Effective Technology Support

 

Creating an Effective Technology Support Program

Team LinkBytes: Tammy Ferris, Derrel Fincher, Brenda Lewis, Scott Wilkinson
May 21, 2002

Table of Contents

Initials in parentheses indicate contributor

Factors and Problems Design ideas Resources

Factors and Problems

Staff Development

Here are some current problems and potential difficulties with technology staff development:

  • Teachers do not see the benefits of technology on student learning or teacher efficiency

  • Schools lack incentive programs for teachers

  • Teachers do not have enough time for explorations with technology

  • Teachers are not given time or opportunities to collaborate with each other in developing effective uses of technology.

  • Administrators do not provide positive leadership by embracing technology themselves.

  • Too few faculty/staff members to support technology

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Supporting Innovation

Schools often do a poor job of supporting the innovators and the innovation they bring to the system. Reasons for this are:

  • Building administration doesn’t understand what the innovator is trying to do and therefore restricts the innovator.

  • Technology support feels that the innovator is creating problems because they don’t follow the standard guideline and therefore are “difficult”.

  • Technology support locks the network and equipment down so tightly that innovators don’t have a place to test ideas.

  • Any requests to technology support are viewed as interfering with the real business of keeping equipment running so the requests are never answered or answered so late that it no longer matters.

  • Innovators are sequestered from the practice of other innovators.

  • The technology department makes planning and procurement decisions without getting input or assistance from those who will be using it.

  • The technology department doesn’t have a vision that helps them make long range decisions.

  • Many technology support departments forget that teachers are professionals who take their professional responsibilities toward their students seriously. As a result, the technology support department tries to mandate teacher behavior rather than working with their professionalism.

  • Technology support does a poor job of advertising the resources that it has to support others.

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Help Desk

Factors

  • Staff
    • Budget
    • Administration
    • Technicians
    • Tech-to-computer ratio
    • Professional development
  • Location
    • Geographic area
    • Central location
    • Dedicated to specific locations
  • Call Center
    • Custom database
    • Commercial software
    • Technicians assignment
    • Wireless devices
  • Customer Service
    • Problem Management
    • Incident Management
    • Change Management
    • Asset/Configuration Management
    • Service level management
    • Contingency Planning
    • Disaster Recovery Planning
    • Project Management

Problems

  • Staffing
  • Funding
  • Location
  • Customer Service

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Technology Integration

Factors

  • District Technology Steering Committee
    • Mission statement
    • Members
    • Goals
  • Cost
    • Initial
    • Ongoing
    • Grants
    • Local/State/Federal funding
  • Hardware
    • Standardization
    • Units per student
    • Network
  • Software
    • Standardization
    • Basic
    • Advanced
  • Staff
    • Teachers
    • Administration
    • Training
    • Collaboration
  • Curriculum
    • Enthusiasm of use
    • Synchronous
    • Asynchronous
    • Homework
    • Task completion
    • Set goals
    • Achievements

Problems

  • Lack of leadership
  • Funding
  • Standardized hardware/software
  • curriculum

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Obsolescence and Introducing New Resources

A major problem that affects the viability and effectiveness of school technology integration functions is the acquisition and obsolescence of computer hardware and software. Schools are continually faced with a variety of obstacles that tax their ability to keep pace with the ever-changing computer technology environment.

Although the educational sector was the major catalyst and focus of computer pioneers of the seventies and eighties, computer manufacturers have long since shifted their target audiences towards business and personal computing markets. Schools have, thus, been left to fend for themselves and to seek innovative solutions to the problems they face in acquiring new computer technology resources and in disposing of obsolete ones. Additional problems exist in handling equipment obsolescence and the disposal of non-functioning and/or inadequate technology.

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Long Range Planning

Long range planning is often non-existent; what is called long-range planning often is focused on the hardware or software, which is inherently short-term, rather than on the way that these resources can support learning. In the words of Jamie McKenzie, “toolishness is foolishness.” Furthermore, long range planning usually has little input from teachers or even from innovative teachers; it is done in a vacuum and without a vision.

