Tech support for innovative schools

I had the opportunity to be the closing keynote for CETPA, an organization of K-20 education technology professionals in California. There were a lot of sessions about tech support, networks, and infrastructure, but it was great to see a lot of attention paid to the fact that education is the primary job of schools.

I shared some of the exciting new things happening in schools in California and around the world using technology and tools from the maker movement. But for those people who work hard to keep existing school networks and technology viable in times of zeroed out budgets, it’s not good enough to just toss more technology into classrooms without considering who will support it.

School Leaders say…

  • 75% they don’t have enough IT staff to support their needs effectively
  • 55% can’t maintain their network adequately
  • 63% can’t plan for new technologies
  • 76% have trouble implementing new technologies. (e-School News)

In the article, Forrester Research is quoted as saying that large corporations typically employ one support person for every 50 PCs, at a cost of $1420 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.

Yeah, go ahead, laugh! Everyone in a school knows this is ludicrous!

Center for Educational Leadership and Technology says that some larger school districts are approaching a ratio of one IT person for every 1,500 computers or more. I think that may even be low.

This creates an untenable climate in schools where tech support professionals are put in a lose-lose situation. They are responsible for everything that plugs in from the payroll system to the network to the student devices. There is no way to make an impossible situation work without being a constant state of vigilant triage. It’s common – and not unreasonable to develop a circle-the-wagons mentality where blame and finger-pointing is rampant. And the blame goes all around – teachers are slackers, students are hackers, admin is clueless – and comes right back at the tech support team. They become network nazis, the department of no, and worse.

Innovation is unsustainable in this kind of atmosphere, even with the most compelling ideas and plans.

So how can we move forward? This is the “to do” list I proposed.

  • Refocus – Move beyond fixing broken things (Reactive & negative)
  • Support a culture of innovation (Find ways to say yes)
  • Reduce shame (Genius bar)
  • Leverage untapped resources (Students)
  • Reduce cost of failure at all levels (Leadership)

I believe that these goals are not only useful for schools with plans for innovative technology, but can create a synergy that actually is more than the sum of its parts. Collaboration between tech support, students, and teachers, creates a more trusting climate at the same time as leveraging student time and energy. Leadership that supports innovation, even when the road is bumpy, creates trust, which in turn increases responsible behavior.


I believe that every person in a school is an important part of making education better!

Q&A: How Students Can Help Teachers Use Technology for Learning

From Common Sense Media

A thirty-year veteran educator, technology trainer Lisa Hogan teaches students and faculty in Topsham, Maine to better use new digital media tools to transform learning as part of Maine’s innovative 1:1 laptop program. We talked with her about how technology is changing learning and her school’s student-led iTeam.

Common Sense Media: Tell me about your school’s iTeam. Who’s on the team and what do they do?

Lisa Hogan: They are a group of high school students that help me support teachers. They help with the deployment and collection of 900 laptops, which means they must come to school as early as 5:30 a.m. for deployment. They also attend professional development days and help me help teachers with projects they want to develop.

They’ve also created a video for faculty and students about caring for laptops, and have presented their work to international visitors from Sweden, Denmark, and Singapore. The kids actually give up their lunchtime to work on the iTeam. The iTeam includes everyone from athletes to musicians, and they aren’t even exactly what I would call tech-savvy kids, but they’re willing to learn. They keep me informed about what’s going on with the school network such as slow downs or blocked websites. They’re a good voice to have within the school.

Read more of the interview on Common Sense Media


Student Techs Have Their Heads in the Cloud

From THE Journal: There is a positive environmental impact in bypassing printed materials, but the time savings and increased communication are what really makes the cloud indispensable for educators as well as students, according to Debbie Kovesdy, a media specialist and GenYES advisor at Shadow Mountain High School in Phoenix.

Kovesdy teaches three technology classes a day using the GenYES curriculum. She uses the cloud to teach and she expects her students to be cloud-savvy users when it comes to doing their work.

“I teach entirely from a website. ‘Handouts’ are accessed on this site,” she said. “I simply put a short link on their assignment calendar (or on the [message] board if the day is on the fly), and kids access the site and do the assignment.”

