this distance learning trend and this hybrid remote trend. And we think it's not going to really go back to the way it was.

And so we think this whole kind of modernization of the classroom to accept more remote environments is going to be an important trend. And so if I think about kind of what classrooms look like pre-COVID, a lot of them looked like this. So the kids are all tightly together, packed in rows, no visible technology. If they had devices, they're in their backpacks. There's no kind of screens or anything. But I think the classrooms that we're seeing are going to be much more like this. You're bringing in students remotely. The teacher may actually be teaching completely remotely while the students are just joining in from home. So you might have students learning from remote places or these kind of mixed classrooms where you have lots of projectors, flat screens, interactive whiteboards, digital displays that are being used to really create a more immersive and engaging model.

And so if we think about kind where the future of education is heading, I'm just going to share with you a few mission statements that my team put together for what we believe is going to happen. So we believe that education is the foundation of a better future - breaking down those barriers, fostering equitable learning experiences, and lifting the next generation through opportunity. We believe learning requires technology that creates a safe, accessible, collaborative experience to empower teachers and inspire students. And we believe innovation requires curiosity to spark imagination and anticipate the challenges ahead.

So those are things that I think resonate with a lot of people, but it still kind of begs the question, since education is not new and there's lots of people that are doing this, why does it seem so hard? And I think this is a really important question. We've been using education technology to replace classroom learning environments for years. Even when I was in school, we used calculators to map graphs. So it's not like this is a new concept. And I think it is important to ask kind of, "Okay, so we're all used to using education technology. What makes it hard?"

Well, I want to introduce kind of a framework that we use to think about how the technology gets introduced into the market. And some of you may have seen this. This is the Gartner Hype Cycle. And it's a technology that would introduce how does a new technology become integrated into our societies? And if you look on the kind of the vertical here, the visibility is kind of an awareness in the market of a particular technology. So at the beginning of time, no one's aware of this new technology. It was invented in a lab or someone's garage, or maybe someone developed some really amazing code. And then as it becomes more and more popular, more people get aware of it, more companies begin to invest in it, we start to see it show up on all the, "Hey, buy this for Christmas," lists. And by the way, I've heard, if you haven't started shopping for Christmas, you should because of supply chain issues.

Rahul Mahna:I saw that as well.

Rich Henderson:So, everything just kind of getting talked about really broadly. And that becomes kind of this peak of inflated expectations. So we hear about some technology, everyone loves it, go out and buy it. And then when you go to implement that technology, what generally happens? Well, you might get a rush of excitement at first, but maybe you stop playing with it after a week or you kind of enter this trough of disillusionment. That's fairly typical. But over time, as time continues to go forward, we start to figure out ways to integrate this technology into our lives and we come up the slope of enlightenment and finally into the plateau of productivity where it's being used widely, there's lots of technology. So let me give you a couple of examples. One example is voice recognition technology. So Rahul, do you remember the first time that you used voice recognition technology?

Rahul Mahna:Gosh, voice recognition technology. So, I remember voice over IP in its early days with Net2Phone. Besides that, I don't know.

Rich Henderson:Do you remember a technology called Dragon?

Rahul Mahna:Dragon Speak, yes.

Rich Henderson:Yeah.

Rahul Mahna:Yes, I do.

Rich Henderson:That's the first one that I can think of. So I used Dragon. And their tagline was Dragon naturally speak. And this was probably 15 years ago at least. Because I was using WordPerfect 6.1 at the time. And Dragon was a plugin. And you could talk to Dragon and it would kind of transcribe the text. And so you wouldn't have to type it all, you would just transcribe your text. And you could even give it commands. But honestly, it was terrible. I don't know what Dragon's doing now, but the technology then was so bad that we just stopped using it and went back to typing. But if you look at where voice recognition technology is today, it's way out on the plateau of productivity. We all have devices on us right now, I've got a watch, I've got a phone, I can talk to my TV, I can talk to my car. That technology is so thoroughly embedded in our lives now that it's just an incredibly important integrated technology. If you think about something like self-driving cars, that's another interesting technology point, right? Where do you think, Rahul, we might be in terms of where self-driving cars might fit in the cycle?

