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What If It Breaks?: Tech-Support Concerns Impede Adoption

| Ken Messersmith

I teach an online graduate class titled Technology Tools for Teachers. Most of the class members are practicing educators with several years of experience teaching in rural areas. We have been discussing the potential uses for various Web 2.0 applications to enhance learning in our classrooms.

What If It Breaks?

During our discussion last week, one of the students mentioned that she was convinced that some of the new tools would motivate and engage students, but she was reluctant to try them. Her reticence, she said, stemmed from her doubt about whether her school's network was reliable enough to support use of the tools. "We have enough trouble just getting email in and out of the building on a regular basis," she said.

This discussion makes me wonder about technical support in schools. Many of the schools in our area are small, consisting of fewer than 300 students. Technical support is most often provided by a person trained as a classroom teacher but released from one or two classes during the day to provide technical support for the building. Most of these teachers got the support job because they learned something about computers on their own and happened to know more than anyone else in the school. They generally have very little or no training in computer science.

The question is, can we expect to make gains in technology use in schools with this support structure? Should schools reduce their teaching staff in order to hire a person who is actually trained to provide technical support?

I am interested to know about the level of technical support at your school. Do you believe the lack of trained support is impeding progress in the implementation of technology in the schools with which you are familiar? How do you address the support issue, or how would you if it were your responsibility?

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Comments (16)

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Chris Heidelberg (not verified)

Consider creating internships for local

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Consider creating internships for local college IT students through universities and community colleges to assist you with the manpower issues. Also, consider creating partnerships with federal, state and local governments that have large IT staffs that may be able to volunteer time, co-op students, equipment and technology associations. Finally, consider creating partnership with large and small employers who have expertise in this area. Technical schools can also provide you with students and support staff with internship opportunities. I work for a large federal organization that has utilized these partnerships to assist two local school districts and it was successful.
Daniel Assisi (not verified)

Just recently come to work

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Just recently come to work in the educational world, I was extremely surprised to see how behind schools are in terms of IT mentality -- great educational ideas, but poor operational grasp of what it takes to really make use of the equipment. A different approach is needed -- and some schools are already undertaking. We have been fortunate to start shifting that mentality and now we have 1 technician on each of our inner-city four sites. Running approximately 600 desktops for 1400 students (pre-k to 12), things have been working well on the support site. Also, it has allowed us to really drive technology use -- HS students have both email accounts and websites (digitial portofolios). Middle Schoolers are following suit next academic year -- all users have storage shares, etc.. And it keeps growing. It is great to see the enthusiams of teachers and students alike when the tools are there for them to use. But, first, the investment must come from visionary administrators that understand the power of technology...
Arthur Ellis (not verified)

As a 442 student private

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As a 442 student private school, we have an academic administrator and teacher who service day to day problems. We have a volunteer parent who is a systems operator to help with network problems. Utilize those with whom you are associated. Make them your "Champion" and show them they are appreciated. Helping is very satisfing to someone in that field because they love doing it.
Bryan Wilkins (not verified)

Ya gotta spend some bucks

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Ya gotta spend some bucks on people; technitions and teachers with the skills if you want to have a good program. Try all the half measures you want and I wish you well. But like anything else, you get what you pay for.
Tim Taylor (not verified)

I do not believe we

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I do not believe we can make the gains with technology needed to prepare students to function in a knowledge-based economy with this support structure. Would we ever hire a trained computer technician and ask him or her to teach one or two periods a day because this person "learned something about teaching on the side"? This has long been my response when I encounter schools that rely solely on teachers for any semblance of technical support. I would advocate making very minor reductions to the teaching staff to add technology support if doing so were the only way to make it happen. In a perfect world, a teacher would wait no longer than one school day to have a technical support issue addressed. But, we all know that the perfect world does not exist and we have to make the best of the situation in which we find ourselves. The best tool I've found for evaluating a school's or district's technical support effort is ISTE's Technology Support Index . It provides a rubric-based approach to documenting where one's strong and weak points are and provides common-sense suggestions on making improvements. BTW, I am technology coordinator for a 4,000 student suburban school district with 1,200 computers. Our technology support team is not unified; the technical support side reports to the facilities superintendent and the instructional integration side reports to the curriculum superintendent. We have 5.5 approved FTE positions for technical support (technology coordinator, three computer technicians, .5 administrative software support, and one formative testing clerk). The instructional integration side is comprised of one district-wide technology integration trainer and three site-based technology integration specialists. The instructional integration positions are always the nearest ones to the budget axe and we strive constantly to keep them funded.
John Kain (not verified)

We are an inner-city district

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We are an inner-city district with about 3600 computers (desktops and laptops). We have four technicians. You can do the math. Each tech is assigned to four schools. They work their tails off, but we have uncompleted work orders that are 4 and 5 months old. However, at least our techs are trained and certified to provide tech support. The fact that some schools are getting tech support from a teacher "who learned something about computers on their own" is distressing. Yes, the lack of trained support (or adequate trained support) is slowing the implementation of technology, and not just in rural districts. Schools boards need to start treating tech support as a critical component of each school.
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