"COVID-19: The Great Accelerator"

Ryan White, Director of Technology, Oconee County Schools

Ryan White, Director of Technology, Oconee County Schools

I will never forget walking through our county office and hearing the Governor of Georgia shutting down our schools last spring. I knew that we were well-positioned due to practicing digital learning and had enough devices for students and teachers. Over the next few months, we battled a variety of challenges and scaled solutions to meet the high expectations and needs of our school system.

A mobile device environment was a huge advantage that we had during remote learning. The value and flexibility of cloud management became paramount during this time. These applications, devices, and systems that allowed for off-campus support allowed for much shorter times to resolve issues. On-premises-only systems created several barriers in logistically solving the issue, educating personnel on the limitation, and providing off-campus access to personnel for these systems. The major lesson learned was the ability to access critical data, software, and communicate regardless of face-to-face or remote instruction. COVID-19 embedded this philosophy not only within technology departments, but also became understood by school districts, leaders, and the greater community.

Support personnel became Gumby during COVID-19 because they were pulled in several different directions at once. Training on online teaching, prepping devices in mass, and being available for timely support became the norm during remote learning. We were blessed to have most of our data systems automated. However, those that were manual data uploads became a hindrance. Some of these systems were able to be scripted while others required working with a vendor or paying for additional integrations. Due to the demand of remote learning requiring instant access for students and teachers to online platforms, the systems that were slower to integrate began hindering instruction. This then allowed technology to explain to decision-makers the value and importance of plugins, APIs, and LTI to decrease turnaround time and provide a higher level of support.

The early adopters of online educational tools were able to more easily adapt to this new environment than the late adopters who resisted change

I would be remiss if I did not mention home Internet inequity during COVID-19. Although local free WiFi was available and our district installed additional outdoor wireless access points, home internet access still suffered. Lack of cell tower coverage for wireless carriers and high-speed internet created a wide spectrum of internet availability in our county and across the country. This message has been heard. An increasing amount of fiber is being installed, telecom companies and the government are working together to provide internet services in creative ways, and the internet is starting to be viewed as a utility. It is going to take time in addition to policy changes, but we have already seen a lot of planning and forward progress over the last year. It will be exciting to see the impact of a more connected world on the educational experience.

Technology is an ever-changing field, and change management comes with the territory. Pre-COVID-19, people were used to change in managed, slow waves. COVID-19 broke this fixed mindset by forcing a growth mindset in order to adapt to a remote educational environment. The early adopters of online educational tools were able to more easily adapt to this new environment than the late adopters who resisted change. The late adopters were also forced to seek out instructional technologists or other pertinent personnel to be successful in this new environment.

The greatest experience that I witnessed during COVID-19 was a widespread acknowledgment of the value of face-to-face interactions, the people connections, and relationships. Technology can provide increased efficiencies, access to complex data, and allow for increased connectedness across large distances, but people are the driving force and heart of our organization. Technology helped to bridge the gap, but we also need to be more strategic about implementation and ensure that we keep people first.

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