Rahul Mahna:Boy, I think right now we're probably- There's a lot of hype about it right now on the curve. I think they think that's where we're going. Everybody's gearing up that way. So I think we're maybe in the front half of that curve. Where do you think it is?

Rich Henderson:Yeah, I think what I would have said is - I would say that a couple of years ago, I don't know if you remember this, there were a couple of pedestrians that got killed by a self-driving car, I think in Arizona. And I would have said the self-driving car hype started maybe five or six years ago. Again, this is kind of a cycle. So I'll talk about another technology in a second. But, it doesn't kind of flow perfectly uniformly across. Sometimes the technology kind of resets when there's a new technology trigger, that technology resets and comes up the hype curve again. So, I would say a couple years ago, two years ago, self-driving cars was down in the trough. Everyone was like, "Ah, okay, we tried. We tried to model some stuff, somebody got killed, so we've got to go back and we've got to improve the technology." Now maybe it's building up to the peak again.

But what's really interesting is that if you've driven a new car recently or rented a new car recently, elements of that technology are already being implemented in our cars. You've got cameras that help you park. You've got notifications on your side mirrors that tell you if there's a car in your blind spot. So, elements of that self-driving technology, even though maybe the technology as a whole isn't being kind of linearly brought through, elements of that technology are. They're being integrated into our daily lives.

So, we're about to talk about a technology next that I think is probably still kind of in the peak of inflated expectations area, which is VR, VR and immersive technology. And I'll tell you why I think it's there, because this isn't new either. We've been doing VR, and I showed that picture of, what was that called, the Mattel thing where you click on it and you click through the photos?

Rahul Mahna:I remember using it but I don't remember the name.

Rich Henderson:Was it a Viewfinder? Is that was it is, the Viewfinder? Anyway, it was awesome. So we've been using some type of immersive technology to try to advance stuff. But VR in particular in the classroom is still fairly new. We don't see VR being used in every classroom in every day. The technology exists today, but we're still figuring out how do we interject that into our curriculum? What's the right content? How does it flow into our teaching methodology? All of that. So I think today it's still probably around the peak. Some people may think they already bought, maybe it's in the trough. Maybe people loved Google Expeditions and they bought those Google Expeditions kits, but that's gone now, so now they're kind of resetting that expectation again. So anyway, this is a framework that's really good to think about how does new technology, how is it introduced? And then how do we manage our expectations and the hype that surrounds these products?

Rich Henderson:So what I'm going to do now is talk about a few examples of these technologies. I did have a Q&A come in that maybe I'll jump in and kind of address this real quick. Joe asks, "I realize the future of education is heading toward more virtual learning and technology as an integral part of this. But isn't there a trade off? Students in a virtual environment do not tend to develop interpersonal skills as well and hone their social and teamwork skills. How to address these skills being developed?"

Joe, fantastic question. You've absolutely nailed it. I do not believe that we are going to move to a completely remote environment. I do think some research would show that some students perform better. Even the remote environment was a better match for their communication preferences and learning styles. However, I don't think we're going to abandon our infrastructure. I don't think we're going to abandon our schools' infrastructure. I think what we need to use is this technology for remote learning to solve teaching issues. So this ability to bring in remote experts into the classroom, this ability of if some student is out sick, they shouldn't have to miss school for the day, they can dial in remotely and be a part of that classroom. So I think it's going to be used in more targeted ways in K-12. In higher ed, I think what you're going to see happen is that large lecture formats are going to largely turn into virtual sessions, maybe even asynchronous, so they're just recorded sessions for those big lectures. And then when you're on campus working with your peers, it's very much more collaborative and dynamic rather than just sitting in a classroom listening to a lecture. So that's how I see that changing. Good question.

