IT Team Tackles Distance Learning

IT rolled out this isolation booth to provide a safe experience for those needing assistance.

With distance learning now the new reality for schools across the country, Punahou’s Director of Technology Services Todd Funasaki ’89 and Infrastructure Technology Director Shige Minami share what IT has been doing to support the School’s distance learning.

When did preparations for distance learning at Punahou begin?

Minami: We started tackling distance learning a couple of years ago after some discussions we had with Woodward Academy in Atlanta, Georgia. They had determined that a natural disaster could result in a prolonged campus closure, and they wanted to be ready for it. After that conversation, we started investigating and purchasing technology that would help us be ready for distance learning. That initial preparation paid off when it became clear that COVID-19 was going to impact our ability to provide instruction on campus. Fortunately, we were able to do trial runs in the Academy in the week prior to Spring Break.

What was it like getting distance learning off the ground?

Funasaki: Even though we were ready to roll out the technology, we still had to train our faculty and staff on now to use it. Our teachers put in a lot of effort to not just learn how to use these tools, but how to adapt their lesson plans to them. Before the closure, Webex was something being used on campus maybe one or two times a day, if at all. We are currently hitting peaks of more than 1,000 Webex meetings per day.

How has this affected the IT Help Desk?

Funasaki: Compared to last year, our support ticket volume has nearly doubled, and the way we support users had to change drastically in response to the stay-at-home order and social distancing guidelines. We had to implement and train the Help Desk staff to use remote support software, which allows them to remotely control or observe client devices. We also provided our technicians with Cisco Jabber softphones so that they can answer the IT Help Desk lines from home.

Minami: There is also a need to service some users in person, so the Physical Plant staff was able to craft an isolation booth to provide a safe experience for both our customers and our employees. This enables us to process damaged devices and assist users with issues who could not be helped remotely.

What is the most common technology problem people run into with distance learning?

Minami: It’s very important to have a robust Wi-Fi connection at home. If you can, place your devices as close to your Wi-Fi router as you can, and in some cases, consider purchasing a Wi-Fi extender to increase the range of your router. When participating in video meetings, we also recommend that other devises in the household refrain from streaming video from sites such as Netflix or YouTube. Doing so can impact the quality of your Webex meeting.

Who should parents or students contact if they are having technology issues?

Parents and students are welcome to email or call 943-3234

What has been the biggest challenge?

Funasaki: In addition to the distance learning requirements, we also have several technology initiatives for the School that we have to keep moving forward. The largest of these is the new student information system, known as myPunahou. Although some features of this system have been rolled out, we are expecting the work to be completed at the beginning of summer.

What has been the greatest success of distance learning at Punahou?

Minami: Despite the challenges faced by everyone, it has been uplifting to see how quickly the faculty, staff and students adapted to new tools and processes.

Funasaki: This kind of initiative takes everyone to be successful.

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