FUBAR

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An old acronym from my Army days. I think it’s apropos for the general state of technology support in California Public Schools. The above is the work safe definition, by the way. Checkout wikipedia for the grown up version.

I’ve been thinking a lot about tech support lately. The boots on the ground, in your face support that is so sorely laking in many schools. With the exponential increase in student mobile devices (chromebooks or iPads, take your pick) and the ever more dependent technology infused instruction taking place in classrooms everywhere, simply keeping up with the support ticket queue is becoming a real challenge. Even small school districts moving towards 1:1 are facing orders of magnitude more support demands than they have ever had to consider when the dominate computing model was a few computers in the back of each classroom and 1 or 2 computer labs per site.

Industry, long ago made dependent on technology for competitive advantage, solved the support problem, more or less, by hiring people (1 per every 150 computer users!) and refreshing their systems at reasonable intervals. Larger industries attempted to increase the support to computer ratio by implementing complex systems managed by back end server people (Virtual Desktops!) to get that ratio up to 1:1000.

School district support ratios initially kept pace with technology but as more student devices came online the numbers have progressively increased, with 1:750 – 1:1500 being common. In my district today, we are at close to 1:2000. This happened basically overnight, with a large deployment of chromebooks to support the Common Core and a push for all students to have access to technology in their classrooms. We have attempted to streamline support as much as possible by empowering users with local control – admin for all, simplifying access, standardizing on hosted solutions – GAFE and JIVE, reducing printers – or trying to and embracing consumer simplicity over specialized complexity – iPad/AppleTV vs IWB. The goal always being to increase student access to devices, empower teachers with technology and refocus limited resources on supporting classroom as opposed to spending time on maintaining back end systems and spending dollars on big iron.

Despite our best efforts, I’m seeing a familiar and disturbing trend with our ticket types. Old legacy systems (those white square MacBooks anyone) and printers are taking up a disproportionate amount of the overall incoming deluge, followed quickly by simple how-to requests that speak to a basic skill level that one would expect to exist by now but clearly doesn’t.

Once again I’ve pushed things to the limit. The delicate balance between support capacity and classroom capacity has tipped a bit too far in favor of more technology in the classrooms. Printing can’t go away until everyone is living in a digital workflow and wireless is still hard, even with one Access Point per classroom (thanks AppleTV). Basic troubleshooting, or just google searching, still isn’t in everyone’s tool kit and a how-to video response isn’t for everyone. The result has been a noticeable increase in support response times, affecting both classroom instruction and forward progress on projects. We’re back in firefighting mode and with even more mobile devices on the way, I don’t see any other resolution than to put more boots on the ground. Unfortunately, many districts are in the same boat. Caught between a demand for technology like never before and being critically and chronically understaffed, a legacy from the past we can no longer afford.

I left Le Grand after the first great iPad deployment with a plea for more tech support and wisely, they hired more staff shortly after my departure. Thankfully I don’t think I’ll have to leave before I see that happen again, but for any district thinking about going 1:1 and not looking at ramping up front line tech support along with it, they might want to start. Increasing tech support by a factor of 2 would be a good place to start.

Maybe next time I’ll talk PD and instructional technology support, the third rail of 1:1 deployments. That’s been on my mind lately too.

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