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Design ideas that might alleviate problems

Plan for Staff Development

Our goal in this section of the technology support plan is to provide suggestions for staff development. In other words, answering the burning question, ‘How are we going to get teachers to learn technology and use it?’ We have chosen to focus on three levels of computer users:

  • the non-user, this is the person who never or rarely uses the computer, knows maybe one or two software programs, and is resistant to integrating technology into his or her current practices.
  • the average user, this is the person who has a very good working knowledge of computers, is familiar with a variety of software, and knows some basic troubleshooting techniques. This person uses technology on a frequent basis in the classroom, but has not realized its potential.
  • the innovative user, this is the person who is very familiar with technology, uses peripherals, multimedia, a wide variety of software programs, including those for web creation. The innovative user has gone to the next level in using technology in the classroom to enhance learning for students.

We feel that it is very important for our support plan to meet the needs of all three levels of users. The following ideas are subject to administrative support and availability of resources.

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Meeting the needs of all users

The following suggestions should be implemented consistently in all schools throughout the district.

  • All teachers should have access to technology at home. The more they use a computer, the faster they will learn.

  • In order to meet the first suggestion, we feel it would be very beneficial for the district to offer an incentive program. Teachers and staff would have the opportunity to participate in a laptop program, where they would receive a laptop on loan for three years. This laptop would be for school and home usage. After three years of commitment to technology training and staff development specific to this program, the laptop would then be the possession of the teacher.

  • It will be important for the school district to hire a number of innovative computer users to work in the district as mentors. It should be a goal of the district to look for candidates who are excellent educators as well as innovative with technology integration.

  • We also suggest the hiring of more computer lab teachers, to job share with the current lab teacher. This would free up part of the lab teachers’ time to work on basic troubleshooting and support for teachers. We feel it is extremely important to have support individuals who are members of the school community, and not district employees that split their time between different schools.

  • Another aspect of our plan is to allow time for independent exploration of computers with support. All workshops should not consist of only listening to a teacher discuss how to use the newest technology. Teachers should have opportunities to meet together to develop innovative ideas. We suggest 45 minute blocks of time before school, after school, or during lunchtime. This time would not be scheduled with any activities other than what the teachers want to accomplish. There needs to be technology support staff, or innovative users available during this time. Leading these independent exploration times could be a stipend position for an innovative teacher or part of a job description for a technology support staff or computer lab teacher.

  • It is highly recommended that the school district start to implement the use of technology for certain tasks that administrators, teachers and staff need to complete on a daily or frequent basis. For instance, rather than depositing monthly staff newsletters in mailboxes, these should be posted to the school’s website. An email, with a link to the newsletter, could then be sent to the faculty that the newest newsletter is up and should be read. Instead of sending students down to the office with lunch counts and attendance, these should be accessed via an online database of students, with drop down menus to mark absent or present, hot dog or pizza. Email should be the main form of communication, second only to verbal.

  • We also would like the suggest the use of an online community where teachers in the district can meet after school hours to discuss ideas or ask questions. The community would not have to be restricted to technology, but could include all areas of teaching and education. Such a community could be a chat environment or newsgroups. It could be developed by the school or subscribed to, much like Tapped In. We feel that when first developing this sort of community, newsgroups or bulletin boards would be much more effective. These could be checked at the teachers convenience and then there is a running record of past questions and discussions. In a district of this size, there probably wouldn’t be much activity in a chat environment.

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Meeting the needs of non-users

  • In addition to the suggestions for all users, it would be beneficial for non-users to participate in a formal technology mentoring program. Teachers would be paired up with another teacher who was an average user. This teacher, who is closer to the non-user’s skill level than the innovative user, would encourage the non-user to attend explorations sessions, workshops, would be available for questions, and would invite the non-user to develop lessons which use technology.

