Can you Improve your Schools Technology Support

Earlier this year I attended the Florida Educational Technology Conference (FETC) in Orlando. One of the seminars I attended was by David A. Ritzmann, Director of Information Technology at the Columbus School for Girls about “the 10 ways to screw up technology in your school”. I’d like to thank him for his permission to use part of his material for this blog.

I found it very enlightening and took a look at what we were doing at our school. I took some of his ideas to help make increase the level of my tech support. Toward the end of the seminar one of his slides was an opposite of the lecture, “how to improve the technology at your school”. I used this slide to plan the way I work day to day. It’s made what I do easier, or maybe it’s easier because it’s more fun.

First, one of the most important things I did was standardize the image I was using on all the computers in the school. The Labs have the same software, except for the testing software, as the classrooms. This way you can transfer to any room and the student gets the same look and feel. They don’t have to think about where to find a program, it’s in the same place. Saves wasted time, increases student learning time.

Communication with the staff makes the job easier without a doubt. It lets them know what they need to know and cuts down on tech requests because the end user can do it themselves. To this end, I setup a website for easy reference to quickly troubleshoot basic problems without having to use the tech request email system. I also check my tech request folder hourly, if not more often to see if there is a problem that can be handled by email or is in the vicinity of where I am at the moment. Communication lets your staff know whats going on, one example is Microsoft’s patch Tuesday. The Friday and Monday before, I always email our general news list to alert all staff to leave their computers on all day Tuesday and Wednesday to receive the patches asap.

Understanding your learners is quite an interesting thing to try to do. You have kids that know more about computers and technology than their teachers for the most part because they have grown up with them. On the other hand most of the teachers have grown up with pads, pencils, some with calculators, some with horse and buggy. The kids need to be challenged or they will just play with the computer or even try to find ways to mess it up. You have to give them interesting new learning games, teach them how to use the software that the computer has to enrich themselves and grow. The teachers need to know how to focus that energy, how to use the games, the video projectors, the ELMO’s, the podcasts and even the web for blogging.

This I believe leads into being a teacher of technology. I know that a lot of IT folks try to keep it all to themselves, they consider this job security….I consider it dumb. The more you teach the staff, the easier it is for you to do other things. Like help the teachers build web pages, do blogs with their students, start a Wiki for learning with their students.

Disaster planning, geez this one is a snap, but it’s not done enough. While the district has started to back up the servers regularly, the staff tend to not back up their laptops regularly. I’m now setting up the teachers with an enhanced MS backup that they can use with a very intuitive GUI to create a scheduled backup of their documents and grades. It works….the back up goes to the teachers home folder on the server, which I’m also working on doing a backup of.

We all know that it is human nature to resist change. You need to learn how to manage change in a reasonable manner. Some staff more that others will not like change, so you have to be determined; while at the same time you cannot force something down someones throat. I managed a lot of change by doing it little by little and the folks that wouldn’t change I didn’t push. I let them go about their business until they had made a mistake that they couldn’t recover from. I then intervened and implemented the change. It’s called learning the hard way.

Along with this change is being able to show the way, or as Mr. Ritzmann would say be an agent for change. Read, read more, experiment, try new things, learn new ideas. It’s the only way to stay ahead, to help your staff move their students forward. Hey, if a teacher has an idea, by all means try it out. It might turn out to be something that everyone can use, the next great idea. We had a teacher last year buy a program, Fastt Math, to help her 4th grade class learn math better. The improvement that her kids had with that one program, the kids actually asked to use the program whenever they had a free moment, led to the principal buying a site license for the whole school.

Lastly, through everything we need to do we need keep our perspective. Don’t bite off more than you can chew, don’t let the pressures of outside sources bother you and if you have success do as I do…..shut your office door, turn on Kool and the Gang and dance to Celebration!

I didn’t mention all of the 10 things, but here they are…..

  1. Standardize
  2. Separate process from product
  3. Communicate
  4. Understand your learners
  5. Be a teacher
  6. Write & test a Disaster Recovery Plan
  7. Learn to manage change
  8. Be an agent for change
  9. Work outside your comfort zone
  10. Keep perspective

That’s what I think….How about you?