OTSD tech team takes on challenges of distance learning
In a typical academic year, while teachers take to the forefront to engage the minds of students, there is another team of talent working behind the scenes to keep all of the schools' many technologies and devices working.
Now, with schooling being conducted in a digital format, those tech experts have come to the frontlines. On a daily basis, even those who normally dealt mainly with servers and the backend of the district's systems, are fielding calls and working with teachers, parents and students over Google Meets to troubleshoot devices and provide help with understanding programs used in the classroom.
"This year has been very challenging," said Jennifer Mannor. "We've tried to maximize the programs we use and build on what we're currently using."
The rural aspect of much of the Oregon Trail School District has posed its own challenges, making internet connection varied between students.
"In a rural area like this, it's darn near impossible," said Marie Kennedy.
This is a challenge the tech team and other district staff and teachers have worked to overcome to make virtual education as equitable as it can be.
Tech team supervisor Trey Mertens said in spring 2020, to meet the burgeoning needs of the start of distance learning, the district distributed 1,800 Chromebooks and 350 hotspots. Those numbers rose to 2,900 Chromebooks and 750 hotspots with the beginning of the 2020-2021 academic year.
"It's also definitely increased our repairs," Mertens said, adding that the team has also already fielded thousands of phone calls this school year. "The first week back to school our phones were crashing from the volume of calls."
These challenges have not been without rewards, several team members explained. A few on the crew don't normally get the opportunity to connect with students, and now they're one of the children's number one supports.
"I never really got to talk to parents and students as much before," Alisha Meloy explained. "The biggest challenge has been meeting all of these needs. It's been a big change. I've really appreciated the parents' and grandparents' stick-to-it-iveness."
Likewise, Kennedy has typically worked more with servers than with students, and has been able to take a more direct position.
"Everybody has just really pulled together," Kennedy said. "
For those who did work more hands-on and in-person pre-pandemic, the retained connection is appreciated, though not the same experience.
"We don't have the kids (in-person)," explained Jeannine Hokanson. "They're the reward really."
Hokanson added that getting to occasionally see students via Google Meet in providing support has been "one of those things that's adds joy back in."
While there will come a day when schools return to in-person instruction — many hope this year — the tech team say they can see ways these digital programs and resources could be used in the future to supplement what's taught in the classrooms.
"I think a lasting effect of this may be we also might not get as many calls from teachers," Mertens said.
"I've been really impressed with our teachers," Mark Kooshian said.
"(We) have empathy (for teachers, parents and students) and I think they do the same for us," Hokanson added. "They're not just teaching, they're trying to manage all the tech at the same time."
Meet the team
Those with questions and inquiries for the OTSD tech team can visit the Help at Home website.
The district tech team includes the following experts:
• Scott Coleman
• Trey Mertens
• Marie Kennedy
• Jeannine Hokanson
• Mark Kooshian
• Jennifer Mannor
• Dennis Lane
• David Hayden
• Alisha Meloy
• Ami Minor
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