  • It is important for non-users to attend skill workshops and workshops where they hear about best practices from innovative users.

  • Another possible way to help staff who have limited computer knowledge would be to provide them with the names of students who would be able to help them do some basic trouble shooting, or teach them how to use software. These student could even come in and teach other students in the class of a non-user how to use the software they would need to complete an activity.

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Meeting the needs of average users

  • In addition to mentoring non-users, it would be beneficial for average users to be paired up with innovative users. Together this team could produce lessons and solve problems dealing with technology integration.

  • If the district agrees to hire additional computer lab teachers who would also work as resource teachers, most of their time would be focused on helping the average users develop lesson plans that would use technology to enhance the students’ learning.

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Supporting Innovation

Every district must support the zealots and the innovation the zealots bring to improve the system, whether those who bring in innovative teaching methods or have an innovative use for technology. A district must be able to identify the innovators by having both a process to identify them (either through recommendations from building administrators or by having a procedure so that innovators can self-identify themselves) and allowing them to identify themselves. Innovators often have a vision of where they want to head and the technology department must support that vision.

However, it’s also incumbent on the technology support department to jointly create a vision with its constituents and administration so that the vision of innovators is more likely to be aligned with the vision of the technology department. The technology department must also foster a culture that views the efforts of those outside the department as collaborative rather than competitive.

Once an innovator is identified, the district must then be able to support their efforts quickly and without obstructing them. At the same time, the district must be able to use the always-limited resources to support continuing operations. The focus is on partnership with innovators. Part of that partnership is the understanding that innovation is inherently risky—not succeeding as expected should be expected.

Support has two paths—helping innovators directly and helping innovators help each other.

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Helping innovators directly

One way to help innovators directly is to provide funds, hardware, or software, so the innovator then has tools needed to address her vision. The district should have a pool of funds set aside for these contingencies and have a process for teachers to request the funds. One problem to avoid is a lengthy process for approval—approval and disbursal should take less than a week. Furthermore, the innovator should have the final say on whether the suggested funds or equipment will satisfy her objectives. All too often requests are made that, by the time they make it through the technology procurement process, end up not being able to satisfy the objectives of the innovators or arrive too late to be useful. (This problem is caused by the technology department viewing itself as a main function rather than a support function.)

Another way to help innovators directly is to provide consulting, services, or possibly on-site help. An example of providing services would be to set up a separate subdomain for a teacher to experiment with, installing special server-side software for a teacher to compare, or even having extra low-end servers that can be set up as “playgrounds” for teachers.

Both of these options are expensive because they dip into the limited resources that must server the entire district, whether it’s funds or personnel. However, there will be times that no other way is feasible.

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Helping innovators help each other

Technology support can help the innovators within the district help each other by:

  • Creating virtual meeting areas and on-line community for teachers and innovators.
  • Identifying teachers who are willing to help others.
  • Building a culture where all innovators publicize their efforts and where others may participate and make suggestions.
  • Building a culture that encourages people who are not within the department to interact with it.
  • Encouraging input into all technology decisions by focusing on creating a community that allows conversation about purposes and making the internal technology communications links and announcements available to faculty and staff and actively seeking input.
  • Capturing and publicizing all requests.
  • Encouraging innovators to use outside resources when appropriate.
  • Encouraging those with desire, but lower levels of expertise, to learn from other innovators rather than trying to learn from the technology support department.
  • Encourage conference attendance and helping innovators connect with innovators in nearby districts.

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Advertising the wares

Innovators cannot make use of the services that may be available if they don’t know about them. The technology department must create and maintain a public forum where they advertise their wares, so to speak. And they must also encourage and publicize feedback on their offerings and services from those they support.

Part of advertising their wares consists of making the parameters and restrictions that they operate under very clear, including their budget for equipment, number of personnel, and the planning process.

