ATLIS Virtual Town Hall Salutes Tech Team Rock Stars, January 13, 2021

iconThe first ATLIS Virtual Town Hall of 2021 gave special recognition to the many tech team rock stars who keep the technology humming along smoothly at our independent schools -- help desk staffers, data managers, IT and systems administrators, edtech implementation coaches, and, yes, those who serve as all of the above. Our conversation ranged from helpdesk implementation to considering the school’s value proposition to the community to favorite hacks and solutions for the challenges faced by tech teams in recent months.

[15 min. read]

Quick Links

  • February 10, 1 pm Eastern: Save the date for our next Virtual Town Hall. Registration is required for new Virtual Town Hall participants and is free and open to all. If you have previously registered, you will automatically receive an invitation to join. 
  • Complete Virtual Town Hall Video Archive (Wakelet)

ATLIS Virtual Town Hall
January 13, 2021
Video Archive

Expanded Help Desk 

Owls in the classroom may mean more wires. This simple fact can lead to more help desk calls or tickets. Sometimes the fix is just a matter of unbending the wiring and reconnecting.

Installing the wiring more permanently and making it “invisible” behind ceilings and walls can help, but there are other issues. Teachers are now running many applications or devices all at once, so using a laptop the central (hub) may not mean you have enough horsepower to do it all.

Sending devices home means dealing with issues on the other end, and sometimes users are quick to blame the tech or the school. There is now a new audience for the technology help desk -- helping users get connected and to stay connected at home. Perhaps create a “tips and tricks” page for parents so that they can troubleshoot. Educate parents and other at-home tech users to do speed tests and know where their access points or routers are. One solution is to do the research and provide a visual reference for recommended good speeds for various apps. 

Providing more help sometimes means breaking things down and explaining in more detail and over a number of encounters. The time needed to provide the support needed may be greater because those on the other end -- perhaps a younger student and that student’s parent -- just needs to go more slowly and have more time and attention.

Break/fix issues and increased wear and tear on equipment (including chargers, pens, etc.) is now a part of the picture as well. 

Some ticketing systems now include a chat feature that can be employed to more easily support faculty, students, and parents, whether remote or on campus.  The chat feature makes it possible to solve more problems more quickly. Revamping the AI of the helpdesk tool can encourage users to find answers themselves.

"When I get a REALLY awesome support request from a student, with details, what they’ve tried, what device they’re using, etc….I want to throw a party and share it with the world!” -- Holly Gerla, Charles Wright Academy, WA

I ♥ IT

Everyone now needs to get to know the IT staff  now -- especially when they don’t feel seen at all and have been working tirelessly behind the scenes. Users now recognize how essential technology is to their abilities to do their jobs. And for teachers and students, the push to rapidly deploy new technologies has meant learning a host of new skills in a short amount of time. They now see the tech team as essential to helping them get through.

Working Out the Wrinkles

Sometimes finding the right device for the right application in the right circumstance can make all the difference. For example, using Seesaw on an iPad works more seamlessly. 

Another challenge was finding the right blend of online vs. face-to-face, or hybrid instruction. The technology could make it happen, but what really works for the learners?

Schools worked to use the devices they had on hand in creative, new ways. They repurposed devices from labs and carts, sometimes using them to create Internet hubs for students in classes.

Device Procurement and Repair

Companies are making payouts rather than providing replacements or repairing devices. Warranty work has essentially slowed to a standstill. Supply chains have been disrupted. Delays can now be considerable. This is just another reality that technology teams -- and schools -- have to deal with. 

What’s the School’s Value Proposition to the Community?

Delivery options for instruction are not going away, now that independent schools have been successful with these models. They should be able to enroll and provide instruction for students from anywhere. And they may be expected to.

Is there a conflict when the administration promises a quality of education that can’t be delivered? Is hybrid really the answer if you are learning from home? Do parents expect the same level of engagement, no matter what?

