Bridging the Gap:
How funders, volunteers and strategic problem-solvers are transforming technology for ISBVI students.
Written by IBCF Board Member, Kim Borges
To some, it may look like just a tablet. But to Zoey Krier, it’s her passport to an unexplored world of discovery. A tool transporting her imagination to new places and introducing her to a host of new things.
“B is for baby,” Zoey says, focusing intently on the digital alphabet program.
Brittany Krier beams as she watches her kindergartener.
“She’s exploring letter and number recognition and tracing letters to practice handwriting,” said Krier. “The assistive technology is helping her to build literacy skills in ways that are engaging and empowering for her.”
The past year has been an evolution for Zoey. It’s also been an evolution for the very technology she and other Indiana School for the Blind and Visually Impaired (ISBVI) students are using in mastering those skill sets. Brittany Krier is involved with both.
Krier and Steven Tyler are the co-founders of MAPT Solutions, an Indianapolis-based strategy firm specializing in innovation and problem-solving – two especially valuable qualities during a global pandemic that required ISBVI students and teachers to adapt to remote learning essentially overnight.
“Our mission at MAPT involves doing good work that matters for our clients,” said Tyler. “We’re creative problem-solvers who focus on helping clients push past constraints and bridge the gaps they have.”
Those early days of at-home learning quickly revealed ISBVI faced a significant technology gap that limited both students and teachers from fully thriving in their educational experience. It was a challenge the school needed to rapidly address. And in a time unlike any other.
IBCF launched an emergency technology campaign, and within seven months, the Foundation had secured funding for all the students’ technology needs at the school. ISBVI Superintendent Jim Durst notes the unique, direct impact those contributions are making in supporting each student.
“One size does not fit all related to learning and technology at ISBVI,” said Durst. “The ability to address our students’ individual needs and learning styles through the outpouring of financial generosity from IBCF is momentous.”
The IBCF Board of Directors and Executive Director felt strongly about helping the school also address the obstacles that prohibited 1:1 student technology in the past. Now, with the dollars in place, people power was another valued project resource. A group of ISBVI staff and IBCF volunteers was recruited to form a Technology Task Force and analyze the complexities surrounding technology at ISBVI while offering insights and expertise.
“Without the pandemic, this wouldn’t have been a priority,” said Tyler, noting how big challenges often present their clients with bigger opportunities. “This project involved rethinking their entire technology infrastructure and creating a new technology roadmap, something we’d normally do in two-year period.”
Something they’d instead need to tackle in less than six months.
For Krier, the challenge involved her personal and professional worlds colliding. She was initially hesitant.
“This project was interesting and personal for me,” she said. “But it was also uncharted territory for us. We have experience working in technology and with education partners but addressing barriers to equitable access to technology represented a new challenge. We had to really ask ourselves, ‘Are we the right partners for this?’”
Indiana Blind Children’s Foundation Executive Director Laura Alvarado was convinced they were.
“We needed to take a deeper dive of both the outside obstacles and inner processes at the school,” said Alvarado. “Both needed some reflection and new strategies to help the school be successful not only now, but for years to come. MAPT Solutions offered the perfect mix for us; Brittany and Steven had worked directly in both early learning and K-12 environments and designed solutions within their past roles that bettered those environments. I knew they could guide us through some difficult conversations to define new approaches as a team.”
Krier and Tyler met with each Technology Task Force member to learn more.
“It’s important for us to really understand all sides of the problem,” said Krier. “These were conversations where we put the good, the bad and the ugly on the table which can be difficult; however, everyone handled it wonderfully and honestly. We asked a lot of questions including, ‘How do we align technology with the school’s broader goals of student independence? How do we create a gateway for students to the rest of the world?’”
Tyler and Krier additionally sought out the knowledge and life experience of ISBVI teachers in their research. “Some of the ISBVI staff are blind or visually impaired,” said Tyler. “They also have empathy and understanding in working with the students. For us, it was important to have inclusion on both sides of the equation as we considered any barriers or constraints related to the technology adoption. We want the technology to complement the excellent instruction teachers are providing.”
All those conversations and research are today paying off, with students like Zoey leveraging new digital devices like her magnified tablet along with the traditional educational instruction her teacher provides. Brittany is grateful for both.
“Zoey, just like her siblings, is expected to grow and become all that she can be in this world. I parent her with high expectations and seek educational environments for her that share in that vision. The ISBVI technology initiative is just one example of how the school sets a culture of heightened expectations for students with special educational needs.”
How does Durst view the evolution of this massive project executed in such a short amount of time?
“The ability to access information in a timelier fashion has been a significant gamechanger for students and our staff,” said Durst. “The opportunity to provide and receive instruction and share information, both virtually and in person, has improved the teaching and learning experience at ISBVI. And the commitment of all involved moved the experience forward at a level we could not have anticipated.”
Tyler and Krier also applaud the determination everyone has demonstrated in undertaking a project no one saw coming just one year ago.
“They have embraced this opportunity,” said Tyler. “They didn’t think about it being a problem and instead provided encouragement. They viewed it through a leadership lens and challenged assumptions. That’s leadership.”
Durst anticipates students and teachers will continue to leverage the new technology well into the future.
“The technology provided to the school has created a new normal,” he said. “Previously, many students shared technology due to the significant cost and availability, but this project has allowed the school to provide a 1:1 computing experience for all of our students. The new normal will include a more integrated technology approach both in and out of the classroom.”
Krier and Tyler also have lasting takeaways from the experience.
“Every ISBVI student deserves every bit of educational opportunity,” said Tyler. “This was about reimagining possibilities and leveling the playing field for students with visual impairments, so they have the opportunities and support to leverage technology in their educational experience.”
It’s that very support that will empower Zoey and all of her ISBVI classmates to keep learning and growing – no matter where they are.