ATLIS Virtual Town Hall, 8 April 2020: Stage 1 -- The Transition to Online Learning

As we move into the second stage of the remarkable transition of education to online spaces, new concerns are arising. Even as independent school technology leaders are assuming an even more critical role in their schools, they are wondering about what school will look like in the future and how this impacts their projects and plans for the coming year, as well as their budgets. Overall, we must question how the recent changes in the ways school is delivered has made a lasting impact on the independent school model. -- SD

[10-minute read]

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What are some of the key factors that have affected how your school has been able to respond to COVID-19?

  • International and boarding schools will stick with online services for the duration.
  • Schools with BYOD are in a different spot. They do not have to worry about putting devices in students’ hands.
  • Public schools have the greater challenge of meeting the needs of low income students.

What are your budget and planning concerns right now? How are you planning for tech projects planned for the summer and securing devices for the fall?

  • Some schools are facing unexpected expenses with having gone virtual.
  • A key focus has been getting teachers what they needed. Hotspots for those who have no wifi at home, for example. 
  • Some technology leaders are nervous about laptop distribution. Funding to move forward is an issue, especially as teachers have come to depend upon certain technologies. Demand is still there, but how do you meet the demand and continue to move your school forward? 
  • Will parents be able to follow through with their financial commitments, given the state of the economy?
  • How am I going to get all the laptops back which have been lent out during the crisis? What kind of shape will they be in? What should a refresh cycle look like in this situation? Will the wear and tear be greater due to greater use? 4 or 5 years?
  • There is a good deal of concern about equipment prices and availability. As schools may have needs for hundreds of devices, there is no assurance of stock availability.
  • Then again, what do we even order? How will new techniques follow the teachers back into the classroom? Will this affect the tools that are needed in the classroom, for instance? For example, do we really need 50 projectors? Maybe it would be better to shift to more iPads at this point.
  • When a fundraising event at one school that planned for spring was shifted to a virtual auction, the focus of the funding was entirely to address the impact of COVID-19.

If Stage 1 was the transition to online learning at your school, getting everything up and running, what does Stage 2 look like for you?

Shifting from Synchronous to Asynchronous 

  • Some schools are moving towards shorter sessions for each class period and incorporating more independent learning time and 1:1 time for teachers to coach their students.
  • Other schools may have synchronous sessions only 1-2 times per week.
  • At one school, teachers are available 9am -12pm every day. Every advisor checks in with advisees on a predetermined schedule. School is essentially asynchronous after that, with assignments due by midnight.
  • Many schools are forced to examine workload and homework policies.

Social Milestones

  • As schools consider the social milestones that mark the school year, technology leaders should be part of the conversations. Example: Signing ceremonies for those students who receive athletic scholarships. One school is providing a template for a 1-minute video with the same virtual background and will put these all together.
  • Immersive technologies and VR may be able to address many of these things in the future; for now, scalability is the issue.

Younger Students

How are schools addressing how to keep the youngest students engaged? 

  • Teacher-moderated “Recess” channels
  • Readings in the round and story time
  • Time for collaborative problem solving
  • Student life events for example, live-streamed chapel for all divisions

How are you considering longer-term impacts of the coronavirus on your school?

  • Some are calling this period of online learning “the rise of the introverts.” Online learning poses a special challenge for extroverts who must adapt to learn or work from home.
  • How does this radical change in our culture affect the independent school model? Is the economy going to have a negative impact on the traditional independent school? One school suggests the example of offering a “package” of full online distance learning as one option for enrollment. Be ready for the for-profits to jump on this opportunity.
  • Online learning has proved to be taxing on faculty. “I realize how hard it is to be a teacher now,” one parent commented.

The Role of the Technology Leader in Schools

The events of the past few weeks appear to be forcing schools to work more closely with technology leaders. Professionals in these roles are absolutely critical now, more so than ever.

We are now witnessing something quite extraordinary. “When I see the choral class -- 20 kids all online and singing together…” one participant offered, commenting on the impact of online learning spaces, “there is something powerful that teleconferencing tools are bringing to the game.”

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