A Less Than Perfect Storm

On Tuesday, November 5, during Conference Period, students were encouraged to participate in Andover’s Strategic Planning process. On “Stormboard,” a collaborative brainstorming website, students posted color-coded sticky notes describing what they liked and what they would like to change about Andover. While the administration’s attempt to incorporate student opinions into the Strategic Planning process was commendable, it was ultimately ineffective—the Stormboard was completely disorganized and students weren’t given enough time to complete it. Online collaboration had its merits, but technical difficulties kept students from sharing their opinions when the sheer number of Stormboard users crashed the website’s servers. Even though the boards were left open for the rest of the day, many students never left their comments because the exercise was no longer mandatory. The Strategic Plan will have a significant long-term impact on all Andover faculty members and students, but a mere 30 minutes were devoted to students for sharing their opinions on the school’s direction and future. When I sat down to complete the exercise, I needed at least five minutes to log in to my computer, another 15 to access Stormboard and had only five minutes left to organize my thoughts and create my own stickies before I had to go to my next class. Many of the ideas I saw shared seemed as though they hadn’t been fully developed, including: “The food in [Paresky] Commons is good,” “Too many students are sad and depressed” and “Grading system should be changed.” Though these observations were thought-provoking, they lack the specificity needed to provide the Strategic Planning Committee with the constructive criticism it needs to create the Strategic Plan. A more constructive, detailed comment might pose a problem, describe why it is an issue and perhaps even propose a solution. Without this specificity, the Strategic Planning Committee will not know why a student thinks an issue is serious or what needs to be resolved about it. The next time Andover decides to seek student opinion about something as important as the Strategic Plan, it ought to do so in a far more structured, controlled manner. For example, we could not only partition students into clusters, but also designate a time slot for each cluster to access Stormboard, which would prevent a server overload. Similarly, students should have access to Stormboard after completing the exercise so that they have a chance to finish developing and writing out their thoughts. Finally, the administration should not have used Conference Period for the Stormboard exercise, considering that many students use the time to meet with teachers and especially to prepare for the upcoming Extended Period Week. A more ideal, already blocked-out time would be cluster or dorm meetings. Gathering students’ opinions through Stormboard was, like the old adage says, “good intentions gone bad.” The Strategic Planning Committee gave students an important opportunity to allow their voices to be heard and exercise their right to freedom of speech. Unfortunately, not all students were able to contribute, and those who did provided opinions that were vague and unconstructive. With a couple of changes in the activity’s organization, however, Stormboard can become a critical link between the student body and Andover’s Strategic Planning Committee.