UC20 Ignite: How has Distance Learning Changed the Ed-Tech Landscape

July 9, 2020 Daren Worcester

The Ignite-style sessions at UC20, created with guidance from Blackbaud K–12’s Advisory Board, delivered fast-paced presentations designed to inspire and spark discussion. In this session on distance learning and educational technology, our panel of school leaders discussed the challenges of transitioning to remote learning, building community, and rethinking instruction moving forward this fall.

This Ignite presentation led off with Colin Anton Samuel, director of technology at The Brearley School in New York City, who brought to light the challenges that ed-tech teams have faced in their extraordinary efforts to make distance learning possible.

“No dissection of the ed-tech space is complete without acknowledgment of the digital divide,” Samuel began. “Equity of access quickly morphed into equity of care,” he continued, explaining that at-home tech support became routine for his team. Samuel added that the rush from teachers to adopt free software tools raised significant data privacy issues while increased parent visibility continuously fueled this fire. 

“Overnight, I became the school’s chief privacy officer,” Samuel said. “I looked to organizations such as Blackbaud and IMS Global for clear and concise privacy vetting, and the veins of their excellent work with interoperability and data transfer. We tech directors needed more of that. For software companies, signing the student privacy pledge is no longer enough.” 

Matthew Jordan, dean of student activities at Belen Jesuit Preparatory School in Miami, Florida, switched gears with his presentation and spoke to the importance of maintaining community and student life in a virtual setting. 

“A lot of us felt like we had a good idea of what would bring our community together,” Jordan said as he explained that the school organized a series of virtual competitions for their school’s all-male students. “When it closed, we only had three students participate.”

“We overlooked what we thought was a very small detail, but it ended up being a game-changer with building a community in a virtual setting. We were building a community without involving the community. We were trying to get student participation without getting student input. And that made all the difference.”  

After Belen Jesuit made the planning process collaborative with the school’s student council, participation in community activities jumped to nearly 100 percent. 

“Involving the students in the decisions—involving them in coming up with the brainstorming and the think tank, meant involving them in the community building, and that was how we were able to build this sense of community during [distance learning].”

Thomas de Quesada, principal at Fairfield College Preparatory School in Fairfield, Connecticut, focused his presentation on pivoting to a virtual model of teaching, learning, and community. 

“We’re not doing our job if we’re educating young men and women in the way that we used to prior to this pivot to virtual learning,” de Quesada said. “We need to think ahead. We need to be futurists. We need to improve our methods of delivery for instruction and content. We need to be better educators. The old way just doesn’t work anymore.”

“We need to think about what the future of education is going to look like in the now,” he continued. “Because when we come back in the fall, the fact is that the novelty and all the newness of the online instruction will have gone away.

“I think it’s going to be critical for us to think big along the way. We need to think big and not be afraid to fail. In the end, the bigger we think, the more successful we’ll be. There isn’t one model that’s going to work. There’s going to need to be flexibility in the models that we deploy.”

If you missed the session, you can view the on-demand recording here. Didn’t register for the conference? No problem! You can still register for UC20 here to access the on-demand recording. 

You may also be interested in our other Ignite session recaps:


About the Author

Daren Worcester

Daren Worcester has been a member of the Blackbaud K-12 team for 17 years, assisting hundreds of independent schools through a variety of website development roles. A former copywriter and a published author with an appetite for SEO, Daren currently serves as the senior content marketing manager for K-12.

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