Successful, sustainable strategies for technology integration and tech support in a tough economy

This weekend I’ll be in San Diego as an invited speaker at the National School Board Association (NSBA) conference. I’m not sure I realized how relevant it would be when I proposed Successful, Sustainable Strategies for Technology Integration and Tech Support in a Tough Economy as my topic last year.

I’ll be focusing on 5 strategies that create strong local communities of practice around the use of technology. All of these strategies include students as part of the solution. They are:

  • Technology literacy for all – Creating an expectation that modern technology will be used for academics, schoolwork, communication, community outreach, and teaching. A key success factor is teaching students how to support their peers as mentors and leaders.
  • Student tech teams – The 21st century version of the old A/V club, this strategy expands the definition of tech support from fixing broken things to also include just-in-time support of teachers as they use new technology. This digital generation is ready, willing and able to help improve education, we just need to show them how.
  • Professional development 24/7 – The old idea that teachers would go off to one workshop or a conference and immediately start using technology has been proven wrong. Truly integrated technology use requires a bigger change than that, and it doesn’t happen overnight. Teachers require more support in their classrooms that they can count on when they need it. Students can help provide teachers with this constancy and supportive community.
  • Students as stakeholders – Whenever schools initiate new technology programs, there is typically a call for all stakeholders to be included. Parents, teachers, staff, board members, and members of the community are invited to participate — but rarely students. Even though students are 92% of the population at the school, and are 100% of the reason for wanting to improve education, their voice goes unheard. Students can bring passion and point-of-view to the planning and implementation of major technology initiatives. They can be allies and agents of change, rather than passive objects to be changed.
  • Students as resource developers – Students can help develop the resources every teacher and student needs to use technology successfully. These resources can be help guides, posters, instructional videos, school websites, or teacher home pages. Students of all types can use their talents to build customized resources for their own school. Artists, actors, and techies can contribute to this process.

Building a self-sufficient community of technology users means that whenever possible, you build home-grown expertise and local problem-solving capability. This is the high-tech equivalent of a victory garden, only with teachers and students all growing their own capabilities with each other’s help.

In this tough economy, no one can afford to ignore the potential students have to help adults solve the problems of technology integration and support. Students are there, they just need adults to teach them how to help, and then allow them to help.

And after all, aren’t these the 21st century skills everyone talks about? Like solving real problems, learning how to learn, collaboration, and communication? How real is the problem of technology integration, and how foolish of us to overlook students as part of the solution, especially when the reciprocal benefits to the students are so great.


PS – For a look at how these strategies can be applied in laptop schools, download my new whitepaper – Student Support of Laptop Programs. (16 page PDF)

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Student Support of Laptop Programs


I’m happy to announce a new resource for laptop schools – or schools planning a laptop implementation. Student Support of Laptop Programs (PDF) covers all aspects of creating a highly effective student support team for your laptop program. Research, planning tips, case studies, and practical suggestions are packed into 16 pages.

  • Student tech support teams in a laptop school
  • Student support for teachers and students using laptops in classrooms
  • How (and why) to include students on planning committees
  • Students as trainers and mentors for new users
  • How students can make a laptop rollout go smoother
  • How to train and sustain a student technology team in support of laptops

This is a great resource to share with your laptop implementation team. I hope you enjoy it and share it widely!

A special thank you to the fabulous teachers who shared stories about their wonderful students:

  • Ann Powers at Tongue River Middle School – Ranchester, WY
  • Debbie Kosvedy at Shadow Mountain HS – Paradise Valley, AZ
  • Steve Spaeth at Mt. Ararat Middle School – Topsham, ME
  • Don Kinslow at Parkview Elementary – Chico, CA
  • Cherilyn Ziemer at Northland Christian School – Houston, TX


Magazines for the (technology) classroom bookshelf

source: stock.xchngSome of the best resources for a technology-using classroom are not found online! Technology projects need support and ideas from outside sources, and books and magazines can be terrific for that. Plus they come in a convenient format that is easy to carry, share, and sits neatly on the desk while doing the real work on the computer.

