7.4: Communication and Technology Support
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Technology support is a process in school that bridges two very clearly bounded groups of people; teachers, students, and other users of IT comprise one group and the IT professionals who affect repairs of IT comprise the other. This book is grounded in the assumption that individuals in these groups understand technology differently; implicit in this assumption is that they will use different language when communicating about IT and that the same language may have different meanings for the groups and for individuals. For these reasons, efficacious IT managers take steps to ensure clear communication between these groups. In the jargon of business management, communication between different groups is called horizontal to capture the movement of information across the different groups (in school IT management these groups include teachers, IT professionals, and school leaders).
Effective communication for technology support is enabled by two web services, one to schedule shared resources and another to manage requests for assistance. Effective communication also depends on transparent and clear procedures when support ends, including when repairs have been affected and when individuals leave a school.
Scheduling Shared Resources
The collection of computer resources available in a school will include those that are too expensive or too infrequently used to justify purchasing them in large numbers. Compared to Internetonly notebooks that can be purchased for relatively low per unit cost and can be used for productivity purposes in many settings, computer rooms along with specialized devices such as large format color printers, 3-D printers, and high-resolution projectors are example of computing resources needed, but in smaller numbers, in schools. Because the devices are in fewer numbers, they must be shared, so efficacious IT managers provide a method whereby teachers can schedule the resources for their students to use.
Effective tools make the schedules public, so they can be viewed in the Internet without logging on or passing through other barriers. (The most effective schedules will be mobile-compatible, so the harried teacher who is finalizing plans for the day can say to a student, “hey, go check the schedule to see if we can print our posters in the computer lab today,” and the student will be able to access and view the schedule on his or her phone.)
Once a student confirms the resource has not been scheduled by another, the teacher can log on to the system to add a reservation, but not edit others’ reservations. Further, each account can have specific permissions so that he or she can reserve only the resources appropriate for the user. For example, only those who have received training in using the 3-D printer are allowed to schedule time on it, or only those teachers whose course necessitate special software can reserve certain computer rooms.
One of the difficulties that is commonly encountered with using scheduling tools in schools is the unusual time increments that characterize the daily schedules in many schools. While many scheduling tools are designed for businesses that are likely to break days into 15-minute increments, schools break days in various chunks, and it is not unusual for different days to be divided into different chunks. Further, some schools have multiple bell schedules, for example students in grades 7 and 8 may follow the “middle school schedule” but the students in 9-12 follow the “high school schedule” in schools enrolling students in grades 7-12. IT managers can increase the use of scheduling tool by making them easy to use, including allowing users to select time blocks on the schedule that correspond to the daily schedule blocks used in the school. All of these can complicate the problem of sharing common computing resources, but none generally are a barrier to sufficient access.
Reporting, Ticketing, and Triage
The web service for managing repair requests that is webbased are often called “ticketing systems,” because one submits a “help ticket” that summarizes a problem; the ticket is assigned to someone with the skill and network credentials to fix the problem, and notes regarding steps that are taken are added to the ticket. Once the problem is resolved, the ticket is marked “closed,” and the technicians moves on to new assignments.
The value of a fully functioning ticketing system is that it facilitates communications regarding several aspects of managing a large fleet of computer devices:
- Users can report malfunctioning devices with little effort, so the system facilitates communication from users to IT staff. Most IT managers place a link to “create a ticket” in multiple places that computer users frequently visit (the school web page, the LMS, and other portals). In addition, IT managers create an email address, so users can send an email to create a help ticket. Ideally, the ticketing system is part of the collection of tools that use a single sign-on scheme, so the individual who submits the ticket is identified automatically and submitting a ticket does not require on to log on to a different system.
- The technicians can triage malfunctioning devices and decide the best use of their limited resources. While the individual who submits the ticket can usually assign a priority to the repair, the technicians can override those settings, and repairs that will affect a greater number of users or that restore critical systems can be given higher priority.
- A history of each device is maintained. Devices that are troublesome despite repeated repairs are known. Likewise, technicians can track similar problems throughout the fleet. This is particularly helpful when a design or hardware (or software) problem affects the same model; steps taken to resolve a problem on one unit are likely to resolve the same problem on other units. In this point and the previous point, there are examples of how the system facilitated communication within the IT staff.
- Ticketing systems also provide a database on which the inventory can be kept up-to-date. This helps IT professionals understand their fleet and it helps leaders understand the need to plan and budget for replacement devices.
