ATLIS Virtual Town Hall , 15 April 2020: Scheduling, Screen Fatigue, and End-of-Year Rituals

As we wrap up this extraordinary school year, technology leaders are being drafted to discuss end-of-year community rituals and how to address assessments in a virtual landscape. They also face planning for “after school” offerings, summer programs and projects and a very uncertain school year ahead. Participants also provided frank feedback on the ways vendors can best support technology leaders’ efforts to manage and deliver online the many components of their school communities. Finally, their thoughts turned to the leadership role they can play at their schools if they are included in the right conversations and if others understand better all that they do. -- SD

[15-minute read; 1-hour video]

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ATLIS Virtual Town Hall
15 April 2020

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We always begin with a check-in about the questions on participants' minds. This led to a conversation about the reasoning used for different scheduling models.

Seeing Opportunities in Scheduling

In one sense, “After School” offerings can provide important support for the parents in a school community.  Delivered synchronously, this keeps parents happy and makes them feel supported. However, another consideration is faculty who have children at home when they are trying to deliver instruction. Synchronous content delivery has proven especially difficult. Some schools advise faculty to build in breaks and be more intentional in how to structure synchronous learning.

Boarding schools must offer a mix of synchronous and asynchronous mix to reach students from all over the world. Other schools report minimum synchronous learning being offered in response to parent needs.

The fact is that schools must look at their own constituencies and can draw on both types of learning, synchronous and asynchronous, to address different teacher, student, and family circumstances.

Screen Fatigue and Online Learning

Many schools are beginning to give significant attention to students’ and adults’ overall wellbeing. Screen time worries have been recast in light of COVID-19, according to Andrew Przybyiski and Pete Etchells, “Don’t Freak Out About Quarantine Screentime” (New York Times, 6 April 2020).

Schools are wise to consider “screen fatigue” as they plan. Those who have consulted with companion schools overseas have learned that real fatigue sets in after three weeks or so of learning online, so a break is needed to give all a chance to recover. Some of our participants’ schools have looked at their schedules in two-week stints, requiring analysis and iteration to re-calibrate. Surveys and data can help with this. Some schools are adding in previously unscheduled “teacher workdays,” which of course can give some relief to students and families, but not necessarily to teachers. Similarly, some schools are moving to 4-day works to break up the relentless intensity of online teaching and learning. Another model is to use Monday and Tuesday as half-blocks, Wednesday as an independent work day, then rinse and repeat on Thursday and Friday.

End-of-Year Rituals

Schools are grappling with a very real sense of loss about year-end rituals such as prom and commencement. It may be a good idea, taking a note from The Art of Gathering by Priya Parker, to re-examine the purpose of some of these events. What really matters and why is the ceremony important? What do you need to keep, and what can you let go?

What are some solutions?

  • Crowdsource a “goodbye” video. (Tool: Canva presentations downloaded as a movie)
  • Create a virtual art gallery (artsteps or Padlet)
  • Use Zoom webinar to invite special year-end speakers to address the community
  • Jostens, the ring and yearbook company, has announced a Virtual Commencement Center (available at no cost)

Erik Hudson of Global Online Academy offers this perspective on grading in today’s challenging environment, “Compassion, Equity, Rigor: GOA’s Review of Grading Policies for Learning Online" (14 April 2020).

Facing the Unknown

As you consider the months and years ahead, when we all expect to still be grappling with COVID-19 and the financial crisis, how are you taking steps to address the future?

Many technology leaders and schools are still in wait-and-see mode. Some are working on multiple plans that could be put into place. Others are moving ahead with programming to transition to 1:1 computing, which looks like it will be “a snap compared to everything else.”

Professional development is a consideration. In light of expected budget cuts to PD, technology leaders still need to focus on and reinforce the developments that have advanced faculty members’ skills. Plans to provide for faculty sharing within departments and to their colleagues are being put into place. There are concerns about adequate hiring for next year under the current circumstances and worries about what format faculty onboarding and orientation should take.

Sustaining Innovations into the Future

Several participants shared their concern about maintaining the move towards innovative teaching with technology, asking these questions:

  • How can we provide the right instructional support for teachers as they take their new skills and experiences into the future?
  • How can we help inform our future practices? 
  • How can we document and preserve what we have accomplished to sustain innovation? 
  • How can we create a culture of deep conversation that will keep this progress moving forward?

One school has created what it calls a LIFE team -- for Leading Innovative Faculty Engagement.  A faculty  “superpowers” online resource (Google Site) that is divided into key areas: Assessments, Instructional Design, Tech Tools, Online Teaching Strategies. A clearinghouse has been created on Padlet for the community to share in similar categories.

Relating with Vendors

Technology directors -- really, anyone who is working in a digital environment -- are being bombarded with offers of support from vendors in the virtual space. Many vendors genuinely want to help, and some are using the crisis-tunity to sell or promote a product.

This circumstance has contributed to what one participant called “decision fatigue.” Technology directors are questioning how many free things to take on, asking how to be cognizant of privacy policies, observing the point at which we verge on resource overload.  There was a call to vendors to please stop sharing, to give technology leaders time to digest and vet, even as they address the ongoing challenges of moving school online.  

Participants offered these suggestions:

  • Use Poll everywhere to find out which features people really like.
  • Use “lunch and learn” events to see what has “sticking” power with a particular tool or resource.
  • Be aware of data privacy for students from an independent school perspective.
  • A more measured approach of sincere outreach by vendors with whom we have closer ties is appreciated. 

Leading Now

The input of the technology leader as a crucial element in school operations has never been clearer than it is now. Here are some school conversations technology leaders are influencing.

  • Division structure and offerings
  • Boarding decisions
  • Sustaining PD Innovations
  • Weekly webinar with a teacher co-host
  • Weekly Tech Tip emails to staff
  • Email overview of new content on the teacher and/or family resource pages 
  • Remote Learning Digest sent to employees
  • Faculty portal dedicated to all the resources for essential tasks: Planning Synchronous Learning; Asynchronous Learning; Connecting with Students and Building Community; Taking Care of Yourself 

Technology directors suggest some ways to plan ahead, even in uncertain times.

  • What if you could do summer projects now while school is empty?
  • How can you look ahead to the kind of health-related technologies your school will need when it opens in a f2f format? For example, do you have enough forehead check thermometers? What will be the procedures and technology-related tools needed for guests on campus? How many students will be on campus at any one time -- and how will this affect your technology needs?
  • How can tech help with after-school programs to meet parent needs?  One participant stated, “Our Esports club is blowing up.”

Independent schools face very real concerns over the financial impact of COVID-19, yet they have an opportunity to demonstrate their value-add to the school community during this time of crisis. Technology plays a huge role in this. Now is a chance to up your game as a school leader and help it find a sustainable path into the future.

Now is the time to try to imagine what the classroom will look like when we come back to our physical space. Maybe we should be putting equipment into classrooms to support greater connection with outside resources, to make an optimum experience of inviting outside guests into the learning space via teleconferencing. Is this the time to experiment with Meeting Owls and Swivls to implement in classrooms? If you have the budget, maybe you could send equipment to those people most likely to convert their classrooms to such a space in the future?

There may be real reasons for your business officer to question every aspect of the school’s budget, but you need to describe the real technology needs (staff, upgrades, etc.) that have emerged in the past few weeks. Your leadership is required to convince your financial powers-that-be of school technology must-haves to make the seeming miracles of online learning as seamless and meaningful as possible.

Additional Resources

Alan Chochinov, Don't Cancel It: How to Hold an Online Graduation Ceremony, Medium, 23 March 2020.

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