District IT team working OT to keep virtual learning running


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The Shaler Area tech team has been working constantly to support virtual learning

It’s fair to say that the last few months have been hectic. The switch from an all-remote model to a hybrid learning system has been a bumpy road for everyone. But, it’s also fair to say that the last few months could’ve been a lot worse.

A large part of making sure the schools have remained mostly functional has been Shaler Area’s IT Department. They remain the unsung heroes of the district and according to Mitch Stivason, the Coordinator of Technology, there is a reason for that.

“If your IT department is doing their job correctly, you don’t know about your IT department,” he said.

The department has certainly had its fair share of problems to fix throughout lockdown and the eventual switch to hybrid. When lockdown initially began last spring, a number of problems popped up that had to be fixed.

Providing tech support to students at home proved to be a challenge.

“It’s one thing to support kids and staff in school, but we have to have some kind of online form where we can remotely assist them or contact parents for the younger kids,” Stivason said.

“We went pretty big pretty quick…it also added more hardware that our techs had to cover. Every year, the demand seems to increase on the technology department, so it’s been pretty stressful.

— Mitch Stivason

According to Eric Stocklas, the high school’s resident tech support, one of the other problems was WiFi, especially at individual homes.

“With people online, you can’t be watching Netflix, and your parents are working in the same house, and two kids are also online working, it can be a big pain,” Stocklas said.

In order to circumvent these problems, the district made an effort to provide WiFi hotspots to students who needed them the most to make sure they could stay connected to classes, and a tech support remote-control app was pushed out to student iPads, alongside a ticket/troubleshooting guide website.

But providing students with iPads was another challenge entirely.

One of the largest problems that the department faced over the summer was acquiring the necessary equipment for the students and teachers. When lockdown began, the district didn’t have enough iPads for every student k-12, and the ones that had to be ordered from Apple in June didn’t arrive until September.

“Demand is so high right now that it was very difficult to get the devices in a timely manner,” Stivason said.

Teachers also suffered from a lack of tech. Laptops for mobile carts still hadn’t arrived, and in one case, a shipment of iMacs was canceled by Apple due to lack of supply.

Things began to change, for better and for worse, with the gradual transition to a hybrid schedule. Teachers returning to teach in the schools had to learn how to operate new hardware and software, as well as how to teach to two separate groups of students simultaneously.

Just one example of the various changes made within the district during the prep for hybrid was the rolling-out of 35 additional laptop carts, some of which, as mentioned earlier, arrived later than expected. Another was the movement of login-hyperlinks to student-resource websites to one location, minimizing the amount of potential login information students had to remember and streamlining the process. These changes increased the tech department’s workload drastically.

Our tech team has been vital. We would not be where we are without them.

— Superintendent Sean Aiken

“We went pretty big pretty quick, so we had to scale up a little bit, and it added a lot more management on the back-end. But it also added more hardware that our techs had to cover,” Stivason said. “Every year, the demand seems to increase on the technology department, so it’s been pretty stressful.”

Students, teachers, and staff alike face technology problems daily. The IT department, therefore, has had its hands full. That may have been best illustrated by another member of the IT department, Jon Dolny, who was so busy with different projects and issues that he couldn’t find time to be interviewed for this story.

No matter how the school moves forward, the IT department will always have work to do and things to fix. Even as we have shifted back to all-remote learning, the challenges continue. Without kids in buildings the IT team will be available at the Central Office conference room daily from 9-12 and 1-4 to help with any tech issues that can’t be handled online.

Often their praises remain unsung, and they remain a force that works solely in the background, but their efforts are not unnoticed.

“Our tech team has been vital,” Superintendent Mr. Sean Aiken said. “We would not be where we are without them.”

So every time your iPad is fixed, or the WiFi comes back on, or the teacher’s whiteboard software is explained to them enough times for them to use it correctly, remember to thank those “behind the scenes” techs. They are the ones trying to get everything right when stuff is going wrong.