Magazines can inspire, inform, and offer fresh ideas. And they shouldn’t just be stuck in the back bookshelf, these resources can be used in whole class lessons, be resources for projects, and be part of an always up to date classroom library.

Many Borders and Barnes & Nobles have expanded their magazine sections to include magazines you may never have seen before. Browse these racks with an eye open for articles and visuals that can teach about design, media literacy, art and photography, do it yourself projects, and provide inspiration.

If you find a magazine you really like – consider getting a subscription. And yes, I know, it’s not free, but subscriptions are always a good thing to ask parents to purchase! Look for deals, these magazines are often discounted heavily with special offers for additional books or CDs. And don’t worry about them disappearing, because they will; just think of it as making room for new stuff. So if you find an article that is the basis for a really good project or lesson, be sure to make a high quality copy of it and tuck it away somewhere!

Magazines and their accompanying online resources are a great way to get inexpensive, up-to-date ideas and resources into the classroom. In this case, more is better because you never know where inspiration will come from and which student will resonate with an idea. Of course, with any materials not specifically written for the classroom, it’s up to you to be the ultimate judge about appropriateness!

Here’s a couple of magazines to consider:

Craft and Make – These two magazines are new, but have become instant classics. They celebrate the inventor in all of us, and show you how to do it with a decided techno beat. Every issue is packed with do-able, make-able projects that can be adapted for classroom use. The photos show how real people have constructed these projects, which makes them very real and accessible. The websites are also treasure troves of videos, podcasts, blogs and forums.

Before & After: How to Design Cool Stuff – this is a beautifully designed magazine about design. Some of your secondary students may be enthralled by the notion that every object that humans make is speaking a secret language that can be better understood. Color, placement, symmetry, use of fonts and typeface, and more are all dissected in clear language and beautiful pictures. The magazine is available in print, or even less for individual articles or in PDF form. There is also a blog that dissects design found in everyday objects. This latest post analyzes the new Pepsi logo design from a historical perspective, as a consumer brand, and as design. It’s fascinating!

Photography, Video, Audio magazines – There are quite a few magazines on these subjects, however, you have to be careful that the magazine is not all product reviews of stuff you frustratingly can’t afford – you may want to just pick up an issue on the newsstand now and then when you see a great article. Books are the better bargain here, and I promise to do a book roundup soon.

Computer specific magazines – if you have Macs and/or PCs, why not get magazines that cater to those platforms? They are fun reads, full of reviews, tips and tricks of the hardware that some kids will just soak up like sponges.

I recommend buying a month or two on the newsstand first. Some of these magazines (not the ones below) are simply advertisements disguised as magazines and not worth the money. Here are some of the tried and true:

Mac Life or MacWorld – C’mon, for less than $20 a year you get either of these great magazines with reviews, news, projects and access to a website full of videos and blogs. They are similar, but Mac Life has a bit of “attitude” while MacWorld is a bit more sober — so try them both and pick which works best for you and your students.

ICreate – For Macs, based in the UK. This one is a litter harder to find, but worth it. Gorgeous, with amazing ideas for creative projects.

PC World and PC Magazine – Again, two main choices with slightly different viewpoints.

Tech support and troubleshooting – if you have students helping with tech support, the magazines above are a great addition to the technical library. There is one online magazine that might be a real hit with older tech-savvy students – TechRepublic. Their emailed newsletters are full of tips and resources for network administrators and tech support professionals. This is going to be over the head of most students, but for some of those who are heading for technical professions, it’s a snapshot into the world of an IT career.

Last but not least – Wired magazine. This one is not project oriented, but explores the high tech frontier of all fields from around the world. The articles are well written and dense, but if we want students to learn how to be citizens of the 21st century, we should be sure that they at least get a glimpse of it.

Wired does have a “how to wiki” – and this could be a great source of project ideas. Featured today is an article on recycling e-waste. What a great project for a student or group of students! Does your school recycle computers, printers, and batteries? Could students form a committee to investigate this and propose a plan? All the facts are here to support this cause.