Purchase Project
Purchase Project

Recently, Kovesdy was looking at buying several dozen new tablets for her campus, but hadn’t decided on which ones. In the end, she decided to pass the task of figuring out the most cost-effective solution on to her students. The lesson, called Purchase Project, was completed digitally and turned in via the shared Google Drive. Students researched devices, computing power, and costs and then filed a report. A filter sent the completed assignments to Kovesdy’s document folder. After she graded them, she sent them back to the students via their private e-mail account, also created and controlled by the school via the Google-based Website.

Great ideas!

Call out to the network! What’s the best format for a student-run help desk resource?

OK all you smart people out there, I need your help!

I have a new resource to share about creating student-run help desks in schools, something like you find in Apple stores called Genius Bars. It’s currently in draft as a PDF of about 6,000 words The Genius Bar Goes to School. I’d love for you to to take a look at it… if you promise to help me with these questions.

In the “olden days” (like last year) I would have made it into a PDF, uploaded it to the Generation YES Free Resources website section, written a blog post or two about it, tweeted a bit, and that would be that.

But times have changed and I need to know if that’s the best I can do. There are so many new formats. There are all kinds of new things happening with sharing, remixing, repurposing that could happen around the concept of student-run help desks. There could be a shared tag, a hashtag, a number of tools like, wikis, etc.

So I’m thinking out loud and asking you – what’s the best way to get the most out of this document?

So – here are my current thoughts and questions. Please help me out by adding comments or challenging my assumptions.

1. Format. It’s a PDF right now, created from a Word document. The thing I like about a PDF is that it’s a compact, nice looking format. Everyone can read it, download it, share it. It prints nicely and emails easily. It’s a pretty universal format for all computers and devices.

Assumptions: I assume that people who are interested in the subject need something like a PDF to download, print out, and share with others. Is this a valid assumption?

Questions: What IS the best format? If you are an educator and you want to walk into a meeting and share this with your colleagues, what works best? Am I right to assume this scenario actually happens? If not, what would most help a person who wants to advocate for setting up a student-led help desk at their school?

Is printing important? (Because e-books don’t print easily or nicely.)

But these days are e-books the way to go no matter about printing? Which format(s)? How many different ones do I have to do?

Should I make it a Google doc? If so, should it be editable? What if I don’t like the changes people make? Do I have to worry about spam? Is a Google doc worth doing if it’s not editable?

Should I post it as HTML? As a blog post? (It’s a bit long for a single post.)

I would appreciate input on what formats are the most useful for both reading and for sharing. Because the most important thing I want to do with this document is to help people take action.

2. Community input. I would love it if there was a way people could contribute their ideas, experiences, photos, videos, or other things. How could I facilitate this? What tools, sites, etc. are best?  On the other hand, there is nothing sadder than an empty social site begging for involvement. What if people don’t want to share or need to share? I’m assuming that there is a lot of interest in this and a need to share models – is that a valid assumption?

3. Copyright, creative commons, or what? Yes that is a copyright on the document. But I’m open to changing it. Tell me why – is the copyright preventing you from doing something with this document that would really be great? Would a creative commons license be better? Which of the creative commons flavors is right for this? (I would probably choose this one: Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported (CC BY-SA 3.0) – but do you agree?)

4. Just one big contraint — it can’t take too much time. I’m not being lazy, but I have to be realistic about this. Yes I could make it a Kindle book, an ibook, e-book, a whole new website, a podcast, videos etc, but I need to be sure it’s worth the time and effort. Nor do I want to create a headache if I have to change something, and then have to worry about 27 different versions that have to be changed. And finally, I wish I did, but I don’t have time to do anything that involves vetting or editing other people’s content, getting permissions, or things like that.

In short, I want to do the least amount of work to create the most effective, convenient resource(s) for people who want to implement student-led help desks and I need your help to figure out what that means!

Thanks in advance…


Helping Others to Help Oneself

SMHS GenYES Students

This month’s THE Journal has a great story (Helping Others to Help Oneself) on students who provide tech support for their schools. Shadow Mountain High School’s GenYES program is prominently profiled – congrats to the students and teacher Debbie Kovesdy for this well-deserved attention! There are 65 GenYES students at SMHS, helping teachers and students with technology. But that’s not all they do. SMHS GenYES students research the learning potential of cutting-edge technology like tele-presence, gaming, 3D modeling and more so they can bring it to the classroom.

