I know quite a few people who have tested positive for COVID-19 over the past year, and the good news is they have all made a full recovery. My wife and I plus our two young children have taken preventive steps to avoid the potential risk, like wearing a mask and social distancing. But we have to live our lives, too.
Recently, we were given the option by our school district to send our oldest daughter back to in-person class, and we said yes. Her first-grade class has two cohorts and is currently in the first stage of offering one day of in-classroom instruction a week for about two and a half hours, supplemented by continued virtual learning. My hope is that the school will soon gradually increase to two days a week or more. Unfortunately, our school already had two reported cases of COVID-19 at this writing. One more case would force the administration to close school again. It seems like an endless struggle with cases continuing to rise at an alarming rate.
That said, virtual learning has been a positive experience for our daughter, and it has also helped us as parents identify her weaknesses and improve upon them. But other students have struggled for a multitude of reasons. Regardless, the pandemic has clearly highlighted the importance of in-classroom education as well as the possibility that a successful hybrid learning model is achievable. More importantly, we are learning and improving on the overall virtual experience for everyone involved.
The pandemic has also created a tremendous amount of change in student transportation, particularly around professional development and training. The void left by no in-person state and national conferences since March has left transportation professionals wondering where to access quality educational content. As a result, our website traffic at stnonline.com grew exponentially to over 3.1 million pageviews in 2020, an over 72 percent increase over the previous year. Organizations that offered digital content like webinars, web-based training, podcasts, and virtual conferences have addressed the need. This all proves the importance of easily accessible and low-cost yet high-quality content.
When unpredictable change is our defining reality, the strategy that makes sense is to adapt. This is true for professional development training. I have seen the power of virtual conferences in this new normal. At our recent Bus Technology Summit and TSD Virtual conferences, school transportation professionals and organizations contributed on a wide array of topics. Stories were shared of how school transportation operations have become highly adaptive organizations that are dynamic and agile, continuously interacting with and responding to their environments by understanding the effect on organizational performance, operations and resources.
“We have seen a major shift towards web-based consumption of school bus driver training content this year,” said Jeff Cassell, president of the School Bus Safety Company. “Almost two-thirds of all our safety training videos are streamed online versus watched on a thumb drive or DVD. A major benefit is the ability to track an individual driver training path to see what elements were completed, testing if it had a positive impact, and memorializing it for record-keeping purposes. It has been a game-changer for many school districts. The ability to access and train from the comfort of your own home has proven convenient and beneficial. It provides a nice balance between virtual and in-person to help change and re-enforce safety behaviors in multiple learning environments.”
Tim Ammon, co-owner of Decision Support Group, said streaming technologies are a great leveler for school transportation. Previously, smaller and under-resourced departments couldn’t access the same benefits as their larger counterparts. But near-universal access could ultimately help make transportation departments become safer, more responsive, and able to meet what is likely to be an increasing number of challenges.
Ammon also shared that his company has contributed to these platforms whenever possible because of the belief in the ability to increase skills and expertise across the industry. Linking GPS and routing software, for example, to learning management systems could provide an integrated suite of tools and expertise to help even the smallest operations become more efficient and more effective.
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The STN team is committed to offering the industry a multitude of ways to gain knowledge and facilitate change within organizations during these turbulent times. No matter the reality we are in, be it virtual or in-person, expect best-in-class content plus access to industry peers, subject matter experts, and supplier partners.
I want to personally invite you to our upcoming STN EXPO Virtual conference on Jan. 25-27. You are a key part of the overall success of our industry and the stories you share can impact others positively. Learn more at stnexpovirtual.com.
I hope to see you there virtually!
Editor’s Note: As reprinted in the January 2021 issue of School Transportation News.