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Help Desk

  • Use experts instead of generalists
  • Appropriate funding via local/state/federal funding and/or grants
  • Use a tech-to-computer ratio 1:50
  • Maintain a solid professional development program
  • Place technicians in individual schools
  • Maintain a centralized call center
  • Solid customer service is a must

Technology Integration

  • Establish a district technology integration committee and plan. All stakeholders should be invited for additional input.
  • Ensure the program has adequate funding to fully implement the program and maintain future operations.
  • Decide hardware issues early (individual computer v group computers)
  • Use standardized hardware and software.
  • Provide a solid professional development and mentoring program
  • Encourage technology based curriculum

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Obsolescence and Introducing New Resources

Locating Resources

A basic resource for funding of computer technology in schools is through public and private grants. Federal funding for technology projects is available through Title I programs. It must be noted, however, that it takes as much work to secure funding for a $25,000 grant as it does for a $2500 grant. With this fact in mind, care should be taken to concentrate grant-funding efforts on larger opportunities while leaving small ticket items to other types of fund-raising activities (parent-teacher groups and school fundraisers, for example.) Schools should consider hiring a fundraising specialist to train teaching staff and parents in handling of these types of activities.

Pilot testing is also a viable resource. Companies often provide 'free' equipment to schools in exchange for testing their products. Care must be taken when entering into such agreements. School must ensure that the free materials meet the curriculum goals of the receiving schools and that schools have full control over the materials during the pilot test. Schools must also take care to weight the advantages and disadvantages of losing the equipment at the conclusion of the pilot test program.

Corporate donations are an attractive technology resource for schools. The Taxpayer Relief Act of 1997 gives tax breaks to companies that donate fairly new computers (less than two years old) to schools. Since many corporations donate used equipment to schools as the corporations replace older equipment, schools should attempt to establish corporate/school relationships that will enable schools to keep pace with technology advances. Again schools must take care to weigh the benefits of receiving free equipment with the ancillary costs associated with receiving it. Does the equipment fit the school needs? Will it limit software choices or eliminate currently used software programs? The higher cost of maintaining used equipment must also be considered.

Non-profit computer recycling groups, such as Computers for Classrooms and A Broader Image are stepping in to act as go-betweens for schools and businesses. Non-profit computer recycling groups will upgrade discarded computers with more memory, new hard drives, or whatever it takes to make the machines useful in schools. The largest group, Detwiler Foundation has, since 1991, distributed more than 35,000 refurbished computers to schools. Most of these groups do not charge schools for the computers, although some may levy small shipping or training fees.

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Lease Programs

A Tax-Exempt Lease Purchase program is available to most K-12 districts. This program allows schools to stretch their budgets and own their computer technology. The plan allows for preservation of capital dollars for other projects for which leasing is not an option, spreads out the cost of an asset over the useful life of that asset or project. TELP is offered by most major computer companies, and allows for periodic updating of computer equipment in order to keep pace with technological advances.

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Equipment disposal

Innovations in computer technology are advancing so rapidly that disposal of obsolete equipment presents an ecological nightmare. It is currently projected that, by the year 2005, over 300 million personal computers (in the United States alone) will be obsolete and in need of disposal. Since the Environmental Protection Agency classifies selected computer products as hazardous waste, many states have enacted laws regulating computer disposal. As stored obsolete equipment decreases in value, costs for its removal increases.

Schools must realize that not older computer is not as 'obsolete' as they may believe it to be. Redeployment should be considered as a viable alternative to destruction of older equipment. In 1988, hundreds of San Diego students (and their teacher) launched an Apple II Educational Rescue project, dusting off eight old Apple II+ computers and putting them back into use in public school classrooms. By 2000, the Apple II ranks had burgeoned to over fifty machines and served seventeen years beyond their projected obsolescence. These computers were all "abandoned machines" no longer used. They were put back into service with only a modest outlay for memory and internal drives.