Using motion control for 3D images

What school would not benefit from students who make it their mission to take learning and technology to the next level!

THE Journal is now all digital, so clicking on this link takes you to the online issue. Be sure to check out the interactive feature – if you tweet using the hashtag “studentIT”, your words magically become part of the article!


Beyond technology capacity

Many times when we work with new schools implementing GenYES or TechYES student technology leadership programs we find that they have a lot of technology, but that the perception and reality in the classroom is very different.

It’s one thing to know that you have wireless in all your schools, but do you really know if it’s useful? That it reaches every classroom? That when the 26th device logs in, the whole system breaks? Or that the new filtering software is so aggressive that almost every search ends up with a “NOT ALLOWED” message? That you have brand new projectors, but no projector bulbs? Hey, you know those IWBs you installed in every classroom? Did you also know that someone locked up the box of special pens somewhere and no one can find them?

Is there a a way to move beyond the traditional “technology capacity” survey that counts hardware and software?

Yes, I think there is, you just have to ask. But be prepared for the onslaught of reality!

I think technology capacity breaks down into three parts:

  1. Inventory – do things actually exist, how many, etc.
  2. Use – do people know about them, trust them, and use them
  3. Reliability – are things easy to access, in working condition, reliable and if there are problems, can they get help quickly.

Part #1 is pretty traditional and still important – how much, how many, etc. I think most schools have a handle on #1. If not, get counting!

But if you want to be brave and ask further, how about these questions?

  • Network server space – Can it be used by students and teachers. Do people know how? Is it easy to access, reliable, and is there enough space? Do files suddenly go missing? When someone runs out of space can they get more?
  • Email – Do teachers check their email (how often)? Is it reliable, or do emails or attachments disappear? Do students have email, use email for classwork, and can they access provided email at school and home? Does the mail filter label too many things as spam or make suspected spam hard to retrieve? Can teachers request email senders to be put on a whitelist?
  • Web access – Beyond calculated bandwidth, is connectivity good in all classrooms, or does bandwidth fluctuate? Can you log into network reliably  and can multiple machines log in at once, or are devices “kicked off” at random? Is filtering non-intrusive; can teachers easily request to unblock something and are those requests handled quickly?
  • Hardware – Beyond “how many” – does equipment work, can you get cables and other required parts? If there are consumables (like video tapes or projector bulbs) can you get more?. Can you easily move files from cameras, scanners, recording devices, etc into other computers for processing? Can you get parts and repairs when needed?
  • Software – Beyond “the list” – Are versions up to date, and can you get upgrades when you need them? Do you have software to create projects (other than slideshows and word processing) – video editing, animation, programming, simulations, audio editing, graphic programs? Do you have enough, are they age appropriate, and are the computers powerful enough to run them?
  • Tech support response – Beyond average response time, what is the average time for issues being fixed to the satisfaction of the person having the problem? Is there a standard way that problems are reported, tracked, and fixed? Do people know how to request help, and is the system working – or do you have a low problem rate because everyone has given up hope of ever getting help?

I’d love to hear your additions to this list – I’m sure I’ve forgotten many important things!


Pure genius – students run the help desk

The informal help desk model, or as Apple calls it, the Genius Bar, is a great model for tech support in schools. Like Apple figured out, putting help in the open is part of demystifying it. Your computer doesn’t disappear into a back room, instead, a friendly person, a real human being, helps you. Why shouldn’t tech support be more like asking a friend, “hey, how did you do that?” This creates a culture of collaboration where questions are encouraged and not knowing something does not require a walk of shame to the dark tech closet at the end of the hall.

So the question is, how do you staff a genius bar full time, with people who have time to answer questions, not just fix broken hardware? Answer… students.

Here’s a great example. THE Journal’s recent article, When Students Run the Help Desk, profiles Burlington High School in Massachusetts where a new 1:1 iPad initiative includes students running a help desk. Why? Because as the principal says, it’s a “no-brainer.”

Also from THE Journal a few issues back was They’re Taking Requests: Student Techs Command the Help Desk — THE Journal which profiled several other student-led tech support projects including several GenYES schools in Paradise Valley, Arizona.

