The IT squad

Tearing your hair out over ICT issues? Paul Bruce provides his top tips for planning and delivering a successful ICT solution

1 Vision and planning
Imagine all your goals for ICT realised: teachers are confident and motivated to use ICT and students are empowered and excited about learning. Technology is improving learning, with ICT embedded across your curriculum. The right ICT tools support the pedagogy of your teachers. Data is used effectively to plan and run the school whilst new technology is systematically assessed for effectiveness in the classroom.

To achieve these objectives, you need to develop a forward-looking approach to the management, development and integration of ICT in your school. However, this can prove challenging if your ICT support team doesn’t have the knowledge or experience to suggest and support the right solutions, offer the best educational support or provide the right advice to suit your school style.

In selecting your support team, it’s important to consider who helps you build a vision specific to your school’s unique needs, with awareness of the wider issues in both IT and education. Your ICT partner or support team should be able to translate your school vision into an innovative ICT strategy and deliver it. 

2 Efficient call logging and management
How do you log a request for ICT support? If you’ve got an online system that allows you to raise, track and close requests for help, and you use this 100 per cent of the time because it works, well, then great – you can tick this one off.

However, if your call logging system involves stepping out of a lesson to grab the technician in the corridor or scribbling a note on a scrap of paper and asking one of your year 7 students to “run to the network manager’s room”, then you should probably think again. 

3 Defined processes for fault escalation
Imagine you’ve logged a call, one way or another, and it’s not been resolved yet. You check with the support team and they say they’re “investigating”, but it’s been a month now and your software, laptop, register or printer still isn’t working. It’s frustrating for you and probably for your support team, and it might well be impacting on the quality of your teaching.

One of the reasons that you might not have an answer yet may be down to escalations. Who do your techies turn to when they get stuck? Do they have a support team behind them that works to the same service levels that they offer you? There may be no one they can turn to for advice on how this issue can be resolved in an educational environment. So consider who can provide technical support to your ICT support team. 

4 Removing single points of failure
How many people really know how your ICT system works – in detail? Hopefully the network manager, but who else? A few people might have an idea about parts of it, but leaving one of the most impactful strategic areas of the school in the hands of one or two people is a massive risk.

What happens if that key person goes on long-0term sick leave and then your network develops a major fault? Who would fix it and how would the school cope without any ICT? Who would carry out the really important daily tasks?

All schools need a back-up plan in place to mitigate these risks and ensure that their network is well documented so that others can support it if necessary.

5 Access to wider skillsets
Which of these platforms do you use in school: Windows, iOS, Google Chrome or Android? Which would you like to use and what’s holding you back? If your pedagogy demands something new but your support team say “it’s not appropriate” or “it’s not secure”, then that may be really frustrating if you want to introduce a major new initiative.

It could just be down to a lack of technical expertise or educational understanding by the support team – they may not know enough about the technology to be able to say why you should (or shouldn’t) use it in school, and may be unable to support it technically.

But your students should be equipped with an understanding of every type of technology if you are going to prepare them fully for careers that haven’t even been considered yet, and this shouldn’t be limited by the technical expertise of a small support team. 

6 Out-of-hours support
What time does your support team clock off? Probably not long after the pupils go home. And what time does your senior leadership team leave? There are often a couple of hours between these two times. So what do you do if your laptop stops working after school and the ICT support team has gone home, but you have got to finish that report tonight?

This is where an extended team comes into its own again – not only in the breadth of skills, but also in availability. If you had an army of people watching over your network during the day, night or in the school holidays, looking for (and probably) resolving issues even before you notice them, or available until 6pm so that you can get that report finished, you’d be able to spend more time teaching and less time waiting for help.

7 Staff helpline
If budget is at the forefront of your mind, then additional staff costs to allow every member of staff direct access to an ICT support team member would be unreasonable. But if technology is a tool that is fully embedded in the pedagogy across your school, then that’s exactly what you need.

With a small team of technicians, you’ll get support for the most pressing of issues as they occur but it can take time to find the technician, and longer to get the issue resolved. But with a large site, a big teaching team and a small team of technicians, your ICT support could be spread a little too thin and lessons might suffer as a result.

Consider an alternative where every member of the school has access to a large team of technicians on the phone or online, who can resolve the majority of issues, leaving the on-site team to fix the problems that need physically attending to on site. 

8 Effective teacher training
Every school has a mix of ‘tech-heads’ and ‘technophobes’ in its teaching staff; there will be those who take to it like a duck to water and those who need a little more coaching to see how ICT can support exciting pedagogy.

Sometimes all you need to try something new is a nudge in the right direction, but if your confidence is low, then exploring new technologies can be a daunting prospect. When it comes to using ICT to best effect in the classroom and beyond, you’re going to need to be fully up to speed with what the technology can offer and how best to use it – and if you don’t know, the students probably will! 

Your ICT support team should be able to make good recommendations about which solutions are right for your school and show you how you can get the best out of it. Each of these areas has the potential to either add tremendous value or seriously hinder the effectiveness of teaching and learning. So how many of the above are in place at your school? 

Paul Bruce is services architect at software and services provider RM Education W: www.rm.com

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