- The total number of repairs performed by technicians and the time they spend on them can be recorded in the ticketing system. This information is used to assess the efficiency and effectiveness of the systems, so that support can be improved by refining systems and by supporting those who support IT users. In this point and the previous point, there are examples of how the system facilitated communication between IT staff and school administrators.
Avoiding Cold Closure
To avoid wasting instructional time preparing to use technology that may or may not be functioning, teachers are likely to avoid those devices that are malfunctioning (or even rumored to be malfunctioning) until they are assured they have been repaired. When a help ticket has been fixed, the technician closes it, then moves on to other duties. While most ticketing systems notify the individual who initiated the case that it has been closed, this can be called a cold closure and it is opposed by a direct closure.
A direct closure occurs when the technician speaks with the individual who reported it and confirms the issue has been resolved. In the ideal situation, direct closure is done in-person, but a telephone call or voice mail are better than cold closure. A teacher who hears, “let me know if it does not work,” will have the confidence to begin using the repaired systems.
Avoiding cold closure helps technicians reduce the occurrence of a troubling situation. If the person reporting the problem either inaccurately describes it or describes a situation with incorrect terminology, then the technician can arrive at the computer and not see what the person who submitted the ticket thought she or he reported. Not seeing the anticipated symptoms, the technician closes the ticket and moves on to other work. The individual who reported the malfunction may return to the machine to discover it still malfunctions because the technician affected no repair or the technicians fixed different symptoms.
While direct closure does reduce technicians’ efficiency, it can increase the effectiveness of repairs and it leads to more accurate repairs being made (which ultimately increases efficiency). Closing this loop of the repair process can be automated by ticketing systems, but many recipients of those messages find them to be confusing rather than informative. Consider the configuration of communication that is set up in many ticketing systems. When the message is entered into the database, a message is generated to tell the individual who reported it “your message has been receive,” and the individual who reported it may find additional messages generated as the repair proceeds. While keeping individuals up-todate is important, many educators who receive these many messages claim, “they just fill my inbox with unnecessary information.” The excessive messages from the ticketing system can be especially problematic for individuals who use the ticketing system frequently. Because most IT managers insist problems be reported through the ticketing system as it provides important information regarding the fleet of these devices he or she manages, they must take steps to make them easy-to-use and effective.
On-Boarding and Exiting
The term “on-boarding” is used to describe the process of ensuring new employees understand policies and procedures related to the organization. In recent decades, organizations have added IT training to the on-boarding procedures. The details of the school IT systems that must be the focus on on-boarding training have been described previously, and comprehensive on-boarding training decreases the need to support later.
Equally important are the steps taken when an individual leaves a school. Separation can be for a variety of reasons, and efficacious IT managers are prepared to transfer information as is appropriate for those circumstances. In some cases, there are reasons that separation must be immediate; in those cases, school administrators are likely to direct an IT professional to immediately prevent the separated individual from accessing systems, usually by changing the individual’s password. Amicable and planned separation is much more common and school IT managers seek to implement exit procedures that ensure individuals can access information they created while associated with the school.
Education is a creative endeavor; students and teachers both create intellectual property as they work. In general, students who are minors own the intellectual property they create (keep that in mind the next time you copy a student’s paper to show colleagues). For teachers, the ownership of the intellectual property they create is more complicated. The works teachers create while being paid is “work for hire,” thus those are owned by their employer. Works they create while not being paid (during school breaks for example) are not, and in other situations determination of who own teachers’ intellectual property can become very complicated. In most cases of amicable separation, school leaders are content to avoid the conflict over ownership of work created for hire by allowing educators to retain a copy of all works he or she created. Educators are content to avoid conflict by avoiding selling of works they created for a specific teaching position without significantly revising the materials, so they represent new works.
To accommodate educators and students who seek to retain the works they created while employed at a school, school IT managers can communicate to teachers recommended methods for archiving and transferring them to their own devices or accounts. With the widespread availability of cloud-based storage, many technicians recommend copying contents of cloud-based folders or LAN folders to cloud storage using accounts owned by the educator or student who is leaving.
The situation can be more complicated when the educator who is leaving has had a role in supervising and evaluating other professionals or when the information containing works created by the educator may pose a threat to one’s privacy or violate FERPA regulations. Consider the principal who negotiates with the school board to keep the laptop she or he has been using as part of a retirement or resignation agreement; IT managers have a responsibility to ensure that records of teacher observations and evaluations, copies of letters sent to parents, and other sensitive information is removed from the computer before ownership is transferred to the separated principal.