Lend an Ear

“I sort of half listen? Maybe three quarters? It goes in one ear, hangs out for a couple minutes, then goes out the other.”

Dear reader, what do you suppose this quote is describing? Hint, it’s from an Andover student, and nearly all of the dozen or so students in their vicinity agreed with the statement. It’s describing All-School Meetings (ASM)! Though the student body as a whole appreciates ASMs, there are issues in the online webinar format that make ASMs less useful and beneficial than they might have been if they had more opportunities to actively engage with each other and the presenter on the subject matter.

Meeting on Zoom inherently makes it more difficult for students to pay attention to ASMs, but the webinar structure, where students can only view the panelists and speakers, exacerbates this issue. Although in-person meetings are not feasible due to the pandemic, our attention spans are undeniably diminished when distractions are just one click away.

Many of us are unable to concentrate on screens for long periods of time, so nearly all of my friends gather, talk, or do homework during ASMs instead of listening to and learning from the speaker, wasting the time of Andover students, the staff who organized the meeting, and the presenter. While I always try my best to stay engaged out of respect for the speaker, no matter how compelling their lecture may be, it is extremely challenging to retain focus when someone is speaking at you for an extended period of time. Though holding ASMs in-person is not realistic, there are online alternatives to the current dry format that might better engage the Andover community, rather than prompting students to skip ASM entirely.

Thus, in order to make ASMs a productive use of time, we must ask ourselves how we can raise student interest and attendance. According to Faculty Focus, a peer-reviewed blog run by teachers, “more than 70 percent of students perceived a positive relationship between their own participation and learning,” which means that students learn more and feel more fulfilled simply by the virtue of speaking in class.

This is not backed solely by statistics–I see this result all around me as well. If my conversations with friends about ASM are any indication, opportunities for involvement in ASM should be increased for better student engagement. For example, if ASMs included time during the meeting for students to ask questions and engage in break-out room discussions about the subject matter, perhaps we would struggle less with remaining focused and retaining the speaker’s message. While this time to reflect on ASMs as a group is sometimes provided during Empathy, Balance, and Inclusion programs (EBI), EBI alone does not adequately engage students with the material covered in ASMs. EBI classes often meet too long after the ASM for students to recall the material. As one of my classmates described a recent ASM, “Everybody forgot about it an hour after it ended.” Therefore, delaying the forum long beyond the end of ASM reduces its effectiveness.

Though one large logistical obstacle in involving students is the member limit on non-webinar Zooms, this could be fixed by dividing Andover into large groups that rotate weekly as Zoom participants, with the rest of the community watching a recorded version. Then, the whole Andover community could engage in small breakout group discussions immediately following the meeting’s conclusion. The group that participates during live ASM could even act as panelists, engaging in discussions with the speaker throughout the meeting. While each of these proposals obviously comes along with logistical challenges, they also each have potential to vastly improve the quality and impact of ASMs, and therefore, ought to be further explored by the Andover administration. Though ASMs are helpful, the pandemic has prevented them from reaching their full potential; letting students pitch in would improve their learning value and increase engagement.