Digital Media, Human Interaction

On November 16, the Phillips Academy faculty voted to change the school schedule, a change that an 81 percent majority of students opposed, according to a survey conducted by The Phillipian. The disparity between the faculty and student opinions reveals a breakdown in communication: a large number of students feel as if the faculty did not hear their concerns. Neither the faculty nor the students alone caused this breakdown. I believe, however, that Andover students and faculty’s current use of technology inhibited effective communication. Preceding the faculty’s vote, administrators and faculty members encouraged students to share their viewpoint on the vote using Twitter. Additionally, The Phillipian conducted an online survey to gauge student opinions on the schedule change. While these measures increased the number of students who weighed in on the change, they also diminished any urgency students might have felt to discuss the decision with faculty members in person. Only nine students attended an “open mic” event that Head of School John Palfrey organized to discuss the vote. Without substantial discourse on the change, the faculty did not adequately understand their concerns. “I was just disappointed that the decision went through, without further discourse between the faculty and the student body, following the publication of the poll,” said Tyler Olkowski ’13 in an e-mail to The Phillipian. Kevin Newhall ’13 mentioned Mr. Palfrey in a tweet on November 6th, requesting a larger student say in the decision. Mr. Palfrey encouraged Kevin and other students to tweet at him, sharing their thoughts on the schedule change. Unfortunately, Mr. Palfrey, as one administrator, could not speak for the entire faculty. Therefore, Mr. Palfrey also could not explain to the students the faculty’s reasons for voting amidst student concerns. Although Twitter allowed students to have a sounding board for their ideas, it did not promote discussion of issues between students and faculty members. Of course, Twitter by nature promotes the broadcasting of brief statements and thus encourages superficial communication. In order to hold a more meaningful dialogue, we must communicate face-to-face. At this point, in terms of incorporating technology into future decision-making processes, Andover stands at a crossroad. Two equally practical, but very different, paths appear for the future of technology in decision-making. The administration can choose to maintain a small amount of technology in the decision-making process. The exclusion of a larger technology program might encourage students to discuss changes with faculty members in person, though it might also discourage students from discussing changes at all. Conversely, the administration can make an effort to expand the use of technology in the decision-making process, encouraging students and teachers to communicate over online sites, such as Twitter. Although discourse over technology might increase the amount that students and teachers can discuss changes, it also might greatly decrease any in-person discourse. Mr. John Palfrey stated that technology can play a role in the decision-making process, though neither an innately good nor bad role. “Yes, technology can play a positive role in allowing for input into a process. Technology is just a tool-set, which can be used in positive or negative ways in governance. I look forward to experimenting with new ways that student voice can be expressed and heard, even on decisions that are not directly made by the student body,” Mr. Palfrey said. We, the Andover community, must learn to use technology for the purpose of facilitating discussion in a more effective way or cease to use it at all. Shay Collins is a new Upper from Averill Park, NY.