From the Field
“Technical support in schools is more than just understanding the technology. The tech support staff needs to understand education and all the customers including teachers, students and administrators and parents”
Crystal Priest, District Technology Director for Maine School Administrative District #4, Guilford, Maine
Rapid changes in the ways technology is used for learning require an approach to technology support (“tech support”) that reduces downtime and provides a fast, consistent, reliable experience for administrators, educators and students. The most effective tech support models are constructed directly from a high quality technology planning process that integrates technology with other school-wide support goals. Tech support encompasses a range of services from device and network maintenance to user support. All districts share a common goal of keeping up with the user demand for support. Be sure the technology support team works to support the learning environment and be cautious of technology support efforts that may include an effort to “control” the education environment.
Consideration for Comprehensive Tech Support
From the Field
Oklahoma City Public Schools (OKCPS) Client Services Division of IT Services
With a staff of 11, servicing approximately 20,000 computers and other tech devices, the Oklahoma City Public Schools (OKCPS) Client Services Division of IT Services (ITCS) has worked since the summer of 2013 to streamline the operations and processes that support teachers and students. The team began by aligning their work to the goals of the district’s technology plan, which are to help OKCPS students prepare for college and careers. A major shift was to provide a higher quality service by allocating service requests into manageable chunks, rather than the prior system of placing all tickets in two queues (elementary and secondary schools). In addition, the district increased remote services and technicians now schedule school visits on a standard rotation, which, establishes clearer user expectations and allows technicians to plan their work. Furthermore, the ITCS started measuring timeliness and quality satisfaction via a survey tool as each support request is closed. The reconfiguration of central components (workflow and priorities) has permitted ITCS to close nearly 11,000 service requests, with a quality satisfaction of four out of five. The team has a 2014-2015 goal of 94% quality satisfaction and 2015-2016 goal of 97% quality satisfaction.
Successful districts have found it valuable to think broadly about the best overall approach to meet support needs comprehensively before establishing specific details that define what support will be provided to whom and by whom. While no two districts provide exactly the same combination of tech support products and services to their users, all have defined core elements comprising “tech support” that contribute to successfully meeting their local needs. The following questions have helped districts define, plan for, and implement the core components of tech support:
- Who are the customers? Are they students as well as teachers and administrators? Are they parents helping their students with homework?
- What goals been established for the tech support?
- Have tech support priorities been defined and publicized for all users?
- What will our tech support include and exclude?
- Does it include all devices used in the district, including student-owned devices, or only devices owned by the district?
- Does it include all software owned or licensed by the district?
- Does it include the wireless infrastructure as well as the broadband connection into the district?
- Will the district support devices off-campus, and if so, how?
- How will requests be initiated and what is the process for prioritizing?
- Has routine tech support been established through maintenance schedules?
- What will be the business hours of tech support, and the policies for nights/weekends/summer?
- Who are the responsible parties for each aspect of support? Are different staff (or companies) responsible for devices versus broadband? How has this been communicated to the users?
- Is there sufficient demand to have a designated support person on each campus? What other ways might the tech support staff be deployed?
- What metrics and indicators for tech support success will the district use to help determine cost effectiveness and customer satisfaction with current and future setups?
Request for Proposals (RFP)
When releasing an RFP for devices, districts should consider including service requirements related to tech support. Including service requirements in RFPs can help reduce costs and ensure that the winning vendor provides system-wide, high quality tech support. This concept may be included in district, consortia or state level device RFPs. This model ensures a relationship with the vendor and a coordinated repair process. As an example, the State of Maine Department of Education’s Maine Learning Technology Initiative (MLTI), multistate RFP #201210412 includes requirements for tech support services. The following link includes access to the RFP and the winning contracts with details about tech support services.
Coordinated Services: Tech support, tech training and professional learning
While instructional and technical support staff are each important separately, together they can be much more powerful when efforts are thoughtfully synchronized. Whereas the instructional staff typically contributes knowledge of pedagogy, students and content to the team, tech support staff offers familiarity with the capacity of devices and software and not necessarily the learning experiences. As a result, there is great potential for a close symbiotic relationship between tech support training and professional learning opportunities.
Translating this potential into actual synchronicity involves thinking through the types of user needs that are present in the district, as well as those that may be forecast under future scenarios. For example, districts may discover that some of the best forms of tech support are professional learning opportunities involving teachers testing and using technologies for instruction, and then working with each other to troubleshoot problems during curriculum and pedagogy sessions with participation from the tech support staff. The more users gain experience with devices, software and services, the less likely they are going to need support with classroom use or for administrative purposes over time. Similarly, the more the IT staff understands about the content, curriculum and classroom activities, the better they will be able to support the teachers and administrators.
As devices and software become more intuitive, the tech support staff may be able to provide online support through video, interactive user groups and chats. This would shift toward a relatively greater emphasis on tech support and reduced emphasis on professional learning for devices and software.
Approaches to Technology Support
From the Field
Illinois Tech Geeks
Illinois K-12 School technology professionals established tech-Geeks.org in December 1999, as a conduit for technical support. Tech-Geeks.org is used to give advice, get advice, share technical experiences and broadcast security issues. This is an all volunteer, no cost online tool for Illinois educational technology leaders.