Okay, so let's talk about immersive instruction. And immersive instruction, I'm using this as a fairly broad category, meaning anything from VR to AR to MR, something, one of these kind of augmented or mixed virtual reality solutions. And the reason why this is so important is because when we put students in an immersive environment in schools, it actually creates curiosity for those students. And this engagement is so critical to inspire our minds and to get them thinking. When I was thinking about why do people want to learn new things, what sparks that curiosity to learn new things, and I started thinking about playing the guitar. I love to play guitar. I don't know how many of you guys are out there playing guitar or trying to learn to play guitar. But I did it because I love to create my own music. And of course there was a girl involved when this first started. But I wanted to - I had a sense of curiosity. I wanted to learn how to do this and it created a purpose and something that I was willing to invest and learn.

Now, I would suggest that students in classrooms, they need that ability to imagine, to spark curiosity, to see themselves in a world beyond the city that they grew up in. And I don't if we talk about this enough, but there's a lot of students in the United States who are born in a city and they grow up in that city and they never leave that city or that state. They have such a hard time imagining what the world is like beyond what they can see. And what VR does is it really opens their mind. It opens their mind, it creates these vivid experiences for chemistry, for archeology, for medical. You can take tours of college campuses. You can stand on the edge of a volcano. You can really imagine what your life might be like if you make certain choices. And this is so important for students, because once they can connect how their life might result once they've made certain choices, they know they can map the path for them.

And we find that this is being used in the professional environments. We talk about workplace readiness. VR is actually being used by Fidelity, the financial company. They're training call center experts in VR to have more empathy. Because what was happening is they had 65-year-old widows that were calling into a call center of 24-year-olds and talking about their spouse died and they didn't know how to invest their money. And there was just no empathy. Walmart is training future leaders in VR. So VR is creating this experience in the workplace, and we need to provide this for students so that they can experience in what VR is. I'm sorry, Rahul, did you have a question?

Rahul Mahna:I was just thinking about your topic here of where you're going with VR and how it can be used. And the question that we got from Joe earlier, I wanted to relate a small story that was interesting in higher education. I work closely with the college of education at Lehigh University. And they set up a wonderful VR room. It's something very unique. It's not just a headset. There's some great facets they had to it. And they were trying to use it for a very interesting way which was collaboration, the way you mentioned. And in their college of education small classroom sizes, they were having some students that came from abroad, and those students wanted to education and formally share with the other students in the classroom where they came from, how they came. So they used this VR environment so that that student who came from Asia literally was walking his classmates down the streets where he grew up. And it was a wonderful collaboration and a way that they could relate and all bond together, and they had some new learning experiences where the other 10, 15 students wouldn't get to Asia, but now they could relate to that student and empathize and understand where they came from and work with them and share in different things.

So I see this going in many directions that can improve some of these softer skills and collaboration efforts as well. So I just wanted to share that little story. I saw it about three years ago they were doing it, and I thought it was really cool.

Rich Henderson:The technology has such possibilities. I remember a couple years ago, we had a product where you could actually record and stream a VR experience. So say for example your son's at a soccer game and the grandparents couldn't make it or maybe your spouse couldn't make it or whatever. You can record that, they could put on a VR headset, and then they could actually feel like they're on the field. They could hear the sounds, they could kind of be immersed in that. And I've known teacher that have gone and recorded a tour. They've stood on a street in their home where they grew up and seen kind of what their street looked like when they great up. So I think you're right. I think it allows us to bring these experiences to so many more students. There's only so many students you can put on a bus and drive to Washington, D.C. But you can provide this VR experience for every student.

Rahul Mahna:I remember that trip. It was our eighth grade trip where they put us on a bus and took us to D.C.

