By Sophia L. ’24
With new safety rules in place during the COVID-19 pandemic, technology has played an increasingly important role in our day-to-day lives, transforming the way we learn, work, and connect. In the past few years, Winsor has been well equipped with up-to-date technologies and consistently used them in class. However, there have been many changes in the past few months and Winsor’s Technology Department has had to adapt to the circumstances by evaluating the difficulties of virtual learning during the spring, providing the Winsor community with new equipment, and helping organize remote or hybrid events.
Director of Technology, Mr. Young described some of the behind-the-scenes work being done to make sure hybrid learning runs smoothly. For example, last spring, Lower School students had trouble using Zoom while simultaneously working on different apps on their iPads. The Technology Department assigned a MacBook Pro from the computer carts and some new ones they bought to each of the Class I, II, and III students in addition to their iPads. Furthermore, they replaced all the faculty and some student MacBook Airs with MacBook Pros, which provide the computing and processing power necessary for them to work efficiently while running Zoom. Mr. Young says “this summer, we had to manage and roll out nearly 300 devices,” giving members of the community what they needed to be successful both at home and on campus.
Additionally, after it had been determined which classrooms were safe from a distance perspective for students to be in, the Tech Department outfitted each of these thirty or so classrooms with video conferencing devices to ensure that all-virtual students and faculty would be able to participate fully in classes. They installed 27 55-inch displays with the Poly X50 Studio Soundbar that has four built-in microphones, multiple speakers, and a camera. The audio and video can pick up most of the room and up to eight remote people can be seen clearly on the screen at once. Mr. Young said that fortunately, “Winsor has been pretty good over the years about letting the Technology Office do things to prepare us for certain things, so we were in a good place. We had a good inventory of devices, including many of the things [other schools] were trying to order.”
Mr. Young also met with nearly all the remote teachers before the start of the school year to send home any equipment they needed to teach under these conditions and provide them with document cameras, wireless hotspots, paid for by the school, and multiple displays so they would have enough screen-space. Ms. Reynolds, who was virtual for the first few weeks of the school year but has now transitioned to come on campus on Thursdays and Fridays said that “Our Tech Department not only supplied me with the hardware needed to make teaching from home easier, for example, an additional monitor and a document camera but also provided training and support.”
Mr. Young describes how his work and that of the Technology Department this year greatly differs from what he does under “normal” conditions. He finds himself doing more technical support and being much more involved in the day-to-day lives of students and faculty. He has even moved his office to Room 101 to make himself more accessible to the Winsor community. Both Mr. Young and Mr. Cox are at Winsor at least five days a week. He noted that there is now a much wider scope of problems and devices they need to help with, compared to before, when they mostly encountered with the Apple TVs or computers. Furthermore, organizing events has become more difficult. While meetings in the dining hall or theater before the pandemic usually required only the projector to be checked, now Mr. Young or one of the Tech Department staff attends most of the webinars or Zoom meetings to facilitate the technical aspects, often until quite late in the evening.
Some of the technologies installed in the past few months will still be helpful in the future, even under non-pandemic situations. Polys will allow outside speakers to present more easily when necessary. Additionally, seniors who hope to have their college interviews remotely could benefit from these new devices. The new laptops will be put back on the computer carts, though some of the document cameras will probably not be used anymore. Currently, the Tech Department is working on engaging remote teachers more with their in-person students and communicating with the producers of the poly devices to build in better cameras and allow screen sharing directly onto the devices.
Finally, Mr. Young advises the Winsor community to clear their browser cache and restart their computer once a week and to update when available. “That will go a long way toward making the work that you do happen more seamlessly and consistently,” making this hybrid experience even more productive and enjoyable for all involved.