How to Establish Effective Technical Support Systems
Three essential building blocks are needed when developing effective technical support:
Ultimately, the mortar that holds this foundation together is a combination of documentation and communication. When you introduce a device loaner program, any cracks are exposed because environmental factors that are controllable on your school network and in school buildings cannot be controlled outside and in the home. In the case of a 1:1 program, the number of end-points explodes.
TRAINING VS PROFESSIONAL DEVELOPMENT
It is often said, the best technical support is good professional development. Developing highly skilled users can drastically reduce the number of technical support incidents. Time and resources, however, tend to dictate a school district’s capacity to keep up with the technology needs of its teachers and students. As a school district looks to begin a device loaner program, implied in such an action are that the learning environment is changing. Whether the program is focused on Emergency Remote Teaching (ERT) or the introduction of a full-scale 1:1 program, the assumption of an Internet-connected device at home with students changes how teachers teach and how students learn. This means users will need training and professional development.
Training and professional development are terms that tend to be used interchangeably. However, as we consider how we support students, staff, and parents, we will separate the two terms. Training focuses on how to use a hardware device; how to navigate digital platforms and tools (e.g., the operating system), your school’s SIS system, and learning management systems (e.g., Google Classroom, Schoology, Canvas, etc.). It also covers your communications system (email, video conferencing, chat), and applications like a word processor or movie making software. Professional development focuses on the application of the skills learned in training for pedagogically effective ways in support of instruction and learning.
While we recognize that training and professional development are often intertwined, we will not go into depth on establishing professional development practices. However, it is crucial that school districts recognize the importance of professional development, and based on its size and organization, what role the IT department should play in professional development efforts. Device loaner programs tend to place a lot of focus on the devices and the IT department. School districts should remember that while your IT department staff know more than most about technology, that doesn’t necessarily mean that the IT department is skilled and knowledgeable about the pedagogical use of technology. Additionally, technology is a fast and dynamic landscape, and your IT staff need training too. School districts often overlook allowing for time and resources to provide their IT staff training because from the perspective of the average user; they know “everything.”
Finally, from the end user’s perspective, there is no difference between training and professional development, the user simply needs help. School districts that are able should create a pathway to direct help requests that are grounded in professional development, typically coming from teachers to technology coaches or integrators rather than to your technical support channel.