Rich Henderson:Yeah. I'm in North Carolina, so that's not too bad of a trip. It's about four and a half hours. But yeah, it's great. So one thing about VR, though, that we've seen is that it's really not just about the hardware. So much VR content out there today is games-based. You really need curriculum-based content, something that can really help you showcase something that is in your lesson plan, that needs to drive education outcomes that we're doing. You want the ability to create your own content and then share that content with others. A lot of VR right now doesn't have great administrator controls. So you need to think about if you're in IT, how do you manage these devices? They're not quite like a laptop. They're more like a tablet. How do you manage these devices across our infrastructure? How do you distribute content? These are large files. So how do you create an environment to distribute content and curriculum alignment? And then finally, how does the teacher know what the students are seeing? The students are in a VR headset. How does the teacher know kind of what they're looking at and direct that learning experience?

So these are things that we've been working on and then trying to solve kind of all of these areas in our VR solutions. But it's certainly an exciting area. And I think the future is really VR and immersive opportunities in every classroom. I talk to higher education universities, and they are considering requiring VR headsets as part of the freshmen hardware kit. So they're definitely thinking about this technology very deeply. Rahul, I'm going to go ahead to the next section here unless you wanted to talk about immersive anymore.

Rahul Mahna:No, I think that's great. It's a wonderful overview. And I agree with you. We see a lot of schools in New Jersey that we work with had been trying to experiment with it. And to your point, they struggled a little bit quite honestly in trying to figure out how to use it, how to make it effective, how to make it viable. Those headsets are expensive, so they don't want to break them or lose them, and there's some concern around that. But I'm really intrigued about what it can offer and where it can go. So looking forward to seeing some evolution in the product as well, to your point.

Rich Henderson:Yeah, absolutely. And I think it will continue to improve. This is a very new technology. So, I think one thing that I've seen schools - I would set an expectation that this technology will continue to refresh in a major way every two to three years. I think we'll see kind of big leaps in technology. So it's not like a Windows Notebook that you go to buy today and you know you're going to be able to use that Windows Notebook for four to five years possibly. The VR headsets, the technology is changing faster than that. So that'll be something to watch.

The next topic I wanted to jump into is really about advanced computing. So when we think about advanced computing, this is an area actually where I'm seeing the lab still be really relevant. The idea of students walking down the hall to the computer lab is going away with devices in hands of every student. But, in terms of advanced computing use, I see that's still an incredibly important use case. Because what we're talking about now, and we talk about the skills-based ecosystem and training students to be ready for the workforce, to have the skills, well, that means advanced computing. Because when we're in the workplace, I work for Lenovo obviously, we're using workstations, we're using high-powered computers every day to run our models, to design our computers, to really think about everything. The cloud-based tools, I have found, are great for being a reader of those files. But in terms of creating those files and designing, you need to be using more advanced stations.

And so there's lots of great tools that go along with this. So if you're in to kind of design architecture, you need to be pairing it with a lot of desk tools. Or maybe you're into media and you're trying to create the next VR experience or you're trying to create video games. Then you need to have access to the right applications. And students and teachers need training on how to incorporate these into CTV-type classes or specific technical skill oriented classes.

And this goes the same for whether you're going to be an engineer, a computer programmer, a biologist, all of these themes are going to be using advanced computing because data is just becoming so much more important. Learning how to manipulate and analyze data is really the future. We think about AI, machine learning, algorithms and learning how to speak that language, that is going to be a much more common framework in the next decade.

And so when we think about what this does for students, well, when you start to introduce them to advanced computing, it can really take them into different career paths. So it's practical instruction on work-ready devices. And so we think about kind of all these fields, and we talked briefly about AI, machine learning, and doing those building data tables and data lakes and data analysis, and that's going to be a very common skillset. I think a common term that I have heard is data scientist. And I used to actually have a guy that worked for me, he was fantastic with Excel, just kind of a wizard with it. And he went back to school and didn't get another degree, he got a certificate as a data scientist. And I kid you not, I was happy for him, he came and told me that he found a job as a data scientists, and he essentially doubled his salary. So of course I was thrilled for him, encouraged him to move on. But, he didn't need another degree for that. He needed that certificate. He needed that skill that he could prove and that he could bring to another employer.

