ATLIS Virtual Town Hall, May 13, 2021: Through the Portal

The ATLIS Virtual Town Hall for May 12, 2021 found our technology colleagues at independent schools reflecting on their schools’ identities and pondering how to refresh both the tech and the tech teams at their schools this summer. -- SD [15-min. read, 1-hour video]

  • June 16, 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
Video Archive 

May 13, 2021 

We began our Virtual Town Hall discussion for May 2021 wondering how the shifts brought to the surface by the pandemic are rumbling towards whatever the next normal will be for the coming school year. The shifts are starting to happen at schools in our community -- whether we are paying attention to them or not.

What Kind of School Are We Again?

Moving towards a post-pandemic world and now having experienced a range of formats for instruction and creating community, schools are at an inflection point of discovering or affirming just what they are all about. 

Many, having found that a hybrid model is unsustainable for both learners and teachers, have drawn a line in the sand and determined that they will make in-person school the norm once again this fall. Going back to examine their most basic identity, they look to the school’s mission to inform their decision. 

Knowing what that identity is helps inform the school’s technology.

Omnipresent Telepresence

Now that school communities have experienced the convenience and reach of video conferencing, for example, they don’t want to give it up. Similarly, event streaming is a part of the new reality for many schools. But this raises many questions:

  • What is the best equipment to use for which spaces? A conference is different from a Board meeting, after all. 
  • What about staffing -- who will handle this new area of technology? Who has the time and who has the proper training?

As parents have experienced the omnipresence of video in the classroom, how does this affect decisions about when a student can opt for online learning? How can a teacher properly prepare without knowing which students (and how many) are using which medium? On the other hand, isn’t a parent being responsible about their child’s education if they hope to access instruction virtually when away from home? Isn’t this better than not accessing the classroom instruction at all?

Schools are finding themselves with the quandary of having to quantify which situations deserve telepresence for students who are absent. They have to think ahead and define their offerings and policies -- and some of this has to do with what is actually feasible from a personnel or tech perspective. The quality of the learning via video streaming might be better than a bunch of alternative handouts or “work away kits” which actually have to be assessed at some point by the teacher. And what about cases of lower income students who are needed at home help out with sibling or other family concerns?

What does the learning environment really mean anymore? What does the remote revolution mean for independent schools and the business of independent schools?

What about those students who are accessing lessons via video from home because they are sick? Are they really getting the rest they need if parents (and teachers) expect them to log in online when they are away?

And what about live streaming school events? Is that an IT responsibility or does this belong with Communications or the Development Office? Who is responsible for producing the media in a way that assures that the message is right for the school and the audience? Does the school need to make a specific hire for this purpose? 

Isn’t this just one more example of mission creep for IT? And we haven’t even begun to address who is hosting all the miscellaneous Zoom events on campus.

DIY Tech for Live Video Streaming and Audio Enhancement

Enhanced audio for classrooms outdoors

What about VR open house tours created by a VR class? 

Do You Have to Choose Between a Summer Vacation or Tech Refresh?

Many schools have had to acknowledge the effect of hybrid learning on teacher burnout -- and this may be part of their decision to return to in-person instruction. But even as they also express concern about overworked tech teams, the steps needed to address the effects of the past year and a half of nonstop work on their personnel seem to be absent. 

Thus, technology leaders, themselves often in the exhausted camp, find themselves in the position of having to articulate boundaries and carve out the needed R&R for their teams and themselves. 

  • They are setting boundaries and pushing back on the whiplash of having to respond to each decision made and remade by the administrators at the helm. 
  • They are finding it necessary to express that the tech team cannot always be expected to be around and available. 
  • They are looking for creative solutions like hiring students or library assistants and TA’s as temporary workers for the usual technology refreshes that occur in the summer. 
  • They are holding off on new implementations to give their teams room to breathe. 
  • They are figuring out how to document and share actual data about the details of tech team responsibilities (and mission creep) to make the case for keeping their staff onboard.

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