Back to New York and NYSCATE

Well, it seems like I just got home from the east coast, and I’m off again!

This time I’m headed for the New York State education technology conference NYSCATE in Rochester, NY November 23-25, 2008. I’m looking forward to seeing old friends and meeting new ones, most likely at Dinosaur BBQ.

If you are going to NYSCATE, be sure to check out these sessions:

NYSSTL –Technology Leadership for the 21st Century
Sunday, 1:45PM Stacy Ward
Learn how the HFM and WSWHE BOCES have created the New York State Student Technology Leaders (NYSSTL) Club in 30 middle schools. Students help their teachers learn to use technology and their classmates prove their tech literacy, creating a community of 21st century learning in our schools.

Where Teachers Learn, Where Teachers Teach
Monday, 10:45AM Sylvia Martinez
For many teachers, technology professional development happens outside the classroom and never crosses the doorstep into the classroom. This session will explore two models of professional development that cross that barrier: classroom embedded and student-led professional development.

Little Green Monsters: The XO and Its Implication For Education
Tuesday 10:30AM Brian C. Smith, Sylvia Martinez, Dr. Gary Stager
The XO low cost laptop was designed to revolutionize education in the developing world. The panel will discuss the lessons we can gain from this learning initiative and the implications for the future of education. We will also explore why such a simple idea has created such controversy.

By the way, I’m happy to have someone record, live blog, or ustream my sessions IF you can come and do it. It’s just too hard to do it AND present.

After that, it’s back to New York City for a family/friends Thanksgiving, and then some workshops in Brooklyn. More about that later!


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Survey shows schools need more tech support

eSchool news (partnered with just released a new survey showing that many schools are working with technology support staffing and budgeting well below standards and are failing to meet goals.

Nearly three out of four school leaders say they don’t have enough IT staff to support their needs effectively, according to the survey. Fifty-five percent of respondents said they can’t maintain their network adequately, 63 percent said they can’t plan for new technologies, and 76 percent said they have trouble implementing new technologies.

This is no surprise – Generation YES has been working with schools for a decade to create innovative models that teach students to help support infrastructure and teachers in their own schools. As we work with schools, I think I’ve heard about every tech support horror story out there.

Forrester Research, an independent market research firm, published a recent report titled “Staffing for Technology Support: The Need May Be Far Greater Than You Think,” which concluded that large corporations typically employ one support person for every 50 PCs, at a cost of $142 per computer, per year. According to this model, a school district with 1,000 PCs would need a staff of 20 and an annual tech-support budget of $1.4 million.

Yet, some larger school districts are approaching a ratio of one IT person for every 1,500 computers or more, says Laurie Keating, vice president of technology, learning, and planning for the Center for Educational Leadership and Technology.

I’ve shown this research to educators in conference sessions and workshops across the U.S. I know I can get a guaranteed laugh from the audience with the “one support person for every 60 PCs” number. I’ve had tech coordinators share their stories – increasing number of computers to support, constantly increasing complexity, and increasing expectations for instant, interconnected systems. And most of the time, a decreasing budget.

So what can you do when faced with this situation? There are only a few solutions:

1. You can reduce the chance of something going wrong by locking down the systems. Teachers look at this solution as a restriction on them or mistrust of their competence. In reality, it’s a lose-lose solution that a desperate tech support department must implement to keep their heads above water. It creates friction and resentment between teachers and IT staff who should be working together to improve education.

2. You redefine your expectations for adequate tech support. Some teachers wait for weeks to get simple problems solved. It’s easy to see why a teacher who constantly has to go to “Plan B” when the hardware doesn’t work just gives up on their technology-infused “Plan A.”

3. People work harder as you try to squeeze blood out of a stone. Educators are notorious for shoestring solutions and working beyond all reason because it’s “for the kids.” However, 80 hour workweeks without proper resources leads to early burnout. Even worse, other teachers see the hard work required to be a tech-using teacher and decide it’s not worth it.

