#edtech for #edleaders: On the Need for Support

Computers break; they break frequently. Timely repairs of IT systems are essential in schools.

For much of the history of computers in schools, the “timeliness” of repairs was ill-defined and not critical. The strategic goal of schools is ostensibly to “help students learn to consume and create information.” When most information was created and consumed on paper, students could be engaged even when “the computers are down.” In that landscape, repairs completed in days or weeks were considered timely. As electronic digital information has come to dominate, the number of relevant information tasks that can be done by students without functional IT is much reduced compared to previous generations of students. For this reason, timely IT repairs must happen in a matter of hours or days.

The sources of malfunctioning computers can usually be traced to several root causes. Hardware, software, and network connections are sufficiently complicated in the 21st century that troubleshooting has become a craft—we can teach strategies, but the technicians must be clever and creative in how they apply the strategies. Technicians identify hardware that has failed and replace those devices; they also update and reconfigure operating systems, applications, and drivers to resolve software problems quickly. Network problems can be more problematic to troubleshoot and repair; easy repairs to networks open them to security risks or the repairs limit access to vital information or systems.

Complicating the problem of malfunctioning computers is the problem of misuse by users. Most school leaders are very aware of the potential damage that can be caused by malicious users who introduce malware either for the purpose of damaging the network or by careless installation of software. Equal threats to the usability of computers in most educational settings, however, are the problems of disregarded directions and uninformed use. When users have trained how to use systems, but they disregard the procedures (usually citing difficulty or differences from previous procedures), IT systems can be as dysfunctional as broken systems. In the same way, when users have not been trained in the proper operation of systems, the systems are dysfunctional. Teachers must be trained, and they must also comply with that training.

Comprehensive technology support plans address all aspects of technology and networks:

  • Malfunctioning user devices must be repaired or replaced so that data is preserved and functionality (whatever is necessary for the individual user’s role) is restored so that productivity or learning is not impeded.
  • Malfunctioning networks must be repaired so that data and systems are secure, but that productivity is not jeopardized.
  • Training needs are identified in both a reactive and proactive manner; when users have been inadequately trained, opportunities must be scheduled, but also school and technology leaders must predict changes in IT and personnel that will necessitate training and plan accordingly.
  • Teachers, especially, must take an active role in defining and implementing technology support systems related to their professional learning so that IT is an active and engaging part of their classrooms.