Tech support can be staffed in a variety of ways. The skill sets of the staff involved with tech support help to drive the planning, organization and delivery of support that results in meeting district needs.
Once the central components of tech support have been identified, districts can begin to define where tech support will be based, the ways that help tickets will flow through the service pathway, and how tech support will be staffed. A more detailed, tactical tech support plan may then include spelling out exactly who will use which devices, when, and for what purposes, as well as how various problems will be managed. Tech support typically begins with a helpdesk or service desk, but also can include service-level agreements with various providers, and both live and media-delivered face-to-face training and online support, school-based/school employees, student tech support teams, and tech support cooperatives. One consideration: If there is a lot of demand, the “front line” may spend much of its time dispatching tickets to other people instead of trying to solve specific problems. If there is less demand and a highly skilled and knowledgeable person taking the first request, many of the requests may be able to be handled immediately. Regular monitoring of tech support implementation and impact can provide valuable insight about whether and how teachers and students use technology, as well as barriers to use.
Service or help desk
No matter which model or combination of models for tech support districts select, the work starts with the Service Desk or Help Desk. This acts as the central point of daily contact between service providers and users, serving as a focal point for reporting incidents and for service requests. It also can provide an interface for other service management activities, such as change, problem, configuration, release and continuity management. Help desks can be coordinated by the district, intermediate unit or via a Service Level Agreement contract with a private company. If the district is entering a contract agreement with a private company, it is important to include minimum expectations and checks and balances for meeting expectations in the contract.
In House Support
From the Field
Kuna Middle School Student Tech Support
Kuna Middle School – Kuna, ID. Kuna Middle School recently launched a 1-to-1 program for 800 students and 40 Staff. Kuna’s tier one support is provided by students.
[An initial cadre of students were trained and then they train other students to help provide technology support. Based on experiences at the local high school, educators have found this student support system to be effective in quickly addressing tech support issues and providing students the experience to support their peers. 1:1 Project Site: https://sites.google.com/a/kunaschools.org/kms-1-1-learning-project/home KSD MOUSE Squad Site: https://sites.google.com/a/kunaschools.org/khs-mouse-squad/home
- School-based/School employees: A common school tech support model involves campus-based school employees who provide support ranging from managing incidents and service requests to communicating with users to supporting instructional applications. One advantage of this approach is that the tech support personnel typically have a better understanding of the instructional needs, students, climate and school context where technology will be used for learning than an external provider. A downside is that cost of hiring support staff may be viewed as prohibitive, particularly as demand waxes and wanes. Some districts host full time Service Desks and others employ particularly knowledgeable teachers as part time tech support for school buildings, in some cases with those people providing professional learning and mentoring to teachers above and beyond tech support.
- Student Staffing of Tech Support: Staffing tech support with students is another approach that districts have found to be successful. This model provides initial tech support training (and potentially course credit) for the students and for a school staff lead that will coordinate the student tech support plan.
- Review the state and federal privacy laws related to student information.
- Address how to manage student access to other student’s information.
- Create a plan to monitor student work to avoid inappropriate or illegal activity.
Many schools and districts currently include some level of service plan with providers when completing their equipment purchasing contracts. Considerations related to level of support, costs and long-term sustainability should be reviewed when considering incorporating the service level agreements to equipment purchasing contracts.
Tech support cooperatives
Another staffing option, cooperatives, combines the capacities of multiple groups such as schools, districts, or regional units to offer a variety of services, including tech support. Cooperatives offer the opportunity to reduce costs and share expertise. Many cooperatives, such as the Kentucky and Illinois resources cited here, offer cloud-based software and disaster recovery as well as the tech support associated with those services.
- Example: MyTechDesk California MyTechDesk is a web-based ticket management system developed and operated by the Imperial County Office of Education for all California school districts tech support teams. My Tech Desk is supported by the K-12 High Speed Network (K12HSN) grant, funded by the California Department of Education. All support resources are available to California schools at no charge. Schools or districts outside of California may access the system for a fee.
From the Field
School Administrative District (SAD) #4 Guilford, Maine
SAD #4 is a small, rural Maine school district with 700 students PK-12 that launched their 1-to-1 initiative in 1999. SAD #4 maximizes technology support resources by limiting the technology tool purchases to one vendor and maintaining most technology support within the district with specified trainings. A district staff member is certified in warranty repairs for the vendor so that most repairs are completed on site to reduce costs and repair time.
The district also offered a technology repair course for students at the high school so students could help repair computers. In order to minimize loss of use, the district maintains a spare device in every classroom in addition to a stock of temporary devices. The district built the additional device purchases into their initial budget and also purchases older devices at the end of the lease cycles. Finally, over the last three years, the district has reduced the number of servers from 12 to 4 by moving services to the cloud, reducing purchasing and maintenance requirements for numerous servers.
Each campus should develop and evaluate a plan for their tech support system and a process to identify areas of strength and needs. As technology continues to evolve tech support plans will need to accommodate new technologies, identify technologies that need replacing and where and how to spend their tech support funds. In addition to customer satisfaction and minimizing student time without technology tools, IT leaders must analyze costs and plan for upgrades.
As indicated in the tech support systems section, including an evaluation system for tech support users will help to evaluate the rate and quality of the tech support services and the customer satisfaction levels.