But in terms of engineering, every single one of these fields, oil and gas, engineering, they use these kind of advanced computing stations. Health and medicine is beginning to use it. As that goes more and more digital, those tools are required. But another use case that we're finding for these - I'm sorry, Rahul, do you have a question?

Rahul Mahna:I was just going to ask, these workstations are wonderful products, and we see them in our school districts we work in. Typically, the workstation, and for those that know or don't know, it's just a much higher end computing device, is not typically found in the computer labs, but maybe in the adjacent vocational skill where they're doing these specific kind of courses on design or game development, as you showed earlier in a couple logos. What's your thoughts on, ya know - It’s almost like a little bit of a digital divide that you almost have to go to the vocational to get to these workstations, or do you think that computing level will come down to the normal school where the mass of children can get exposure?

Rich Henderson:I think right now, the gap is training. So it's really difficult to use these tools. And I've talked to a lot of teachers, even teacher that are in STEM high schools, that they want to help students use some of these engineering or design tools. But in terms of the training to get teachers comfortable using these tools and teaching with these tools is some of the gap. And we talk about some of the teacher resources restraints and the teacher shortages. That also goes into the professional learning and certification on these tools. I think that's a big gap today. It's not that students who don't pursue a CTE path don't need access to these tools. But the teachers that are in that vocational center are generally trained to use these tools, where the other teachers are trained on more traditional curriculum paths.

Rahul Mahna:That's very true. It was interesting, I had one of my closest friends, and he has three children and they're all eighth grade into high school. And we grew up very sports-heavy, where we didn't have computing devices, we were outside, we played sports a lot. His children, as many today, don't go out as heavy. They're more inside and they're working on computing devices. And two of his children, they're really into robotics and coding and graphical design. And it's interesting for me to see the trend of the younger children now moving to these more advanced-based skills. And I'm really curious to see the evolution as they come out of high schools pretty well-equipped, I would say, and into colleges, so much more advanced technically by having the computing power with them and the opportunity to learn these technologies. So just an aside, a small story. But I see a really nice batch of kids coming through in the next 10 years.

Rich Henderson:Yeah, I would say just 10 years ago, it seems like a long time to maybe some of the younger people, but even just 10 years ago, you used to put - Think about the things you used to put on your resume. If you knew how to use Microsoft Word and Excel and Access and whatever, you put those things on your resume because you're like, "Hey, look, I can use these tools." You can't put those on your resume. That's a given. You have to be fluent in those things already. And so the skill level of using technology is increasing. And that's why we need kind of skills-specific training to help people get better at these things.

But I'll tell you another thing that I'm seeing schools do with these spaces, it's not just about kind of work, there's a fun element to it too. Because I'm seeing a lot of schools double these spaces, these workstation spaces, for esports centers or labs. And so whether you're using a gaming line, we have our Legion gaming line of computers that are amazing, but a lot of schools can just use workstations for a lot of the games. Because it doesn't require a high-end consumer graphics card to play a lot of the games, especially at the middle school and high school level. And so we're seeing a lot of schools have success implementing esports programs. And higher education, this is taking off. Out of the 4500 degree-granting institutions in the US, about 20% of them have an esports program, whether that's just a club or an actual team. About 1/5 of our colleges and universities have an esports program. And we're seeing it in high schools, we're seeing it in middle schools as well.

And the important thing here is it's very different from a traditional varsity sport. If you host a basketball team at your school, pretty much everyone on the team is a player except for maybe the team manager. Everyone is a player. But with an esports team, you're going to have the players, which are the ones behind the keyboards, but then you're going to have also all these other people around it. You're going to have event planners. You're going to have people that are doing the shout casting. You're going to have people running the operations. I know a school district in Florida, Miami-Dade, they actually run their esports program as a student elective. They run it as a business. They have graphic artists. They have coders. They have people who design the network. And they run the whole esports program as an elective course and they get credit for it. And so we're seeing this kind of integration of esports driving students into these other fields of interest, STEM, and I think it's a really amazing opportunity. I think I have one other topic I want to jump into, Rahul. Anything else you want to talk about on this one?

