Techno-Tasking at Our Administrative Meetings

by Alan Simon

Pagers vibrate, cell phones serenade, computers hum, personal digital assistants buzz and PowerPoint flashes. It’s not a new-age coffee shop or a busy airport lounge, but rather a school district administrative meeting. In fact, it’s our administrative meeting in the Arlington Heights, Ill., School District.

Technology is building new paradigms within institutions. Computers, cell phones and other hand-held technology are changing individual habits and even our social relationships. We can solve a problem and complete multiple tasks simultaneously from many locations.

The virtual meeting, like the virtual classroom, has transformed our notions of time and space. Meeting focus and behavior are changing. The administrator has the tools to manage a building-level problem during an offsite meeting. At times during a meeting an agenda item may not involve a particular individual. By having a laptop computer with Internet access, the meeting participant can switch to another task while staying in touch with the conversation, ready to switch back to active participation when appropriate.

Active Meetings

Virtual behavior has consequences in the real world. Do administrators use technology in a productive manner? Are we ignoring the new social situations created by adopting new technologies?

New technologies transform our patterns of behavior. Computing is no longer about computers but about the way we live and do business. In Arlington Heights School District 25, the minutes of the general administrative meeting are created during the meeting and some e-mail summations are also sent during the meeting. If one or two of the 30 or so attendees cannot be present, the minutes are available on his or her computer at the conclusion of the meeting.

During administrative meetings, an elementary school principal, Chris Fahnoe, uses instant messaging and e-mails to keep in contact with office staff and tech support staff. He tracks discipline referrals and parent phone calls. He responds to general e-mails from staff and even completes some “to do” items based on discussions at the meeting. Before, during and after, Fahnoe is able to access the Internet and research what he needs. Other administrators have been able to answer questions during discussion using online resources such as the Illinois School Code. They read blogs and check news groups on discussion topics.

Assistant Superintendent Mike Fustin uses his PDA during administrative meetings to keep tabs on personnel issues and appointments that are constantly in flux. Bob Inglesby, the district’s educational technology coordinator and facilitator, sees techno-tasking as an opportunity. “In my role … the vast majority of my work can be accomplished from a computer with Internet access and a cell phone for voice communication. This is why I can effectively work from home ... or a well-equipped meeting room,” he says.

With the increased dependence on network services, timely responses to problems that arise have become a priority. Inglesby can complete various tasks efficiently and effectively during meetings. He has been able to manage remote servers and other devices with Virtual Private Network capability and remote control software such as Apple’s Remote Desktop and Netopia’s Timbuktu Pro. A wireless Internet connection enables him to access his desktop computer, district network Web and e-mail servers, network routers, the firewall/content filter and e-mail spam filter. This capability allows him to monitor these devices, make configuration changes or access stored documents when problems occur without having to leave a meeting.

A Cultural Challenge

Langdon Winner, in his book The Whale and the Reactor: A Search for Limits in an Age of High Technology, challenges us to think about the consequences of adopting new technologies. Winner believes we could be guilty of “technological somnambulism” or sleepwalking through a paradigm shift. Will we accept Winner’s challenge or will we wander trance-like, oblivious to the new social situations created by new technologies?

 

Techno-taskers must be willing to address changing social relationships by structuring meetings to fit the needs of participants while accomplishing the meeting’s objectives.

Techno-taskers also must answer the question posed by sociologist and critic Lewis Mumford, author of The Myth of the Machine, who once said: “As we make things work, what kind of world are we making”?