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

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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.

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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Tim Taylor's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

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.

Myra's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I teach in a small K-8 school district with about 300 students. I have one computer in my 3rd grade classroom which is to be for my use to receive and send email, communicate within the building and for students to take AR tests through the Accelerated Reading program that we use in our library system. We do have a computer lab and one young man, Terry, our computer tech. It is his job to take care of all the computers in the building.
The problem is- our computers are old-and often cannot support the software or program we are trying to run. My class of 24 students can't always go to the lab, because there are not enough working computers so that each child can work on one by themselves. We do not have a technology teacher, so it is up to me to develop and implement a technolgy curriculum. This is not easy to do, since I am not that savvy on the internet myself.
I know that the school board professes to want to keep up with the times, and parents always ask about technology training. But, in truth, it is just not happening in an affective way without the dolars to fund it. Like everything else, if the classroom teacher can't pull it out of his/her "bag of tricks", it just isn't going to be a quality program. We need more money.

Walden Student's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

My district, in rural Minnesota, shares our wonderful tech support with the county, each paying half his salary. The problem with this compromise is that both employers expect him to be working on their tech support issues. This man simply can't be in two places at once. Our district has chosen not to pay his full salary (plus benefits), and that decision leaves us all with broken computers, a network that often fails, and students without access to the necessary technology. Here's one example. I teach a ninth grade English class of twenty-three students. There is not a lab in our building with enough working computers to take my class that allows each student to have his/her own computer. They have to share. I think this technology issue comes down to money and priorities. Too many times "good enough" is the norm.

Hope Newell's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I totally understand everyone's concerns. I teach at the Model Technology School in my county. We have a wonderful tech. support team. But like many have stated, they can't be in two places at once. When I first received my smartboard and CPS units I was very intimidated, but after using it for two years it has almost become my life. Once my smartboard was broken and it took four days for the parts to arrive. It was the worst week of my life, It is very easy to become dependant on great technological equipment. I realized that week that technology has made my job much more productive.

Kacia's picture
Anonymous (not verified)


Our school is quite small and we have one person over the elementary school technology department, and one over our high school's technology department. But the person majorly in charge of technology for our district is hardly ever available, so if something goes wrong, we have to wait.
As teachers at our school we are working on a particular online course for professional development. We were to login to our course and begin our coursework at a particular time on a particular day. The internet was not working, and they could not get a hold of the head of technology department. So instead we were unable to do that part of our professional development. Thank goodness our group had our material printed out. But this is where I think that "tech" personnel are so important. They keep everything running smoothly, so that those that aren't as tech savvy can continue with ordinary activities!

tina boles's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

After reading the blog, I feel very fortunate to work in my school and my county. I teach 7th grade in a technology rich school; we have access to Smartboards, Clickers, computer labs, and student computers in the classrooms. Each classroom has a mounted LCD projector, and the teachers have laptops.

We do have paid technology specialist in the school who work full time, so help is never far away for the teachers who have "technical difficulties."

The question posed was if a part time teacher/ part time tech specialist works. I know of schools that have this set-up, and it seems to work for them. I just wonder if the teachers in the school who need "technology support" would remember that the teacher has a class and other responsibilites while that teacher was performing that role. Sometimes when we have two roles in the school, people expect you not to do two 1/2 time jobs, but two full time jobs instead.

Tammy B's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I agree that the lack of a computer/technology tech is a primary concern and issue in our schools and our district. This year all of our classrooms were fitted with the promethean boards. We received two hours of training with them. In came the students and in came the problems. I am constantly having to modify a lesson as the system shuts downs or freezes. I purchased the only two books I could find on the system, but working through the problem while the students are waiting is not an option. We have one - yes only one- tech for our large district and he is learning the new system with us. We are always reacting to the problem rather than preventing a problem. Throw in the computers in each class and litttle hands that push too many buttons and we have an issue. There are many days I have to just shut down the computers for the day until I have time to try and troubleshoot them. If we had a tech in each building we would have a shot at keeping these things up and running, but as it is we seem to spend more time waiting our building's turn with the tech then on the technology.

Trish's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I am not a teacher. But I am interested in education and technology, which is why I read this forum. I read your post and I have to admit, I thought,"Does a 9th grade English class really need computers? If the lab is not available, is it really ruining the day's lesson?" It has been a while since I was in a high school classroom, but I believe students should be able to get by fine without a computer for English class. They might complain, but it can be done, right?

I think you should still be able to teach an English class if computers are unavailable. I realize computers are very helpful, but are they indispensible? When you have a tight budget and/or small tech support staff, I don't believe technology needs to be an absolute priority in the classroom.

Computer Repair's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I totally agree with you....thanks for sharing this info post with us.

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