This past year has been a challenge for everyone, not least for teachers and school districts trying to walk the line between keeping students safe and ensuring their learning is kept on track during the pandemic. The Utah Education and Telehealth Network (UETN) is one organization that was able to meet this challenge and solve problems in new, exciting, and accelerated ways.
UETN is a network that connects Utah school districts, schools, and colleges and universities, and rather than feeling daunted by beginning distance learning, they took the opportunity to innovate, collaborate, and connect. One of the reasons for UETN’s success was its receipt of funding from the federal CARES Act. The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act provided $22 trillion in economic stimulus to support people, businesses, and organizations in managing the fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic. UETN used a portion of Utah’s CARES funding to not only respond to the public health needs in the state but also to the resulting shortcomings of an education community facing a whole new environment of learning.
“The CARES Act made it possible to think outside the box,” says Kat Shimizu, UETN Project Manager of Enterprise Systems and Software Development. “It allowed us to pull in technology and services we only dreamed of.”
She goes on to praise everyone involved in the success saying, “We have so many IT heroes who worked day and night, traveled to all parts of the state, navigated through stress, and completed 152 projects in the last half of 2020. And of course, we can’t thank the IT staffs from our school districts and academies enough!”
Among their accomplishments were extending classroom connectivity with Zoom and Cisco Webex licenses, increasing network capacity, and extending student access with upgraded Wi-Fi and CBRS. And, as Shimizu notes, virtually all Utah students and educators are benefitting from these improvements.
Projects that benefited students, teachers, and the overall health of the state include:
Providing enhanced Wi-Fi infrastructure and supporting improvements for home internet for rural and underserved communities.
High School Coursework
Enhancing online coursework availability including college prep and readiness courses, Summer Bridge, and English as a Second Language classes.
Higher Education Improvements
Lending laptops and hotspots, updating software and providing equipment protection, and ensuring institutions including technical colleges are prepared for COVID’s health and education challenges.
Giving teachers the training they need to excel at remote teaching.
State Telehealth Network Enhancements
Ensuring the telehealth network platform is sound, firewalls and anti-malware are robust, and data prevention is solid.
Upgrading equipment, improving security monitoring and data backup measures, and providing interactive video conferencing.
Forging relationships with innovative software vendors to offer applications that support online and hybrid learning.
With such a variety of groundbreaking efforts, Shimizu notes that collaboration between UETN Tech Services, Accounting, and 130 Local Education Agencies (LEAs) was not only required but an absolute treat to see in action. Now participants can only look forward to what exciting projects will be completed in 2021!
Everyone had to pivot in 2020 and stretch themselves in ways to meet unprecedented challenges, especially when reinventing where and how learning occurs. Shimizu notes that the volume and breadth of the of groundbreaking collaboration efforts in 2020 between UETN and 130 Local Education Agencies (LEAs) were a true testament to the foundation of trust and partnerships developed by UETN since its inception.