Everyone benefits with this solution – more support for teachers and students using technology, students learn great life skills like listening to others and troubleshooting, and the school puts forward a model that everyone is part of the problem-solving community. It’s better than win-win, it’s win-win-win-win.

In other words, pure genius!


Back to School 2011 – Empowering students starts today

Here are a number of “back to school” posts collected in one place!

What tech vision will you share?
What message does your Acceptable Use Policy send when it goes home with students for them and their parents to sign? Try reading it with fresh eyes and change overly complex, negative language to language that celebrates the potential of technology – and students.

Games for collaboration and teamwork
Want to create a more collaborative, constructivist classroom? Instead of traditional icebreakers, try these games that encourage collaboration and teamwork.

What do students want from teachers?
Listen to what students say they really want from teachers. And no, it’s not “more recess.”

Student technology leadership teams for laptop schools
Are you getting more devices this year? Laptops, iPads, iTouches, netbooks or going 1:1? Do you have enough tech support? Enough support for teachers using new technology? Enough support for students? No? Well then learn how students can be a great resource in laptop schools to ease the burden on overworked teachers and IT staff – and mentor other students. Genius bar, anyone?

Student-led conferences
Traditional parent-teacher conferences leave the most important person in the learning equation out in the cold. Find out how schools around the world are using student-led conferences to put the learner back in the loop.

Ten commandments of tech support
Ten ideas for making technology support more learner-centered and less network-centered.

Start the year off with hands on
Think you need to wait for kids to settle down and learn the basics before you let them do projects and hands-on work? Not according to this expert teacher.

Last but by far not least, if you are looking for some inspiration to post on your wall, here’s 8 Big Ideas of the Constructionist Learning Lab. These eight ideas give actionable advice to create opportunities for deep learning for all.

Happy back to school!


“It’s about student engagement and student empowerment”

student leaders
Students Learn to be Tech Leaders

Mount Airy News – Empowering students through GenYES

After some of the members of the Surry County Schools Board of Education visited a technology conference, they brought back an idea the school system will begin implementing in the fall.

Middle school students in the system will begin the GenYES program developed by Dr. Dennis Harper. The program has been in existence since the late ’90s and has spread across the country and even to four other countries, but Surry County is the first in North Carolina to implement it.

“This caught our eye because it was a student-led type of initiative. It’s something they could take hold of and do on their own,” said Earlie Coe, board chairman. “They had some great success with it.”

The school system believes that this will coincide with the 1:1 laptop initiative that will expand from seventh and eighth grade to the high schools next year. Empowering students to be leaders and valued partners in the school laptop implementation can lead to increased classroom technology integration, greater support for classroom teachers using new technologies and greater understanding and support for program goals, the school officials believe.

“It’s about student engagement and student empowerment. They will become part of the planning, execution and implementation part of our 1:1 initiative. They will learn how to use the software, how to best utilize the laptops in the classroom and help on troubleshooting and minor repairs,” said Jill Reinhardt, director of technology and career and technical education for the school system.

Read more: Mount Airy News – Empowering students through GenYES

Learn more about GenYES


When students are in charge of maintaining the computers in schools

A nice internationally flavored post came our way recently. Michael Trucano writes in Edutech: A World Bank Blog on ICT use in Education on When students are in charge of maintaining the computers in schools

Recounting the ways that schools try to adapt to more and more computers to support, he writes,

“Another approach was explained to me by a headmaster in a rural school in Eritrea, who said he kept the computers locked in his office to ensure that they did not ‘break’. (I checked them out and, sure enough, all appeared to be in great shape!)”

Yes, that’s certainly one way to keep computers from breaking – just keep them away from pesky users!

But that’s not going to help students learn. So how can schools support computers, even when faced with limited tech support resources and teacher professional development?

“One approach that is not well known, but which perhaps should be, is to have students assume primary responsibility for the technical maintenance of a school’s computer-related infrastructure.

A recent presentation and discussion at the World Bank by AED’s Eric Rusten and Josh Woodard explored lessons from schools in Macedonia and Indonesia (Sumatra) that have been doing just this.”

The article goes on to mention GenYES, our approach to teaching students how be part of the technology support solution, and several stories about student technical support making a difference in Macedonia and Sumatra.

This is an idea whose time has come!