Gearing Up for Safe Reopening of Schools and Universities with Contactless Solutions
Last Updated: June 30, 2020
Schools and universities were forced to convert to online-only courses since mid-March while struggling with a myriad of other issues, especially in the paradigm of finances.
Gaidi Faraj, Dean of African Leadership University says, “COVID-19 has forced us all to reimagine how we deliver an engaging and holistic learning experience for students. While it presents a challenge, it also presents a massive opportunity to break out of old habits and create new, impactful, relevant modes of learning using technology.”
California’s State University System, the largest in the United States, canceled classes for the fall semester because of COVID-19. Soon, other states will also follow suit since reopening schools carries the public health risk of viral resurgence.
System leaders across the globe are grappling with three crucial questions to get their students back into the classroom –
When should schools and universities reopen?
For which categories of schools and staff should schools reopen?
What health and safety measures should schools adopt upon re-opening?
Although there is no right answer to these questions, switching to contactless solutions can help monitor and establish safe environments for students and the staff.
Leverage contactless solutions for safe re-opening of schools and universities
The campus card or the ID card is probably one of the most touched items in a student’s wallet. Depending on the school’s one-card program, it might be used for getting access to buildings, libraries, and dining halls.
Switching to contactless solutions such as NFC tags and QR Codes limits the number of times a student swipes their card, while also improving the security system.
Although several universities and schools still use magnetic stripe technology as their campus card, it is not only less secure, the magnetic stripe is not contactless.
Duke University, The University of Alabama, and the University of Oklahoma already have NFC-enabled ID cards for their students.
At universities, students are equipped with smartphones that come with an in-built NFC-tag reader and a QR Code reader. University administrators can opt for an NFC tag outside each department where students can simply tap their smartphones to mark their attendance, borrow books, and even exit a building.
At schools, where students are not equipped with smartphones, the authorities can hand out an NFC-tag enabled ID card to mark their attendance, access dining rooms, and even libraries.
From libraries to the recreational center to the main entrance of the hall, a number of students and staff come in contact with openings all over the campus hundreds of times a day.
In addition to shifting to contactless technologies to minimize human contact, it is imperative to make use of QR Code contactless visitor form to learn any persisting symptoms of students and the staff, and their recent travel history to alert the authorities in case of a suspected infection.
Place QR Code contact tracing forms outside main departments so students can scan the QR Code to fill in their health status. In case of an infection, the school must be equipped with an isolated room with special medical supervisors to transfer the infected ones to the closest testing center.
3. Contactless food ordering
According to NutriSlice, 85% of students said they are extremely concerned about how they will order and pay for their meals safely.
And, 80% of them said that they would be more likely to order food from an on-campus dining venue that offers digital ordering and payment options that limits contact with the dining staff.
Among the preferred contactless options, students cited digital menu boards with QR Code menus (44%) that eliminates the need to handle a physical menu, smart takeout lockers, and pop-up pick up locations around campus.
Campus retail dining outlets can be adapted to contactless ordering via QR Code menus or contactless takeouts, and even complete the payment within the same gateway.
Residential dining facilities operating under the traditional fixed meal models may have some adjustment challenges. At schools and dining halls where this is the norm, contactless ID cards can be used to alert the dining staff when a student is waiting at the aisle and keep it ready for them. The student can then tap their contactless ID card at the counter to mark themselves or complete their payment.
The University of Oklahoma turned to beacons to help students find their way around their sprawling 400,000 square foot main library building via its NavApp beacon application.
School and university libraries are often enormous in terms of space, and thus, most often, need constant assistance to guide students and staff to locate the book they need.
With limited staff on-premises, and establishing contactless solutions to minimize human contact, it is necessary to work their way with assistance round-the-clock efficiently. Beacons can be placed at aisles that encompass different subjects and send a relevant notification to students alerting them about it.
Beacons and geofence can be set up at not just libraries, but at parking lots as well. The technologies can assist students and staff of an empty spot, or if the parking lot is occupied by sending a notification to their smartphones when they enter the area.
Strengthening student engagement varies beyond access to more than just using the learning management system for course delivery. Schools and universities can reinforce engagement via academic success workshops, webinars, and asynchronous conferences.
In addition, schools and universities will need to maintain online access to other areas of student support, including counseling services, academic support resources, and disability services.
When the lockdown was first announced, close to 1.5 billion students of all primary, secondary, and tertiary learners in the world were no longer able to physically attend a school.
Universities and schools have quickly shifted to virtual classrooms by making use of video-conferencing apps such as Zoom, WebEx, and Blackboard to keep the momentum going.
The adoption of online technologies in recent months has been unprecedented.
Post-COVID, online education will be considered as core to every school’s plan for institutional resilience and academic achievement. Previously decentralized and distributed online course development functions will soon be centralized, subject to institutional planning, and cross-campus governance.
However, distance learning can spark partnerships between various institutions, online education companies, and tech providers that may continue even beyond the pandemic and help with the efficient running of schools and universities.
Going forward, contactless solutions will the new norm
If anything, the pandemic has shattered the stereotype that educational institutions are slow to respond to change and wedded to tradition. On the contrary, institutions have pivoted quickly and successfully to embrace new pedagogical approaches to safeguard their students and staff.
A recent survey by the American Council of Education, a higher education membership organization that represents more than 1,700 colleges and universities, found that 53% say it’s “very likely” that their institution resumes in-person classes for at least some portion of the fall term.
With many schools and universities slated to reopen in the fall-term, getting back to normal will take time. Moving to contactless solutions and touchless access controls may not solve hardships, but these are important tools that will establish safe environments for students and the staff.
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