Rahul Mahna:No, I think it's very well said. I'm really excited about this area.

Rich Henderson:Great. Yeah, I think it's super interesting. And obviously every time the students get a choice, do you want to have an esports program at your school? Yes, I do. Yes, I do. UNC Chapel Hill is right down the street from us, and esports club or gaming club is their largest student club on campus. They have about 2500 members of their gaming club. And so it's a great opportunity to, again, build those social and emotional connections with students as well as to provide them opportunities to grow into new career paths. So I really am excited about what's happening with esports.

The last thing I wanted to talk about is really what's happening in our classrooms. So this idea of the classroom has changed. And remember I showed those pictures early on about what the classroom is looking like. Well, here's another example of what a kind of upper, higher grade classroom could look like. And in this case, you have a true hybrid teaching environment. So you have students in the class that have joined a classroom session, and this is using a tool called Exploros, which we love that. And then this is a hybrid teaching model. So you have students joining in from home. They have a speaker here, you've got a camera so it's picking up kind of what's happening in the class. And then you have this separate display so the teacher can do the presenting, and that's also being shared with all the students online as well as in class.

So this kind of hybrid teaching environment we think is going to continue to take over the higher ed. But we think it's also going to be important to have this in the K-12 environment. Because when we think about the way the classrooms are changing, we don't want to just continue teaching the same way that we've been. And the laptop just literally replaces a notebook. In the SAMR model, that's just called substitution. In some cases, substitution is fine. But what we really want to do is use that technology to improve that teaching model.

And so in order to really do that, I think about kind of the different tools that you might need to have available in order to do that. Well, one is screen monitoring. You need to be able to know what the students are looking at. This is important when the students are remote, whether they're in the classroom. You can see what each student is looking at, and then you can actually address that class setting that way. So, if you see, let's say, for example, Gilly here is on the wrong site, maybe you don't want them searching something, you can actually go and close their tabs. So you can actually control what students have access to through your white listing, your blacklisting. Limit Web is basically it. So you can allow specific domains so that students don't have access to that. And you can kind of turn that on with his control. And then you need the ability to chat with students. So all of these kind of LMSs, classroom management tools, you have to have the ability to really bridge what the teacher is seeing, what the students are seeing, and to increase communication.

Rahul Mahna:Rich, these are really cool tools. I know you're not on the tech side, but do you have a sense about how hard is it to implement an LMS or a productivity tool like this?

Rich Henderson:I would say it's getting a lot easier. So many of these tools now, Rahul, have single sign-on. So they are linked in with your Google. They're linked in with your 365, your active directory. Or, you can use a tool like Clever that can do that handshake for you. So a lot of them are now cloud based, so it's really as simple as making that handshake between your sign-on algorithm or sign-on tools and these technical tools. But it comes down to kind of, we talked about this briefly, teacher training. Because the teachers are the ones who are going to be using this tool every day, and we need to have the support that they need in order to be successful using the tools. And I think that is something that has been tremendously stressful for teachers is being the ones who are responsible for implementing a lot of this technology in the classroom.

Rahul Mahna:Yeah, it's interesting, we often see the same problem where we'll work with a school district, they'll want to deploy it, but there's a whole bunch of noise around getting the cost in place, the product, the delivery, the installation, but there's very little talked about the training, if ever talked about the training aspect of it or the education and the onboarding, and also the continual training. Because the products evolve and the solution evolves. It's hardly ever mentioned.

Rich Henderson:And I think a big mistake is frankly to think that it's just initial training, that's all you have to do. It's not. It takes years to really implement this technology successfully. And so of course you have to have the initial onboarding and initial training. But the best examples we've seen is building this professional learning model that is actually some increased focus initially and then support over that first year, refresh that training, build on those same tools over time. And that's where we've seen kind of the most success.