4. Find new resources. While you might be able to find a few volunteer techie parents who will pop in every once in a while, there is actually a HUGE, largely untapped resource already at the school site. This digital generation is quite capable of learning to provide support to teachers integrating technology. Contrary to what many believe, it’s not impossible, not scary, and not a security threat. Students are 92% of the population in most school buildings. It is simply irrational to continue to ignore this resource in the face of this dire situation.

Plus, it’s a win-win situation. Schools get the help they need, and students learn valuable lessons as they troubleshoot and help teachers with the typical simple issues that block classroom use. We help schools see past security fears and use tried and true models that actually reduce student hacking and increase student ownership.

You can read more about the Generation TECH tools and curriculum on our website, or listen to this podcast from my workshop called Student Tech Support – the 21st Century A/V Club. (There are also links to the handouts and slides.)

The hard truth is, any hope for increasing technology use in schools rests on solving this problem. Teachers using technology in innovative ways result in MORE tech support, and tech support that understands education, not just the wires. And let’s face it, no matter what you do, or how much money you pour into tech support, it’s never enough. There is always something more you can do, more you can try, make the systems better, and support teachers better.

There is no other resource in schools that is as ready to help and as underutilized as students. As educators struggle to find solutions, it might help to look up at the faces that sit directly in front of you every day, young people ready, willing and able to help solve this problem.

All we have to do is teach them, guide them, and let them.


Student Contest – Open Source Software Development

The Google Highly Open Participation Contest

Google has announced a new effort to get young people involved in open source development. Student contestants will have the opportunity to learn more about and contribute to all aspects of open source software development, from writing code and documentation to preparing training materials and conducting user experience research.

The contest is open to students age 13 or older who have not yet begun university studies. Students will learn about all aspects of developing software – not just programming – and be eligible to win cash prizes and the all important t-shirt!

Get started here, or read the Official Contest Rules and the Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) page. Get ready to have some fun!

Ubuntu rules!

We are big fans of Ubuntu here at Generation YES – it’s the OS we use for all the examples in our Generation TECH student tech support curriculum. Free, runs on everything, and just plain makes sense. If you want to show students what makes a computer tick, let them install/uninstall Ubuntu on some “outdated” computers.

Jessamyn West at (“putting the rarin back in librarian since 1999”) shows how she installed Ubuntu on two donated PCs in less than an hour.

Here’s how easy it is:

This video has been viewed on YouTube over 70,000 times!

The 2006/07 California School Technology Survey – Sources of Technology Support

TechSETS, the California state support service for educational technologists, has just released its annual survey of California School Technology. The survey has some interesting data with implications about how technology support impacts use in schools.

One of the major findings of the survey is that students are a “significant source of support” — something that I’m pretty happy to have confirmation of. Many schools in which students participate in technical support activities think that they are the only ones doing it. So instead of student support being a well-regarded part of the solution to tech support, it is viewed as a one-off patchwork solution. This survey should help to alleviate that mis-impression.

The bad news from the survey is that the numbers of students involved declined last year. It’s tough to say whether this is a single year aberration or not. Unfortunately, this survey doesn’t provide any answers to why this is so. We can only hope that it’s a blip, not a long term trend. All our trends are up, with an increasing number of schools using our Generation TECH online tools and curriculum to structure their student tech support program.

The survey information is behind the login of the TechSETS site, but Ric Barline, the author of this report, has given me permission to post some of it here.

The introduction and some of the major findings follow:

Using Data From The 2006/07 California School Technology Survey To Determine Sources of Technology Support in Schools
By Ric Barline, TechSETS Cadre Member

The annual California School Technology Survey (CSTS) is an excellent source of data to help determine the extent to which technology is being supported in schools and what type of human resource is providing that support. This state-administered survey has been collecting data on technology capacity and usage since 2001.

TechSETS carried out an analysis of the responses to this survey in 2005, and again this year in an effort to better understand the sources of technology support in schools and, by extension, the potential audience for TechSETS services. This report describes the methodology and results of the 2007 analysis. The 2005 analysis is available from TechSETS upon request.

The major findings regarding the numbers of individuals involved in tech support are:


  • Schools depend heavily on site-based staff for support.
  • The district office provides a significant source of support.
  • Students provide a significant source of support.
  • Outside services and COEs [County Offices of Education] provide very little support.