Sometimes the notion of “good enough is good enough" is hard to define as an independent school when our parents expect the same excellence as alway. They expect us to make good on our value proposition, even during a pandemic.

Heads of School can play a key role in communicating with parents about what is actually possible under the circumstances, what the limitations are, and how the school (and the technology department) is working to do its best.

Remote learning all the time could be on the increase, and hybrid may be here to stay despite its limitations. Still, it is important to remember that hybrid instruction is different from fully online instruction. Hybrid can take many forms as well. It can mean teaching traditionally with the teacher at the front of the room with a Meeting Owl to broadcast the lesson to those at home (or another part of campus), or it can mean a cohort approach where students come on campus for lessons and engage via distance learning for others.

Teachers, even excellent ones, are struggling with hybrid teaching. It’s so unnatural and different. And the numbers vary greatly, sometimes you have more students in the classroom and a few learning remotely; other times, it’s the opposite, so the in-class student is not getting as much attention or direction. Students -- virtual or in person -- can end up feeling left out and disengaged.

The problem is the split focus of the teacher, not necessarily the venue. One participant pointed out, “
In reality, hybrid doesn't really exist. Teachers either set their day for in-person students or remote students.  It is too difficult to make the experience exceptional for both types of students.” 

As teachers suffer from the fatigue of going hybrid, we need to look for options. From a workload standpoint, it may not be sustainable. Maybe only one class or section per grade level is the hybrid section and it's not spread across all teachers like it is now. We really want to reduce strain on our teachers.

Still, providing some way of offering in-person learning for some piece of the school experience at least appears to give students more opportunity for personal connection and greater social/emotional well-being that they crave. 

Have we swung the pendulum too far from “one size fits all”? Can schools really be all things to everyone? 

Productivity Hacks/Creative Solutions

  • Touchless device rollouts; empowering others to set up their own devices
  • Better use of tech for onboarding PD in Google classroom (good modeling too!), with assignments such as completing setup of multi-factor authentication
  • Better online PD for teachers: “We always had a site for this, but we added a lot of content, and the amount of interest by teachers in looking stuff up independently has increased”
  • Pushed ahead with SMART online suite, which required consistency on all local equipment
  • Using the Scheduling Privilege in Zoom to add the sub to the teacher’s Zoom settings, so the students have no changes or communication

  • Cost-effective Meeting Owl alternative: iPad on stand similar to a camera stand, with an Anker Bluetooth microphone/speaker

Problems Raised, Solved

Have you seen an uptick in faculty use of Teachers Pay Teachers? How are you handling the possible ethical or intellectual property issues? 

  • This can vary state by state and has deep implications for and from the school culture.

What are your boundaries for in-classroom support?

  • This has evolved from strict boundaries to much looser conditions.
  • Some are no longer “feeling the threat” of COVID-19 in this regard.
  • Zoom whenever possible, masks and gloves in person. 
  • Use remote tools whenever possible; strong masking culture at school.
  • We try to go into classrooms when kids aren’t in the room unless it’s to pickup/swap a broken device.

  • Any equipment that requires hands-on touching is moved to an empty conference room -- the room is then sanitized by maintenance personnel.

Making the Business Argument for an MDM, Especially for Small Schools

  • Helps with inventory management.
  • Even with 200+ devices, helps significantly with management -- but this depends on what your devices are.
  • Makes you feel like a magician to act quickly and efficiently and with the push of a button from an MDM.
  • Can easily push out frequent updates, for example, with Zoom.
  • May have an impact when your school applies for cyber insurance or responds to an audit -- updates are important for cybersecurity.
  • Can integrate with ticketing systems, or even tools like Slack.
  • Allows for troubleshooting help, easy lookup of records, versions of apps used -- this saves time going back and forth over email.
  • Can push out webclips, for example screenshots to help teachers access their Zoom rooms.

Resources Shared

Denise Pope, “Student Voices: What They Are Saying About Distance Learning,” NAIS, 25 September 2020.

Helpdesk tools debated...

UV alternatives to expensive UVONE:

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