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.

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

Back to School 2012 – Start your “year of empowerment” now!

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.

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? This year, 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?

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

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

Happy back to school!

Sylvia

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!

Sylvia

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!

Sylvia

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!

Sylvia

Not enough tech support = no technology use

Yes, it’s budget time again in K-12 schools in the U.S. – time to do more with less, push the limit, and strive to achieve the vision of 21st century learning for all. Technology is a big part of that, and as you think about what part technology will play in your budget, you must also consider the support costs that any new purchase will create.

eSchool news (partnered with SchoolDude.com) released a survey last year 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 can guarantee a huge laugh from the audience by saying that business considers “one support person for every 60 PCs” just barely adequate. I’ve listened as 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. Being a martyr is a lousy role-model.

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.

It’s not a crazy idea! It can be done, and is being done all over the world.

You can read more about the GenYES  tools and curriculum on our website, or check out our free resources (including a handout for Student Support of Laptop Schools) and videos.

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 learning 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.

Sylvia

Related posts:

Back to school: Ten commandments of tech support

Reposted for a new school year!

The ten commandments of school tech support

  1. Thou shalt test the fix.
  2. Thou shalt talk to actual students and teachers and make time to watch how  technology works during actual class time, not just when it’s quiet.
  3. Thou shalt not make fun of the tech skills of teachers or students, nor allow anyone else in the tech department to make disparaging remarks about them.
  4. Closing trouble tickets shalt not be thine highest calling; thou shalt strive to  continually make the learning environment better.
  5. Thou shalt not elevate the system above the users.
  6. The network will be never be perfect. Learning is messy. Get thyself over it.
  7. When teaching someone a new skill, keep thy hands off the mouse.
  8. Thou shalt listen to requests with an open mind and respond in plain English.
  9. Blocking shall be controlled by educators, not filtering companies. Thy job is to enable learning, not enforce behavior.
  10. Thou shalt include students and teachers in decision-making about technology purchases and policy. Their interest is not an affront to your professionalism.

Sylvia

More back to school posts!

New podcast from Radio TICAL – bringing student voice into ed tech

Involving students as partners and co-learners in the educational process, rather than as consumers—or worse, as “objects”—is not a new concept but it is certainly gaining currency in the 21st century. With information exploding, teachers can no longer hope to know everything about their subject. With changes in student lifestyles, fewer and fewer of them are content to be passive participants in the classroom.

GenYES is remarkable in how it brings student voice into the learning conversation. In this episode, Sylvia Martinez, President of GenYES, describes the project’s original program for bringing students and teachers together to co-plan technology-infused lessons as well as a newer program, TechYES, which offers a unique project-based learning approach to certifying middle school students as technologically literate.

via Radio TICAL.

Yup, that’s me, in a podcast recorded with Michael Simkins of  the Technology Information Center for Administrative Leadership (TICAL). It’s the “go to” place for California school administrators who want to understand how to integrate technology in their schools. TICAL offers resources and networking opportunities both online and in person.

Direct podcast link (MP3)

Sylvia

Edutopia – Students Teach Technology to Teachers

“When middle school students Alison and Nat confer with their teachers, it’s to talk about the lessons the students are preparing for student teachers as part of a new Generation www.Y program. The young people are part of a growing group in schools across the country who are sharing their own expertise to help make prospective teachers more aware of how students learn and the best ways technology can be used to support their learning.”

Edutopia, the website of the George Lucas Educational Foundation published this story and video on the GenYES program in Olympia, WA. The video is from a while back when the model was called Generation www.Y. That was a bit difficult to pronounce, so we changed the name to GenYES.

This video was created during an interesting time period – the GenYES students not only worked with teachers at their school, but formed teams with their teacher and a pre-service teacher. These 3 member teams learned and taught each other technology, and prepared lessons using new technology. Just another way students can be involved in improving education for all!

Sylvia