The major findings regarding the trends over the last three years are:


  • The numbers of certificated and classified staff involved in providing technical support to schools has increased significantly in the 2006/2007 school year.
  • The numbers of students and others involved in providing technical support to schools have decreased in the 2006/2007 school year.


Numbers of individuals involved in tech support – The CSTS data were viewed longitudinally over three years to gain insight into both the current situation and trends. Figure 1 shows the estimated number of people performing technical support in schools over the last three years. These numbers are estimates that depend on assumptions made regarding the number of individuals that make up a typical full-time equivalent (FTE) in each category. 

Technical support is a vital part of  innovative technology use in schools, and knowing who is providing that service means  better understanding of the opportunities to improve in every aspect.  Thanks for sharing, Ric!


Dinosaur sightings – computers from the past

TechRepublic is a website for IT professionals, but it’s got great content for hobbyists and geeks of all ages. Teachers and students can find some real gold in the thousands of articles, tutorials, forums, blogs, photo collections, and links.

Comodore PET - my second computerThis week’s special feature – Dinosaur Sightings: Computers and software from the 1970s and 80s might bring back some memories (or maybe some of these are still the mainstays of your computer lab!)

SWTPc 6800 - my first computerIn 1977, I built my first computer from a kit – the SWTPC 6800. I think I paid around $500 for it and had to learn how to solder. It ran BASIC, but not very well, so mostly the programming was in machine language. The screen display was very new at the time, and was simply a section of memory. If you put a 1 in the right place, a dot would light up on the screen. It all sounds so primitive now!

Besides a trip down memory lane, TechRepublic has lots of resources that can keep students interested whether your students are involved in tech support at the school site, interested in pursuing a career in a technical field, helping teachers, or just learning to use computers. Much of the content on the site is accessible to high school students, and in some cases, even younger. Keeping students engaged no matter what their level of technology experience is can be time-consuming for a teacher, but with a site like this, there’s something for everyone.

A great feature of the site is being able to personalize it with your own links and selections of interest. A teacher could create a class page with selected resources, and have students add items that enhance the lessons, such as resume tips for technical jobs, or how to teach non-technical computer users to use Excel. Ask students to modify these generic resources so that they work for the school’s specific network and infrastructure. Giving students the responsibility to find good resources and make them even better creates ownership and allows students to become experts, in addition to reinforcing research and documentation skills.


When blogging becomes a teacher-centered activity

Recently, teachers have come up to me at conferences and say they had turned off the GenYES or Generation TECH blog tools because “the kids write too much.” At first I was surprised that student writing would be a problem!

But in thinking about it, it dawned on me that the the problem wasn’t student writing, it was teacher reading. The teacher was a bottleneck, and the teacher-centric view of how the blog worked (students write, teacher reads) was clearly causing this problem. What’s worse, could our tool design be reinforcing this?

When we first introduced the GenYES blog, we decided to roll it out in a limited way. We know people don’t like change. We said to our long-time teachers, “it’s just like the old journal tool.” Maybe that was a good way to ease it in, or maybe that was a mistake.

What we did notice is that the student use of the blog over the journal immediately went up, jumping significantly in just a few days. The first year saw ten times the posts of the previous year in the journal tool. We saw more writing, longer passages, and more reflection. It was obvious that the students saw the blog as a “real world” tool and knew exactly how it was supposed to be used. So much for media literacy training — students knew what to do because they had seen it outside of school. And they used the blog as intended, for appropriate, on-task writing about how they were collaborating with teachers to use technology in their school.

That all seems like good news–but is the blog tool really working to create a student-centered experience or is it reinforcing a teacher-centric approach?

Do we need to revisit it to make it more peer editable, so that students can act as blog-leaders? Do we need to add more features? Do the introductory lessons and activities need to change? What can we do to make it more student-centered and less teacher-centered?

Our goal is to facillitate the student-centered collaboration that goes on in Generation YES classes with the best tools available. The floor is yours.