Educational technology is regarded by many teachers as a utility, like electricity or plumbing. If everything’s working fine, you probably give as much thought to firing up your computer and connecting to the school network as you do to switching on the lights as you enter the office.
But what happens when for some reason that technology doesn’t work? That’s where technical support comes in. As a school leader, you may think that the word ‘technical’ means this type of support has little to do with you directly – but you might be surprised.
What are your priorities?
The role of your technical support person, or team, is to make it possible for everyone in school to do what they need to do with the technology available. And it’s up to the senior leadership team to decide what that means in practice.
For example, say a printer goes wrong. It has to be sent off for repair, which will take a week. Is that acceptable? If not, then what would be acceptable? Two days? A day? No time at all?
Let’s say you decide that only no delay at all is acceptable. That’s a management decision on your part, and it’ll be up to your technical support to come up with ways of meeting that expectation. For instance, they might temporarily redirect your printing tasks to a different printer.
It’s also up to the SLT to work with technical support in order to establish priorities. If this isn’t addressed, technicians will tend to find themselves doing the job requested by the last person who stopped them in the corridor, rather than the one that’s most urgent. If an established protocol is in place, your technical support can be much more efficient.
Who needs technical support?
You might be tempted to think that with technology these days tending to be pretty good, and with so many teachers comfortable using it, technical support has become a luxury. But teachers aren’t technicians and can’t be expected to solve technical glitches.
In fact, one could argue that even relatively minor issues, such as printer jams, represent a waste of time for teachers, who could be marking or talking to children instead.
Fortunately however, there is a range of technical support solutions available, and not all of them are inordinately expensive.
The bespoke solution is to have a technician, or perhaps even a team, employed by the school and based on-site.
The advantage of this arrangement is that they’ll be immediately available if something goes wrong.
When things are running smoothly, they can be looking at ways of making your technology setup easier to use, performing important but often overlooked maintenance tasks (such as running virus scans), and organising how-to classes for teachers.
Alternatively, you can sign up to a technical support service run by your LA or a private company.
This works like insurance, in that you’ll pay a regular subscription for support cover, but may never need to make a ‘claim’.
When discussing terms, however, you could ask whether additional maintenance services, such as the aforementioned virus scanning, can be included. The main advantage of this sort of service is that if one person is off sick, there’ll usually be a replacement.
A third option – albeit a potentially frustrating one – is to have a technician make weekly visits.
On the plus side, you can be certain that someone will definitely be along, say, next Thursday. But if something goes wrong on a Friday, you’ll have to wait almost a week for anything to be done about it.
If your school’s computers are all connected to a WiFi-enabled network you could look into remote support, whereby a specialist will examine (and hopefully fix) the problem while working from a different location, as well as keep your system in good working order.
Granted, they won’t be able to resolve a printer jam – but again, there are solutions for that.
A four-part system
TAs can be trained to carry out low-level physical maintenance tasks, such as paper jams.
Another option could be to appoint a group of Digital Champions – pupils able to help out with issues like keeping printers supplied with paper, helping other pupils log on and so forth.
You could reward their efforts with digital badges or similar rewards.
Whichever solution you use, however, someone will need to be in overall charge of technical support. They’ll need to liaise with outside technical support and help prioritise the work, but more importantly, they’ll need to set up a four-part system similar to the one outlined below:
Step 1: Record the issue
Make it as convenient as possible for teachers to report a fault and for technical support to record it.
Recording issues is crucial, because it enables patterns to emerge – if a particular piece of equipment keeps going wrong regardless of who’s using it, that might suggest a deeper problem.
This might get missed if issues are dealt with but no records are kept.
Step 2: Deal with the issue
The priority for teachers and pupils is to be able to carry on working, not to have the problem fixed there and then. If a printer suddenly stops working, the issue can be dealt with by swapping the printer in the classroom with a spare straight away.
Step 3: Fix the issue
Staying with that example, swapping out the printer obviously won’t address what’s wrong with it.
It might need repairing, or even replacing – but the key point is that to keep things running smoothly, you must discern what’s more helpful between taking action now and addressing the fault more permanently.
Step 4: Look for patterns
It’s easier to observe patterns if jobs are recorded in a spreadsheet. That way, you can use filtering to check issues in particular rooms with certain equipment, or even on specific days, at the click of a mouse.
- Ensure that your fault reporting system is easily accessible from any device and efficient – for example, by letting users enter details via a series of drop-down menus
- Avoid common errors by including a ‘tech tips’ section in your staff newsletter or on your website
- Set up a four-part system of technical support
- Ask for regular reports of how quickly issues are being resolved – this will keep external support providers on their toes, and give internal support a chance to show off their achievements
Terry Freedman is an independent education technology consultant and writer