Student/Staff purchase programs can be instituted, offering working equipment for sale to teachers and parents of students at a nominal cost. Lotteries can be employed in instances where demand is greater than supply.

Recycling and disposal of non-working equipment must be processed through a legitimate computer recycling company. Most regional dumps offer such a service at little or no cost.

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Long Range Planning

The key idea is that long range planning must have a purpose. The goal of long range planning is not to buy equipment; it’s to help students attain the outcomes that we as a district have deemed most valuable. Long range planning goes hand-in-hand with curriculum planning (although most districts must also improve their curriculum planning). The first step in long range planning is to figure out where you are both educationally and technologically. The second step is to create a vision to guide the planning.

Then it's necessary to survey the available technology as well as to try to determine what technologies may be available a few years down the road. The technology department should try to partner with a university or a business to help learn about recent advances and innovations which can help shape the curriculum. The technology department should also encourage research ventures with these organizations and they should be prepared to recruit innovative teachers who will participate in these research ventures.

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Resource Links

Restructuring Your District for Technology: Suggestions for How to Review Your Organizational Chart

If We Build It, They Might Not Come: Better Ways to Distribute Technology Resources in Schools

Better Ways to Organize Computer Labs

Technology Integration vs. Technology Training

Helpdesk FAQ A great FAQ page on help desk mechanics

Tech Support Work Flow This page from the UT Dallas shows the nuts&bolts of tech support

Research and Development in Technology Integration.

Interview with Sue Wolfe, Help Desk Lead, LLNL

Benchmarks for Computer Obsolescence.

Equipment Financing for the Public Sector.

Room 110 Milestones.

Second Time Around. by Kathleen Vail. 

Sometimes 'Free' Is Too Expensive. by Lisa Brandes. 

A Broader Image: E-mail: terry@gmmb.com

Computers for Classrooms, Tech Corps Georgia.  E-mail: tkilby@mindspring.com

Computers For Learning, clearinghouse for federal government computer equipment for schools and nonprofit educational organizations.

The Detwiler Foundation: Computers for Schools

Computing EDGE (Equipment Donations and Grants to Education), KidSource Online.

Marin Computer Resource Center: (415) 454-4227; fax: (415) 456-9492.

New Deal: software for 286/386 PCs. 

PEP National Directory of Computer Recycling Programs  

SCROUNGE, Students for Computer Recycling to Offer Underrepresented Groups in Education.

Share the Technology, New Jersey-based nonprofit group that takes computer donation requests from schools.

Electronic School: The Truth About Tech Support

Technology and Accountability: A Chicken-and-Egg Question

Room 110 Milestones

Second Time Around: Some Computers Never Die by Kathleen Vail

Benchmarks for Computer Obsolescence

El Paso Independent School District by Carole Keeton Rylander

Share the Technology: A Word of Caution to Donation Seekers

Self-assessment instrument for schools (PDF Format) provides information on preparing teacher candidates, but may provide information on the range of resources that need to be addressed.

A Strategy for the Deployment of Instructional Technology in the Classrooms From 1996, but still relevant.

Identifying and Grooming the Pioneers Jamie McKenzie

Tech Smart: Grooming the Pioneers Jamie McKenzie in the May 2002 issue of From Now On.

Research and Development in Technology Integration.

Critical Issue: Developing a School or District Technology Plan

A Technology Planning Guide for Public Schools in Massachusetts

Articles through Pepperdine Library (requires logging in through the proxy server)

TECH SUPPORT: PREPARING TEACHERS TO USE TECHNOLOGY From Principal Leadership (High School Ed.) 1 no9 35-9 My/Je 2001

Students as Technology Support Staff? From Multimedia Schools 7 no3 60-1 My/Je 2000

Technology Connections for School Improvement. Planner's Handbook. 10Mb PDF download, so be on a fast connection.

 

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Created 5/21/2002

Last maintained 11/10/2011

   

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Original Content ©2001-2008 by Derrel Fincher, Other rights reserved by individual authors

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