Partnerships Key to Technical Support for PreK-12 Virtual Learning

By Dr. Elizabeth Hoover, chief technology officer, Alexandria City Public Schools, Alexandria, Virginia.

 

Partnerships Key to Technical Support for PreK-12 Virtual Learning By Dr. Elizabeth Hoover, chief technology officer, Alexandria City Public Schools, Alexandria, Virginia.

When Alexandria City Public Schools (ACPS) closed our schools in March 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic and switched to virtual learning, our technology services team faced the same challenge as school divisions across the nation: ensuring that all staff and PreK-12 students had the devices, internet access and tech support to quickly transition to learning and working online. Key to successfully meeting this challenge were our team’s collaborative relationships with vendors, colleagues across departments and schools, and ACPS families. While virtual learning could not be done without the necessary technology, we learned how crucial these partnerships were to keep student learning on track in a crisis.

Our 18 schools within ACPS serve more than 15,000 students, who hail from more than 145 countries and speak 132 languages; nearly 65 percent  of our students are eligible for free or reduced-price meals. All Grade 3-12 students had devices before March 2020 and many relied on ACPS mobile wi-fi hotspots, so our first priority was to significantly expand equipment and tech services help. We turned to trusted vendors to order thousands of additional devices, hotspots and other equipment needed for 100 percent remote operations. With these long-standing partners already part of our procurement system, we were able to incorporate them into our internal ticketing process so they could quickly tag and ship replacement devices directly to students and staff and add these to our inventory. This shortcut was responsive to student needs and saved time for ACPS technology services staff.

We recognized that requests to the tech services help desk would increase exponentially, so our next step was to simplify virtual learning and create consistency across schools by requiring all teachers to use the same platforms for assignments, resources, passwords, and virtual meetings with students. Our staff worked with colleagues in communications and community outreach to develop website content, videos and webinars that shared instructions and guidance with families in multiple languages. We teamed up to host parent webinars, update online information, and add Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) for troubleshooting common problems.

"Tech support became a big part of the Virtual PLUS+ program that ACPS developed to provide students and families with extensive support services during the pandemic."

Tech support became a big part of the Virtual PLUS+ program that ACPS developed to provide students and families with extensive support services during the pandemic. This included an online help desk and multilingual phone helpline which fielded more than 31,000 inquiries through Fall 2021 and provided information in English, Spanish, Arabic and Amharic. Of these inquiries, 54 percent were related to technology. We trained helpline staff to answer basic questions and support families and students using the one-pagers, videos, screenshots, and other information resources from the technology team. This reduced help desk tickets, allowing Technology Services to focus on the more complex problems. This partnership was crucial when we anticipated a spike in helpline requests; for example, when user authentication was turned on and some families had difficulty logging on, the helpline staff already had instructions from the technology team and were confident in walking families through the process.

Close collaboration between teachers, staff, vendors, and families created a support system for our students so they could continue learning under extraordinarily difficult circumstances. Yes, technology was critical to virtual learning, but so were the partnerships among everyone who was committed to doing their best to serve our students. These relationships will continue to allow us to weather future crises and advance our educational mission.

 

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