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Coronavirus school cancellations lead to education tech surge

Online learning tools like Zoom (ZM), Instructure’s (INST) Canvas, Cisco System’s (CSCO) Webex and a host of other ed tech companies are coming to the aid of schools across the U.S. as they suspend or shift classes online due to the coronavirus outbreak.

Columbia University, Amherst College, the University of Washington, and Harvard University are among the growing list of universities that have announced that they will provide online classes, as campuses temporarily shut down in response to the contagion. More than 500 K-12 schools have also made the shift. 

CAMBRIDGE, MA - MARCH 10: A person walks through Harvard University's campus in Cambridge, MA on March 10, 2020. All Harvard courses will move to remote instruction beginning March 23 as a result of a growing global coronavirus outbreak, University President Lawrence S. Bacow announced in an email Tuesday morning. The University will also ask students not to return from spring break. (Photo by Jonathan Wiggs/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)

Jamie Candee, CEO of Edmentum, tells Yahoo Finance that since the outbreak of the coronavirus in the U.S. in January, the company has seen a surge in interest in its online educational tools. On March 9, the company had over 140 districts register in under an hour for a webinar about how students can continue learning during extended school closures.

Renee Patton, Cisco’s global director of education, said that sign-ups for its Webex video platform are soaring. "We've actually seen a 700% increase in adoption of Webex specifically since then, since the outbreak," she said.

CAMBRIDGE, MA: March 10, 2020: Anthony O'Neil, Christian Cruz and Annie Wang prepare to pack as Harvard University announced it will close down their campus early this semester, asking students to vacate by March 15th over the Coronavirus, in Cambridge, Massachusetts. (Staff photo by Nicolaus Czarnecki/MediaNews Group/Boston Herald)

Patton said the outbreak has prompted more schools to develop emergency plans. “I think many schools and universities, unfortunately, wait until a crisis hits before they think through plans. I’m not saying that universally, but I think this has given them a chance to kind of figure out how do we address continuity of learning, and what are some of the things that we can do to make sure that we stay up and running,” she said.

Melissa Loble, chief customer experience officer of Instructure’s Canvas, an online course platform, said the company is ready to handle the added bandwidth.

“The platform automatically scales to support a wide range of concurrent users, and we are ramping up our engineering and support in order to scale much higher if needed. We have worked with Amazon Web Services for years to ensure that we develop our applications to deliver a great experience for students and teachers, whether they are viewing web pages, using our mobile apps, watching a video, or taking a quiz.”

SEATTLE, WA - MARCH 06: Students at the University of Washington are on campus for the last day of in-person classes on March 6, 2020 in Seattle, Washington. The University will close starting Monday, March 9, as a precautionary reaction to the novel coronavirus, COVID-19, outbreak for the remainder of the winter quarter. (Photo by Karen Ducey/Getty Images)

Making sure all students have access to the tools is a concern. The University of Washington (UW), which had already incorporated online elements into its regular teaching curriculum, recently upgraded to a Zoom Pro license for about $200,000 in an effort to ensure that all students will have access to the platform. 

UW is also making sure that students have the hardware they need to participate in online course offerings by providing laptops to students who need them. Students can also access the platform on their smartphones.

Edmentum’s Candee thinks that the temporary shift to online tech adds another tool in teachers’ toolboxes. “We know that technology will never replace a great educator. But we also know that students in our school systems have grown up with technology. This is not a difficult concept for them to learn. And kids want choice …  in terms of how they learn.”

Reggie Wade is a writer for Yahoo Finance. Follow him on Twitter at @ReggieWade.

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