Rahul Mahna:It makes sense.

Rich Henderson:But these kinds of, whatever, the software I was showing you just now, this Is LanSchool Air, there are other classroom management tools out there. This is a Lenovo tool that we really love. This other tool that I was showing in the classroom, this is a Google Series Meet, Google Series One Meet room kit. We also have Microsoft Teams based and Zooms based room kits. But essentially, this is a way to bring in remote experts, students from home, and integrate them into your classroom setting.

But honestly, kind of all that aside, Rahul, the thing that we want to drive is how do we create the most inspiring and empowering environment for students? As we come out of COVID, as we're looking to take our learnings and improve, it is what are the best parts of these technologies that we can take to implement in our classrooms? And I think between immersive learning, advanced computing labs, digital classrooms, those are the core themes that we're going to be all dealing with for the next couple of years. But I also think that they are inspiring and they can help prepare our students for the future.

Rahul Mahna:Everything you said gets me really excited. I've been involved with education, as I said, for many, many years and seen the evolution. If I could ask you, for the school districts that are out there today, and we deal with a lot of these and they're small and medium size. They still have a lot of budget issues, which seems to be always the theme with education, there's budget issues, from your perspective and you’re looking at the landscape as you can, maybe, could you suggest perhaps one or two technologies that are somewhat lower costs to purchase and implement and to train, to your earlier points, that could have a nice impact or a nice way for schools to start touching the waters and moving the progress bar along?

That's a really good question. I'm going to say something that might shock you. Technology is not always the answer. If I'm being perfectly honest with you, it doesn't have to always be the answer. I think in this environment, a lot of what we've been trying to do requires technology because you need to connect that student, but in terms of practical things to implement, I think it really depends on the mission of your school. I'll give you an example. I'm working with a large charter school in Colorado and they have 5,000 virtual students. It's kind of a hybrid model. They have some school settings, but they have a statewide charter virtual school. Their purpose is really about engaging every student and driving every student towards graduation. So, with every technology that they choose to implement, they have a very rigid model actually. If they can't prove performance of that technology, they don't implement it.

So, with VR, for example, I know that's an initially large investment to buy headsets for everyone. There are web-based versions of that tool that don't require a headset. So, you can still use that immersive technology, just in a browser, and you can still have access to that. It might not be as immersive, but the software exists to do web-based VR experiences. And you move it around with your mouse and you can still see those same objects and you don't do that headset investment.

But I'll tell you, working with that district, they wanted to make sure that they could track what students were involved, what they saw. And so, we actually turned on this analytics tool for them. So, they actually can track how many of their students took which lessons and did it move them toward their graduation? They can actually measure that against other statistics. So, students that involved a VR lesson, did it decrease the amount of homework time that they had to spend on that same lesson?

So, look, I think there's a lot of different ways that this could go. I think it is important to map your technology choices with the goals of your district or your school. And then if that technology itself is out of reach budget-wise, what are the other ways that you could meet that same goal? And like I said, if it means going to a web-based model, great, if it means just creating a single lab at the school space where that's your STEM lab, or that's your workforce readiness lab or whatever, then you put the technology in there and you rotate classes through. So, I think it's important to prove out the model before you deploy it school-wide.

Rahul Mahna:I think that that makes a lot as sense. And I kind of figured you would say VR as one of your first ideas, because I've seen the headsets and some of my family members have purchased them. They've gotten much more affordable, I feel like. Few hundred dollars in some cases and you can test it in a web-based approach, as you said. And I think you can get a lot of benefits still.

Tick and tying to that and some of your other content, I'm just really fascinated with Esports. I'm fascinated how people watch others game and they will pay to watch others that are gaming and how they move things along. There's a lot of money in this now, in Esports in general and holistically. Do you think in terms of the curve almost, as you showed earlier through your illustrated Gartner Graph, do you think this is just a flash, that this is just a bit of a hype thing, and it will go down in a way? Do you think this will continue? What's your perspective on Esports in general?

Rich Henderson:t's a fascinating area. The statistics would say that year on year, we're getting more and more gamers, it's not going down. It's actually growing. In fact, I can't remember the poll I saw, but I think out of students that were in the nine plus, so students in high school and then students in college. Over 90% of those students were playing games. Whether that's just a phone game, maybe they were playing Candy Crush or something, I don't know. But they considered themselves to be people who played games. And these world championships, I don't know if you're into League of Legends, League of Legends is one of the most popular titles that's being played in Esports. And the world championship is going on right now, but they're getting more viewers than the Super Bowl. They're getting more viewers than all of these athletic events.

And so, I think what we've seen is the trend is continuing to build year on year. I honestly don't think it's going to slow down. I think it's been a slow growth and it'll continue to grow. And as long as we can find the right educational, tie-ins, it'll be successful and find a place in schools. I would love to see every school have an Esports team right beside their tennis team and their soccer team and their football team. Because, well, I guess we didn't talk about this earlier, when the students are behind the keyboard, the diversity issue goes away. It doesn't matter their background, the color of their skin, they are all equal behind the keyboard. And it's a really great way to give opportunities to every student. And the data shows that it is driving them into STEM careers, which is higher pay, longer term, I guess, viability in the workplace. So, I think it's a really positive trend and I don't see it slowing down.

Rahul Mahna:I think it's great. In high school I remember getting a varsity jacket meant a lot. So, I hope that, I don't know. Do you know? Do they give varsity jackets yet for Esports? I'm not sure.

Rich Henderson:I've seen them. I've seen a few of them. Yeah. I don't think it's a hugely common practice, but they do have jerseys, maybe you've seen the Esports jerseys that they wear. And then I know that there are some schools who are doing varsity teams and they do have lettered jackets. So, I think it's a really great trend and it opens up a lot more opportunities for students who might not find success on a traditional sports team.

Rahul Mahna:Yeah, I hope so. One thing we did not talk about, but for the last year or two with COVID, our team I know has worked closely with Lenovo to deploy thousands of Chromebooks across most of the State of New Jersey, millions of dollars of investments were made in these devices because of COVID. Do you see any evolution in Chromebooks, in what they're doing today versus where they could go in the future? Do you think it'll just be a simple device as it is today? Or how could it play into the progress of technology in schools?

Rich Henderson:It's a great question. I think the one thing that has been and really amazing about Chromebooks is the fact that they have enabled us to be more device-agnostic in terms of the tools that we use. As long as we have access to a web browser, they have the Google Education Suite is amazing in terms of the productivity tools, the meet tools, all of that. And it's simple for an administrator to deploy.

I think in the short term, what we're going to see is just more of the same of that. I don't think there's any major changes that are going to happen there, because they're not needed. And I think it's actually a really good thing, that there's not a lot of change because teachers and administrators know how to manage these systems. They know how to implement the education suite. We're going to see more and more integration of other tools into that offering. Google continues to work with partnerships, these learning management systems are all becoming integrated, content management systems are going to be integrated. And so, I think it's just going to be a continued enhancement, no major revolutions, which I actually think is a good thing.

Rahul Mahna:I think that's great. And I think this is a perfect point to just take a pause here. Rich, I can't thank you enough for sharing all of these wonderful insights and these tools and your perspective. It's very helpful for me, even someone who's been in the industry for many, many years, to learn and listen to these things. And to our audience, our team implements almost all of these solutions that Rich talked about. So, if you have any other questions, please feel free to follow up through the survey or our contact information, and we're happy to share other resources that can help you in your decision making and progress in your schools' academics and technology throughout the year. So, with that, I just want to thank everybody for their time. And Bella, I will turn it back over to you.

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Rahul Mahna

Rahul Mahna is a Partner in the firm and leads the Outsourced IT Services team with over 20 years of experience in IT technologies, software development and cybersecurity services.

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